Unknown dressmaker Wedding outfit

When Margaret Winter-Irving married Bruce Mead in Melbourne on 24 June 1925, she wore a gold and ivory gown of metallic brocade styled in the latest flapper look of the mid 1920s. The couple were married at All Saints Church, East St Kilda, in a much publicised double wedding at which Margaret’s younger sister Joan married Geoffrey Heath. The sisters were escorted down the aisle by their father, John Winter-Irving. Their arrival at the church was captured on film and depicts the brides making their way through a crush of onlookers, obscured by a sea of hats and umbrellas.

While Joan wore an ivory satin dress embroidered with silver thread and crystals, Margaret chose a fabric woven with an intricate web-like pattern of graduated chevrons. This is combined with a gold metallic lace used for the sleeves and central panel of the train. Small diamantés are scattered across the bodice and skirt, and the shorter fashionable hemline has been cut to follow the points of the chevron design. Although the name of the dressmaker is now unknown, Margaret had the dress made in Melbourne and she was closely involved in its creation.

The French couturier Coco Chanel is credited with introducing the vogue for the short wedding dress which reached to just below the knee, and was set off with a long train flowing from the shoulders. Margaret’s straight dress, with deep V at the front, reflected the boyish ‘garçonne’ look of the time and the separate train was either pinned or stitched to the shoulders. The veil originally belonged to the groom’s mother who sent it out from England for the wedding. Dating from the 1890s, it is edged with Honiton lace and was secured with a floral head wreath of hand-cut miniature velvet arum lilies. Completing the outfit is a pair of ivory satin shoes with beaded decoration on the vamp. They were made by Bally of Switzerland exclusively for the drapery store Craig Williamson of Melbourne.

Surviving photographs taken by the Melbourne portrait photographer Spencer Shier provided the NGV with important documentation on how the ensemble was worn. The veil was arranged closely over the head, imitating the fashionable cloche hat of the day. The photographs also confirm the positioning of the flower sprays on the head and skirt. Margaret is shown carrying a large sheath of lilies cradled in her arms, a favoured style for wedding bouquets during the 1920s and 1930s.

Wedding outfit is an elegant example of fashions influenced by the Art Deco style of the 1920s. Eschewing the frothy and corseted designs of the first two decades of the twentieth century, the streamlined tubular shape of the outfit reflects the modern aesthetic that came to the fore between the wars.

In 2010 the ensemble was donated to the NGV by Margaret’s son, Maurice Mead, and his wife, Janet. The dress was conserved and lent to the Bendigo Art Gallery in 2011 for inclusion in a major exhibition of wedding dresses from Britain and Australia.

Laura Jocic, Assistant Curator, Australian Fashion and Textiles, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2012).