60s swooning at the V&A Ballgowns exhibit


Subjecting my fashion journalism students to a field trip under my tutelage was never going to be incident free, but apart from me losing the tickets (!) between the museum entrance and the Ballgowns Exhibition, our outing to the V&A went swimmingly.

And the exhibition, a celebration of post-50s glamour, did something special for me; it reaffirmed a burning passion for 1960s fashion, just in time for my Beatles-themed 10th (yes, 10th) wedding anniversary….

I’ve been mad on the 60s since childhood. Last week I found the (valuable, were it intact) Let It Be book I butchered as an eight-year-old Beatlemaniac: on one page, a heart has been carefully cut-out where George Harrison’s head used to be (I believe it ended up in a heart-shaped locket – awwwwwww.)

As I teen, I was mad on John Lennon, and 60s culture in general; the music, films, pin-ups and the fashion. You just don’t get such simply-shaped and fearlessly feminine glamour anymore. The icons du jour (Marianne Faithfull, Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, Pattie Boyd…), were just so FAB. Effortlessly beautiful; all pouts and massive hair; blunt fringes, eyeliner and thigh skimming skirts.

Of all the dresses in the Ballgowns collection, I fell madly in love with this pink embroidered and beaded evening dress by Bellville Sassoon from 1964/65

When I got married in November 2002 (to a fellow Beatle obsessive: and yes, it was a deal-breaker) we did the deed in Gibraltar, where John and Yoko got hitched. We’ll mark this auspicious occasion next weekend, with a gathering of friends all dressed up in “chic 60s” attire, bopping to the sounds of the Summer of Love…

No surprises then, that at the Ballgowns exhibit, much as I enjoyed the marvellous, marshmallow-esque Marchesa frock, swooned over Jenny Packham’s beaded beauty (as worn by Sandra Bullock when she rocked that fringe at the 2011 Golden Globes) and gasped at Nicholas Oakwell’s otherworldly “Ironside” dress, I was drawn to the 1960s empire lines, intricate beading and pretty matching jackets like a little moth to a retro fashion flame.

Nicholas Oakwell’s Ironside backdrop gown is out of this world – but it doesn’t compare to the 1960s couture for me

I’ve already bought my dress for the anniversary bash, but I couldn’t stop staring at the pretty pink evening gown by Bellville Sassoon, wishing it was mine. I’d wear it with white kitten heels, pale, candy pink lipstick and as much black kohl as my eyes could stand. Sigh.

But with or without that amazing dress in my wardrobe, gazing at those classic 60s designs, by Norman Hartnell, Hardy Amies and Bellville Sassoon, made me fall in love with 60s fashion all over again.

Images: Pathe News screen grab: Norman Hartnell at Highclere Castle / V&A Collection / Nicholas Oakwell.

Written by Johanna Payton