Art & Fashion – Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950

| April 26, 2012 | 0 Comments
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Victoria and Albert Museum

The world’s greatest museum of art and design presents Ballgowns, British Glamour Since 1950.

From the 19th May 2012 – 6th January 2013

Opening times

10.00 to 17.45 daily
10.00 to 22.00 Friday

From spring 2012 the V&A celebrates the opening of the newly renovated Fashion Galleries with an exhibition of beautiful ballgowns, red carpet evening dresses and catwalk showstoppers. Displayed over two floors, ‘Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950′ will feature more than sixty designs for social events such as private parties, royal balls, state occasions and opening nights.

In the gallery…

Silk satin gown by Hardy Amies, about 1950. Museum no. T.86-2001. Given by Lister Bolton.

Atsuko Kudo gown worn by Georgia Frost with dresses by Hardy Amies and Worth of London. Lent by the designer. Carlos Jimenez, © V&A, 2011.

From debutantes and royalty to charity balls and the red carpet, Ballgowns: British glamour since 1950 charts 60 years of stylish evening wear. The exhibition highlights the styles, silhouettes and colours that have been perennial favourites for many years.

Since the mid-20th century, the occasions for wearing formal attire have evolved from the private event to the public parade. In the 1950s the London season was still organised around established events such as the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and Queen Charlotte’s Birthday Ball.

Towards the end of the century, as these traditions became less important, events such as the charity ball provided a new arena for displaying extravagant evening wear. Today it is the red carpet and celebrity gala that showcase the gowns of glamorous women.

For the most part, ballgowns have stood apart from fashion, while occasionally reflecting current developments in the fashion world. Yet they remain objects of fascination. The luxurious fabrics, intricate work and fine finish demonstrate the skill of British designers in creating dresses that convey splendour and spectacle.

Designing for the ball

Silk dupion gown, Worth of London, about 1955. Museum no. T.214-1973. Given by Mrs Roy Hudson

Beaded silk satin gown by Norman Hartnell, 1953. Museum no. T.253-1981. Given by Lilli Palmer

The ballgowns featured in this gallery are mostly couture pieces, handmade for a particular client. These dresses would have been shown as part of a designer’s collection and then chosen by the wearer to be made up in their size and shape.

Traditionally couturiers have been happy to include alterations and adjustments to the dresses in order to incorporate the personal taste and requirements of their clients. Often a designer is asked to design a dress to work around a piece of jewellery. Designer Lindsay Evans Robertson, personal assistant to John Cavanagh, recalled being asked to match the colour of silk to a set of aquamarines ‘the size of gobstoppers’.

Knowing where the client will wear the dress is essential in order to avoid two people arriving in the same garment. For the initial event this may be possible, but when the dress is worn to subsequent parties, the matter is out of the designer’s hands. David Sassoon of Bellville Sassoon recalls being informed in the 1970s of four important clients invited to stay with the queen at Ascot weekend. All four arrived to dinner in versions of the same dress. Read More at the V & A

Useful Links to fashion:

About the 1950′s

Post War reconstruction came slowly to Britain, but by the mid 1950′s the economy was recovering and primed for consumer boom.  The festival of Britain in 1951 pointed to a more promising future, presenting what became known as the “Contemporary” style features of design featuring primary colours, spiky modernist and abstract patterns referencing atomic structures, all of which translated to textile prints.

In women’s fashion Dior’s “New look” template dominated for most of the 1950′s narrow shoulders, small waist, and either a full or straight skirt.  British designers like Michael at Lachasse, Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell produced imaginative variations on this theme.  Paris contined to influence high fashion with every change in hemlines making headline news.  Towards the end of the 1950′s there was a growing informality with conuriers such as Yves Sain Laurent experimenting with proportion and form with outsized shapes like the trapeze line.

Nylon swept in as the new fibre of the fifties, producing crease-resistant, moth-proof, drip-dry, easy-care clothing, and establishing a brief hold on evening wear as well as underwear and day-wear.  A plethora of new- man-made fibres such as Orion, Terylene and Courtelle soon became household names

The teenager, a word imported from North America, rose to prominence in the 1950s.  Teddy Boys were the first obvious manifestation of this youth culture; working class youths who developed their distinctive style by aping Savile Row’s revival of Edwardian tailoring in 1950.  Men wore long jackets with contrasting shawl collars and tight, narrow trousers, worn with thick crepe soled shoes and carefully greased and combed hair.  Around the mid 1950′s “Rock and Roll” music arrived from the States providing teenagers a new anthem.  Manufactures recognised the growing economic power of teenagers with an abundance of products, from cosmetics to record players, expressly created for the “teen” market.  Teen fashion for girls were colourful and informal: full circle skirts were enhanced with layers of rustling nylon petticoats, “sloppy Joe” sweaters were worn with tight jeans.

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Category: Textile Design