Which Brides to Display? Assessing our Bridal Collection

Once an exhibition has been given the go ahead, object assessments are one of the first stages for the Conservation Department. The images here show assessments for Wedding Dresses 1775-2014 being undertaken in the V&A stores. For the show, opening in May, 37 new outfits are being added to those which have already been out on tour, as well as numerous accessories and items of ephemera.

Working from a list supplied by the curator, which details the objects they wish to include, a Costume Mounting Specialist and a Conservator undertake an in-depth assessment of every object required for display. The Conservator determines the amount of conservation required to make the garment stable for display, while the Costume Mounting Specialist measures the internal dimensions of the garment to determine which mannequins are suitable for use and what sort of adaptations will be required, including whether any underpinnings will be required. This gives us a good idea of how long the conservation and mounting preparation will take, and what materials will need to be purchased.

Sadly, it is at this stage that some objects are rejected from the list. This can be due to their fragility or the number of hours of work required in order for them to be safe for display.

Wedding Dress, designed by Bruce Oldfield, London, 1992. Museum no. T.198-1997. Given by Ms Julia Bridges. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Can we find a mannequin to fit? The slinky and backless nature of this dress from 1992 (T.198-1997), left us unable to get accurate measurements. Here you can see us trying it on a figure to see if we can determine the dimensions the mannequin needs to be.

Doll in wedding dress, unknown maker, dressed by the Powell Family, England, 1761-1800. Museum no. W.183-1919. Gift of Mr H.J. Powell. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

This doll (W.183-1919), requires very little conservation, but the assessment allows us to consider what sort of mount will be made by the Technical Services Department.

Wedding dress, designed by Aida Woolf, England, June 1923. Museum no. T.65-1973. Given by Mrs A. Diamond. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

This wonderful silver lame dress from 1927 (T.65&A-1973) was in such poor condition that it was decided it should be left out of the exhibition. The conservation required to stabilise the many holes and tears would take over well 200 hours!

Wedding dress, designed by Isobel. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

As a new acquisition, this 1950s dress by Isobel was assessed as soon as it arrived in the museum. Only minor work was required, including stabilising the hole under the arm seen here.

Wedding dress, unknown designer, England, 1848. Given by the daughters of the late Mrs John Bell. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Oh so grey! This dress from 1848 (T.53&a-1930) was so grubby that the conservator allocated 25 hours for the wet cleaning of the lace overdress – watch this space for an update on how the cleaning goes…

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