A Tale of Two Wedding Dresses

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Something which I have always been interested in, and that now forms part of my new job (I know, I know will tell you all about that soon enough), are the different ways museums and galleries choose to display exhibits. These two dresses might be the last things you would expect to find in an art gallery, but here they are in Manchester Art Gallery, Mosely Street. The small exhibition illustrates how the designer Vivienne Westwood took inspiration from the 18th Century by showing one of her dresses in a room full of period paintings and of course a dress from 1765. Designers often state times and places of inspiration, yet it is difficult to get inside their mindset without having prior knowledge of what they are quoting. This exhibit lets the viewer envelope themselves in the art work of the time, whilst also having the rare opportunity to compare an 18th C dress with a Westwood design it inspired.
I am particularly interested in peoples history, so was delighted to read that the Westwood dress was in fact the wedding dress of the museum director. How wonderful to see your wedding dress everyday in your place of work, than have it hidden in the back of your closet!

 Raiding History: Vivienne Westwood and the 18th Century

‘..it’s so important to look at the past. Because people did have taste, and they did have ideas of excellence, and those things are not going to come unless people look at the past.’ Vivienne Westwood

British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood is famous for her re-interpretations of historic dress and textiles. Here we have displayed one of her couture gowns with a dress and portraits from the 1700s to show how the art inspires her.

Wedding dress 2010 designed by Vivienne Westwood (1941-)

Evening gown in printed blue and silver chine silk. The delicate fabric, pastel colours, full skirts and corseting of this gown recall the open and sack back  dresses of the 1700s. Typically of Westwood however, the dress is not a copy or pastiche. The past is combined with her own ideas to create new and original clothes for our time. This dress was worn as her wedding dress by Maria Balshaw, Director of the Manchester City Galleries. Dress on loan from Maria Balshaw to Manchester City Galleries.

Wedding dress (Open robe) 1765

(Sack back) gown or ‘robe a la francaise’ in pale blue and silver figured silk. The ‘Sack back’ gown was the most formal type of women’s dress in the late 1700s. It was reserved for official occasions such as receptions, weddings and appearances at court. Like many silk dresses from the period this example has been altered a great deal. The dress is said to have been worn as her wedding dress by Sarah Gamson from Gringly-super-Montem in Nottinghamshire. Sarah was born in 1750 and married age 15 in 1765. Manchester City Galleries 1947.137.

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Funnily enough, the day I saw this exhibition my friend Chris gave me these two books on historical fashion one including dresses from the 1700s!

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