Glamour Galore from Fashion's 'Golden Age'

Need ideas for a holiday dress? London's Victoria and Albert Museum is displaying the ultimate in high-end festive wear. The exhibition is called "The Golden Age of Couture, 1947-1957."

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

With the holidays come parties and parties require party dresses. London's Victoria and Albert Museum is currently showing the ultimate in high-end festive wear at an exhibition called The Golden Age of Couture, 1947 to 1957.

Diane Roberts, across the pond for a few days, immersed herself in unattainable glamour.

DIANE ROBERTS: I stand next to two fashionistas, one's in black boots, one's in Chanel boucle. Two older ladies wear cardigans. We are studying a ball dress by couturier Pierre Balmain. Its tight bodice is sewn with pale feathers, silver thread and crystals and pearls.

One of the older ladies says, it's like a meringue, or a cloud says the fashionista in the black boots. I'd say the cloud. In this dress you'd look like Aphrodite arising from the sea foam, bare-shouldered, wreathed in Olympian beauty.

Nearby, there's a cornflower blue, chiffon afternoon ensemble. It was made for Princess Margaret in the early 1950s. God, says the fashionista in Chanel boucle. She must have been a size zero. Petite, says one of the older ladies. I remember her wedding, says the other older lady, tiny little waist. All the waists in here, at least the waist of the clothes on display, are tiny. The skirts, on the other hand, are big. Before 1947, the silhouette was spare, angular, masculine. There was a war on. Then, Rosie the riveter abandoned her overalls and embraced four-inch heels, petticoats and waist-cinching corsets that would have made Scarlett O'Hara yelp for mercy.

The post-war style was known as the new look. It was a scandal at first. After all, cloth was still rationed and some of those skirts had 20 yards of fabric in them. Oh, Annabel(ph), sighs the black-booted hipster. Schiaparelli. She's gazing reverently at a dress in the designer's signature color - shocking pink. She says, wouldn't it be amazing to wear such a thing? Annabel says, I'd worry about spilling my drink on it. Oh, well, says one of the older ladies in cardigans, times have changed.

Indeed, they have. But maybe not that much. We still want to look like a goddess or a princess when the moon is like a giant pearl, resting on a blue, velvet winter, and when the lights of Christmas start glittering like diamonds.

HANSEN: Diane Roberts is a regular essayist for WEEKEND EDITION.

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