Today I went to see an exhibition at the Cincinnati Art Museum called Wedded Perfection: Two Centuries of Wedding Gowns. It was pretty incredible. I wasn't allowed to take photos, but I bought a book in the gift shop and photographed some of the pages so that I could share some of my favorite dresses with you.
The trend of white gowns has come in and out of fashion, but I think it's fascinating how even in a group of gowns that are all in white, the change of shape can very so much with the times. For example...
This gorgeous number is clearly straight out of the late 1960s...
...while this one screams 1950s...
...and this lovely thing isa gem of the 1920s.
There were some pretty interesting colored gowns (particularly popular during the mid 20th century), like this 1935 blue lace gown, made for the bride by her future mother-in -law since money was tight during the Great Depression.
This open-back yellow silk gown was also from 1935. The bride wanted something sexy that she could wear again, but her family clearly thought she should be more covered up for the ceremony so she wore a jacket on top as you can see.
This yellow gown from 1934 is made of velvet and has an incredibly opulent train.
There were incredible gowns from as far back at the mid 18th century.
The above gown is decorated with wax orange blossoms (a symbol of fertility) which was a popular adornment for wedding gowns all through the 19th century.
Some gowns were pretty avant-garde, like this one from 1967, made of leather rectangles secured together with silver rings like chainmail.
Or this hooded gown from 1946
Or this incredible hand-felted piece, made for a Japanese-American bride who wanted something to span the gap of Japanese and Western tradition.
The phoenix was hand-felted right onto the fabric.
And, of course, there were original gowns designed by some of the biggest names in fashion.
Christian Dior, 1954
Yohji Yamamoto, 2000
Vera Wang designed this dress for herself, when she couldn't find anything that suited her aesthetic and was then inspired to start her own line of bridal gowns.
This gown, which is possibly my favorite (and certainly unique) was designed by Jeanne Lanvin in 1931.
The bride who wore it, Elaine Mack (née Joseph) wore it again and again on significant wedding anniversaries. Here she is with her husband in 1986 on the fifty-fifth.
I think what interests me the most in wedding gowns is how the choice is the ultimate opportunity for self expression through fashion.
Many people say that your wedding is the most important day of your life, but I don't think that's necessarily true. Others say the wedding gown is important because it's the brides only chance to dress up luxuriously and be the center of attention, but again, that's not necessarily true. For one thing, there might be other opportunities for these thing, but for another, some brides don't want to dress very fancy or be the center of attention, and they may choose something understated and that choice is just as important to her self expression as the choice that so many brides make to wear a Cinderella gown.
The point is that while the day may not be the most important day of your life, the choice of dress is probably the most important wardrobe decision of your life and there is the oportunity to express yourself as a rebel rule-breaker or a traditionalist, a minimalist or a maximalist. That kind of self expression is what I love about fashion.