Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950 at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London

London has been in the spotlight a lot this year. Our sporting heroes have become household names and the royal family is as popular and as loved as they’ve ever been. But with all these wonderful celebrations going on, fashion has had to take a step back. Of course Stella McCartney did us proud designing the uniforms for the Olympics and Kate donned some undeniably British attire during the Queens jubilee, but overall fashion hasn’t taken centre stage in London this year.
Thankfully the Victoria & Albert museum in South Kensington has paid tribute to British fashion design in the most fitting way. We’ve partied in frocks all summer, and we’ve seen princesses in evening gowns so it seems only right that the exhibition celebrates the very best of British glamour. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside the exhibition but I’ve found some from the V&A website and from around the internet so you can see just how beautiful it is. 
The exhibition costs just £10 for adults and £7 for students but I couldn’t resist treating myself to a year long V&A membership. The museum is practically my second home and I didn’t mind paying the £48 to enjoy it all year. It gives me so much in the way of inspiration so it felt good to put something back into it. The membership entitles me to free entry into all the exhibitions as many times as I want, along with a guest of my choice. I also enjoy the benefit of membership only preview days, the V&A magazine and exclusive events- including talks from designers! There is even a members room to enjoy some lunch without getting caught up in the crowds. For just £48 I was able to take my sister and I into three exhibitions without any extra costs (It would have normally cost £7 each per exhibition) and I’ve still got the rest of the year left to use it! It also means I can go into the Ballgowns exhibition as many times as I want, to sketch, to admire, or to just sit and dream. I’d recommend the membership to anyone who lives in London as you save money in the long run and enjoy so many benefits – it would also make the most wonderful gift! Click here for more information on memberships. 
The exhibition itself is held in the newly restored fashion galleries that provides the most elegant backdrop for the gowns. The mezzanine floor houses a collection of modern dresses as where the downstairs exhibits gowns closer to the 1950’s. I began the exhibition downstairs and I quickly became mesmerised by all the chic, glamorous evening wear that was on show. This included couture gowns commissioned for royal occasions and one notable dress that was worn by Princess Diana. The iconic ‘Elvis dress’ designed by Catherine Walker is adorned with white pearls and a turned up collar. It is just as splendid in person as it is in the famous pictures, although Princess Di made it sparkle in a way that no designer could ever replicate. David Emmanuelle, the designer of Princess Diana’s wedding dress was also represented throughout the exhibition with several dresses including one very pretty pink taffeta dress that was designed for Joan Collins in 1983. The craftsmanship was outstanding, with fine embroidery, delicate lace and quality fabrics. 
The exhibition shows the changes in society, taste and class with couture becoming popular amongst celebrities and not confined to the debutantes who wished to display their wealth. Downstairs evening gloves, kitten heels and charming purses are displayed, expressing the formalities of the age. 
I made my way up the Hollywood inspired sweeping staircase to the more modern part of the exhibition. I was instantly immersed into the world of contemporary couture by the elegant chandeliers, revolving mannequins and stunning photos of the dresses projected onto the magnificent architecture surrounding the mezzanine. The sheer contrast between the contemporary numbers and the full-skirted 50’s frocks shows just how much society has changed, how the industry has developed, and how much more freedom designers have to push boundaries. The upstairs level is a dazzling celebration of design, imagination and British intuition. The collection includes dresses by Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, Zandra Rhodes, Gareth Pugh and Ralph & Russo. Whilst the majority of the downstairs gowns were commissioned for the likes of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother the dresses upstairs were designed and worn by celebrities including Elizabeth Hurley, Beyonce and Sandra Bullock. Here are some of my favourite gowns from the exhibition.
Giles Deacon’s spring 2007 number, by Tim Walker
Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, winter 2011
Victor Edelstein, 1986
Gareth Pugh
Nicholas Oakwell – Digitally printed silk
Elvis Dress – 1989
Roksanda Ilincic silk dress S/S 2009
Atsuko Kudo – lace print on latex
Here is a video for the exhibition featuring interviews with Bruce Oldfield, Nicholas Oakwell, David Sassoon, Mary Katrantzou and Roksanda Ilincic – definitely worth a watch!

The museum shop is selling an accompanying book that I hope to buy very soon. I’ll post a review of it along with some scanned photos as soon as I do.
The exhibition is showing until the 6th of January 2013.
Thank you for reading!
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  1. August 20, 2012 / 6:22 pm

    I am so excited about seeing this! I got an Art Pass instead. I get half price entry, not free, but it applies to almost every museum/ art gallery in the UK so it was a better deal for me.


  2. August 20, 2012 / 7:03 pm

    I can't wait to go see this, I've been planning for a while but it's open til January so I'll go when I can.
    I live in the outskirts of London so do go every so often, and I think when I graduate I'm gonna treat myself to an all year pass. I'd love to be able to take my boyfriend with me for free cos he always pays to come into them with me haha!
    Lovely post 🙂

  3. August 21, 2012 / 8:28 am

    Hi Thanks for visiting me. I am following you on GFC and bloglovin now. But I am sorry I cant see you on my follower list. Can you re-follow.
    Lovely collection. Wish I was able to visit this museum.

  4. August 21, 2012 / 8:28 am

    So inspiring ! Nice post btw (: Can we follow ? Stop by soon love .

  5. August 21, 2012 / 8:28 am

    I wish someday I can visit London. London is one of my dreams!
    Nice review 😀
    come to my blog anytime..


  6. August 21, 2012 / 8:28 am

    All of these garments are just incredible. I'd love to see this exhibit myself!

  7. August 21, 2012 / 12:11 pm

    so much inspiration….now I'm following you.thanks.
    xoxo mini nuni

  8. August 21, 2012 / 3:35 pm

    Hey 🙂
    Thank you so much for such a wonderful comment. ^^
    You have an amazing and beautiful blog, everything is so well done and your posts are so inspiring. Gladly followed through GFC, Bloglovin (for both of your blogs) and liked you page in Facebook.
    Have a great day, Jenna!

  9. August 21, 2012 / 3:35 pm

    I love Giles Deacon and Roksanda Ilincic's dresses!xx

  10. August 21, 2012 / 6:04 pm

    What a beautiful exhibit, I would've loved to be there! I hope you get that book sweetie =)
    – Che

  11. August 21, 2012 / 7:13 pm

    Wow! Great:) I will often visit your blog;)

  12. August 21, 2012 / 9:16 pm

    wow, the dresses are absolutely amazing! wish I could afford those *_*
    in btw thanks for your comments 🙂 and to your question: I would say no!
    But I have to say that I often walk in heels so it's not a real challenge for me.
    Anyway they're comfortable because of the wedge and platform and you normally walk on the
    ball of your feet (like in normal heels).


  13. August 22, 2012 / 9:08 am

    yes, we've all been on such a British kick in the last year! very true. wow- this museum is breathtaking. I would LOVE to visit. How exquisite.

  14. August 22, 2012 / 9:08 am

    These dresses are so beautiful! Great post!
    Thank you for comment and following my blog.
    I follow you too :))


  15. August 22, 2012 / 10:39 am

    Thanks for following my blog
    I also follow your blog

  16. August 23, 2012 / 10:47 am

    Wow! I'd like to go to this museum!

    Thank you for the comment on my blog and of course I'd like to follow each other! 😉

  17. August 23, 2012 / 10:43 pm

    What a beautiful exhibition! If I lived in London I would totally pay the annual fee such a bargain for all that you get! You have a lovely blog xx

  18. August 24, 2012 / 1:30 pm

    wow! quality quality quality! gorgeous pictures! thank you for sharing 🙂
    xoxo Sol Sisters

  19. August 24, 2012 / 1:30 pm

    I want to go to London this weekend and this looks like a great thing to go check out, but unfortunately I'm going with the wrong people to look at pretty dresses, but maybe some other time. Thanks for the info about tickets, and great photos!
    The Undercover Dress-Up Lover x

  20. August 25, 2012 / 4:48 pm

    Wow! I seriously wish I could check out that exhibit! Looks incredible!


  21. August 25, 2012 / 5:13 pm

    new follower

  22. August 25, 2012 / 8:06 pm

    I love your blog! This post is awesome!
    Check out my blog, write your opinion and maybe…follow?
    Where are you from?

  23. August 25, 2012 / 8:07 pm

    Oh thanks ! Great blog and amazing photos ! 🙂 I follow you 🙂 Kiss from Poland !

  24. August 25, 2012 / 10:45 pm

    I think to sum it up, fashion is art. Following you. I would really love it if you checked out my blog..( :

  25. August 25, 2012 / 10:45 pm

    thank you for following. 🙂 we are followin you back.

    nice blog

  26. August 25, 2012 / 10:45 pm

    Thanks so much for following, I'm following back! This post is just beautiful and the V&A is probably my favourite place in the world, this exhibition was just amazing! x

  27. August 25, 2012 / 11:26 pm

    omg I absolutely love your blog! It's so amazing that you study at the London college of Fashion! Awesome:) I will follow for sure, follow me back? 🙂

  28. August 26, 2012 / 10:38 am

    So many amazing dresses, as well as amazing photographs!! 😀 Thank you for sharing this with us!

  29. August 26, 2012 / 10:38 am

    omg, these pictures are amazing! i love your blog. very inspiring posts. stay awesome. 🙂 following you now! i hope you follow back. 🙂 xoxo


  30. August 26, 2012 / 10:38 am

    These photos are stunning! Wearable pieces of art are always something to be appreciated 🙂

    Thanks for the kind words on my blog earlier- just started following you!


  31. August 26, 2012 / 7:50 pm

    Loveee your blog, great post!

    Check out mine?


  32. August 26, 2012 / 7:51 pm

    Wow this looks amazing -great pictures.

  33. August 26, 2012 / 7:51 pm

    Hi!! I love your blog!! I follow you for this moment, thanks for your comment 🙂
    The photos are incredible and the blog's is very cute!!


  34. August 26, 2012 / 7:52 pm

    great blog and thank's for following 🙂
    i'm your new follower, too :*


  35. August 26, 2012 / 10:50 pm

    I love british fashion! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  36. August 27, 2012 / 10:00 am

    I just died and went to couture heaven. Great post and photos (especially that last photo!).

  37. August 27, 2012 / 6:41 pm

    Hello dear
    thnks for your lovely comment
    your blog is great
    followed you on GFC

  38. August 28, 2012 / 12:29 pm

    These are all so stunning! Thank you for sharing 😀

  39. August 30, 2012 / 7:59 pm

    oh, sooo many beutiful things! <3
    & i falled in love in your header.

    im following.

  40. September 4, 2012 / 2:01 pm

    Theres lots of other things to look at in the V&A though 🙂 And right next to it is the science museum and the natural history museum. Theres definitely something for everyone x

  41. September 8, 2012 / 5:28 pm

    o m g super super nice place and collections!

    i am following you, if you like my blog, you can follow me back 😉

  42. September 8, 2012 / 5:28 pm

    everything is so gorgeous… omg i want to go to this exhibition!!
    can i just say as well that you are gorgeous and i love your blog… just followed! 🙂

  43. September 9, 2012 / 5:04 pm

    Oh my gosh, Jenna, you're such a darling for sharing this in such detail. I would have loved to see this exhibition in person, but since I'm on the other side of the globe, you allowed me to not miss out entirely. Amazing. Thank you!

  44. September 15, 2012 / 1:38 pm

    what lovely gowns!

  45. September 16, 2012 / 8:57 pm

    Thank you for following my blog!! This is huge for me =) I just started and I am always so grateful when there are some people who want to follow my blog!

    I lived in London in 2010 for six months and I couldn´t resist to go to the V&A Museum. I loved it! Would I live in London now, I would definitely get a year long membership. This post is great! And the pics are stunning.

    I hope one day, I can move to London or at least move to England, I love all about the country, the people, the history´and the like! In the beginning of the next year I have a 6months long internship and I do hope, I get a position in London! Best City EVER =) Sorry for talking so much about your country!

    Still, the post is great! I´m following back! And thanks again!!

  46. September 17, 2012 / 9:02 pm

    Wow these are some amazing shots,
    wish we had something like this over here!

  47. September 24, 2012 / 12:23 pm

    It looks like a fantastic exhibition. I've just written a feature for a mag on the V&A's new one actually – the Hollywood film outfits one. Sounds amazing! x

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Hello, fancy seeing you here!

I’m Jenna! A photographer, stylist and recipe developer constantly seeking and sharing life’s little tonics. Here is where I share delicious, sparkly stories from Somerset, with my rescue dogs in tow.

In short, I’m usually behind a lens, eat a lot and often lose 4G.

Jenna Fifi is where you’ll find everything from indulgent recipes and hotel reviews to skincare recommendations and interiors inspiration. Life natters are complimentary. It’s a varied mix of late-20s souvenirs, the best bits of course, all jumbled together and served with a sprinkling of humour and a slice of the bright side.

This space is made to be rummaged through, and I hope you find something that leaves you full with life lustre, rippling ideas and hungry for cake and beyond.

So pull up a chair, pour yourself a drink and don’t forget to say hello! 😊

Jenna x