Unveiled: 200 Years of Wedding Dresses

Unveiled: 200 Years of Wedding Dresses
Te Papa, 17th December 2011 – 22nd April 2012

An educational yet somewhat sparse exhibition assembled from the Victoria & Albert collection, which is appropriate seeing as dear little Vicky set the modern template for Western weddings. I probably wouldn’t have paid to see it, but that’s just me. There were basically two kinds of people here: design students checking out the asthenopia-inducing frock details, and retired couples gazing raptly at a video compilation of British royal weddings*. There was one other heterosexual male there apart from me, glumly surveying a case containing two snazzy frock coats – for a civil service, natch.

It was interesting to see how one of humankind’s oldest ceremonies (inflated and sanitized like a bleached soufflé by the Victorians, like everything else they got their hands on) has withstood the past two centuries of wars, recession and Lady Di. The bride ceased to be an chattel and began to be more of a fashion plate – is this progress? Well, she’s still an object, but she has more say in how she looks now.

This exhibition uses the same boxes as last year’s Early Encounters exhibition, which prevents the 1970s monstrosities from infecting the others. Actually, those are some of the more fun dresses – most of the rest are tasteful but a little dull unless you like acres of cream silk, and there’s a few too many space-fillers in the form of gigantic digital prints of glamour weddings. The most modern dresses feature some amazing fabric engineering, but are also utterly bonkers, like a meringue designed by H. R. Giger.

I wanted to see Dita Von Teese’s enormous purple dress (by Vivienne Westwood, and I didn’t need to check how to spell either of those splendid names). Alarmingly, Von Teeses’s dress comes with matching corset and lingerie, which conjours the sobering image of a priapic Marilyn Manson ripping them off with his teeth… but again, that could just be little me.

*Luckily they weren’t playing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony over the top of it.
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