Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery - December 2016

1970s wedding dress

1970s wedding dress

December's Object of the Month was chosen by our work experience History undergraduate, India Hicks. The object in question is a wedding dress dating from the 1970s worn by a local resident.

The object is a white tree-bark wedding dress that is satin trimmed with simulated pearl drops and beads. The dress was worn by the donor, Edna Page on the occasion of her marriage to Michael Page at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Pembury Road, in 1973.The Tunbridge Wells Museum has a large collection of wedding dresses and this particular dress has yet to be displayed and was donated to the museum in 2000. The dress makes an interesting object of the month as the museum does not currently have the ability to display its large costume collection due to limited room for displays. By highlighting this as an object of the month the dress and its history can be more widely acknowledged.

Wedding dresses in the 1970s often included detailing and embellishment of pearls and beads to compliment the simple flowing cut of the dress. The dresses were commonly white or cream coloured in the 1970s; a more traditional style appeared after the wedding mini dresses of the 1960s, most notably worn by Twiggy and Yoko Ono. White wedding dresses were not, however, always the tradition; Queen Victoria can be seen as the pioneer of the white wedding dress for the everyday bride as, prior to the Queen’s decision to wear white, it was generally only a custom for aristocracy and nobility. Thus, by the 1970s white was the expected colour of a wedding dress. The dress in focus appears to have more aristocratic links, as Princess Anne’s 1973 wedding dress exemplified the loosely fitted sleeves that came into fashion after 20 years of tightly fitted sleeves.

I began to look through occasion wear from the 19th and 20th centuries as I thought they would be interesting to compare to that of the present day. I then encountered the vast collection of 60 wedding dresses that the museum has in its archives. The dress that I have been focused on however, stood out to me as plain with small but purposeful detailing which did not compare to other dresses in the collection. When I looked into the details of the object I discovered that the wedding to which the dress was worn was held at the Convent of Sacred Heart in Tunbridge Wells. At the time, the convent had just become independent as Beechwood Sacred Heart School which I attended for seven years. The chapel in which the wedding ceremony would have been held is a place that I am very familiar with and discovering such a close connection with the object was certainly something that I was not expecting.

India says: "The museum’s wedding dresses interested me as I had been working with Victorian clothing earlier in the week and noticed the repetition of fashions. Wedding dresses changed rather strictly with the decades in the 20th century and I was intrigued to see how that transcended locally in Tunbridge Wells."

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