“Ballgowns” Exhibit at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum

Upper left: Alexander McQueen Ballgown S/S 2011. Upper center: Worth London gown, 1955. Given by Mrs Roy Hudson. Upper right: Silk satin and beaded ‘Rumina’ gown by Erdem, A/W 2008. Lent by the designer. © V&A Images. Bottom left: State evening ensemble ‘Elvis Dress’ for Princess Diana by Catherine Walker, 1989. Given by the Franklin Mint. Bottom right: Gown by Victor Edelstein, 1986. Worn and given by Lady Heseltine. Image © David Hughes 2011

Perhaps nothing evokes the spirit of haute couture as splendidly as evening wear, the absolute pinnacle of fashion when everyone dresses to outdo one another and capture the most eyes and flash bulbs. The Brits, naturally, have experienced a long history of formal galas and receptions, and if their designs are not usually as elaborate as those of their fellow Europeans, they make up in taste what they eschew in excess.

Currently on display at the newly renovated fashion galleries at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum of Design, “Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950” celebrates the ongoing evolution of the couture dress. Featuring more than 60 pieces, the exhibition celebrates both the formality of U.K. society as well as the intricate craftsmanship involved in achieving an unparalleled design. Famed creations on display include Princess Diana’s Elvis dress designed by Catherine Walker and Norman Hartnell’s confection for Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. The show also features work from Victor Stiebel, Zandra Rhodes, Jonathan Saunders and Hussein, alongside modern pieces from Alexander McQueen, Giles Beacon, Erdem and Jenny Packham. More than anything, “Ballgowns” makes a nice contrast to the Olympic uniforms being pushed to the limit a few kilometers to the east.