Forget teenagers and the G train — the thing that’s really falling into a state of disarray these days is our wedding attire. Yep, we’re slut-shaming bridal gowns now. Their hems are too short, their hues too saturated, and their price tags too cheap. We’re looking at you, H&M — how can you expect “’till deal do us part” when you’re giving away your special parts (erm, that embellished neckline) in exchange for $99 and a damn good, probably quite drunken, time?
Wedding Dresses 1775-2014, a new exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, offers a panorama of fashion over the last two centuries. via nearly 100 gowns on display. They range from antique society dresses and chaste Victorian whites to Gwen Stefani’s pink-drenched Dior confection, making pit stops at wartime ’40s and the ’60s sexual revolution. Other designers include Charles Frederick Worth, Norman Hartnell, Charles James, John Galliano, Christian Lacroix, Vivienne Westwood and Vera Wang. But it inadvertently, as Fast Company points out, delves into the deeper implications of the dress’ moral dissolution.
It’s unlikely that the Victoria and Albert Museum’s intention was to slut-shame our gowns, but the exhibition is cast into a new light as an increasing number of fast fashion brands offer affordable gowns for the betrothed 20-something without loaded parents to bankroll the wedding. Or who just want to dig into cake and champagne without fear of soiling $10,000 of tulle. Reformation also recently launched a collection of eight gown styles ranging from ivory silk wedding dresses ($518 to $588) to bridesmaids dresses ($198 to $368) and they look as good for post-marriage brunching as they do for walking down the aisle.
Here’s a timeline of our favorite exhibition trends and their accompanying gowns, with some less traditional developments thrown in for good measure. This is 2014, dammit, and our dresses can be as lose as they damn well like. (If you even intend to get married, that is — we’re totally here for the cat lady gown too.)
1848: The White Wedding
Brides didn’t always wear white, and not because they weren’t virgins. Queen Victoria proved quite the sartorial trailblazer when she wed Prince Albert in white back in 1840, and white satin soon caught on as nothing more than a status symbol. This flouncy frock worn by Henrietta Woodcock at her 1848 marriage to John Bell is testament to the fact that white’s not easy to keep clean, especially when you couldn’t just drop something off at the dry cleaners. (The conservator allocated 25 hours for the wet cleaning of the lace overdress of this particular one, and it’s looking good.) Maybe gowns were never virginal to begin with?
1933: Hollywood Takes Hold
Acclaimed society beauty and gossip columnist favorite Margaret Whigham wed Charles Sweeny in a decadent gown that took its inspiration from Hollywood. Designed by Norman Hartnell, it is made from ivory satin, and appliquéd with orange blossoms, outlined with faux pearls and bugle beads. But the most batshit impressive design feature is its integral train, which is 3.70 metres long, 2 metres wide, and embellished with beading and tulle. The video below shows this also makes it a bitch to transport.
1962: Innovation, Individuality, and the Sexual Revolution
Say yes to the dress, say no to the church. Many women ditched the church wedding from 1960 onwards as it put rules on how short they hiked their hemlines. Jewelry designers Wendy Ramshaw married David Watkins in 1962 in a dress she herself designed of ribbed silk-effect fabric with satin trimmings, while Mia Farrow opted to wear opted to wear a crisp dress and cropped jacket to her wedding to Frank Sinatra in 1966. Luckily for Charles James he retired two years before this DIY-happy decade began.
1990s: We came to Party
As brides started to earn disposable incomes rather than being at the disposal of their parents’ dress choices, backs dropped, necklines plunged, and straps came off. Another trend of the day was party-time receptions (quell horreur!) making less fabric an undoubtable boon for the bride. The church had no option but to open its doors and allow it.
2000s: The Noughties Look Bright
Gwen Stefani (2002) and Dita Von Teese (2005) both rejected white in favor of fairy floss pink and intense purple, respectively. Gwen’s Dior dip-dyed silk faille gown was created specifically (duh) and might even be responsible for the whole ombré trend? We can’t blame for for having a double-wedding so she could wear it twice.
2013: Upcycling Takes Hold
Which leads us to… the knee-length Chanel dress so nice Keira Knightley wore it twice before spilling red wine all over it on the third wear. (Your move, Gwen.) Rumor has it Keira still wears the custom Karl Lagerfeld creation around the home while fermenting pickles in refashioned mason jars.
2014: Fast Fashion for Life
In March this year H&M released their $99 wedding dress, with Reformation also following suit. (They also sold one as part of their Viktor & Rolf collection in 2006, though that was priced at a comparatively aspirational $349.) H&M’s gown was “inspired by old Hollywood glamour but with a modern twist,” and is best worn with a blithe attitude towards cake stains. Though with the relaunch of Charles James and the upcoming Kimye nuptials this year, perhaps we’re due for a return to unadulterated (no pun intended) tradition?