Wedding dress

Designer: Charles James (American, born Great Britain, 1906–1978)

Date: 1948–49

Culture: American

Medium: silk

Credit Line: Gift of Jane Love Lee, 1993

Accession Number: 1993.427


Among postwar American designers, Charles James was arguably the most original, embracing the silhouette of the New Look while developing a clearly personal aesthetic and technical approach. James, a perfectionist, was noted for gowns of sculptural presence in colors more evocative of the exotic combinations seen in hothouse orchids than a pretty English border.

James' wedding gown could, if it were a little less seashell-pink, qualify as a John Singer Sargent pearl, since the nature of its creation, if a kind of detached and powerful eroticism, focused in James' case on the 1880s and very likely on Sargent portraiture. But not even Madame X could command all the lubricious James signatures here: the low cut of a sweetheart neckline with bare-shoulder nonchalance, corsetry both restricting and slightly tumescent as well, a flaring bustle that Dior might envy, and a center-front eye-of-the-storm of drapery that only the seventeenth-century sculptor Giovanni Bernini could imagine. James was an idealist; few went to him for wedding gowns for fear of delays and shenaningans that could result in the bride ending up at the ceremony as naked as that famous emperor with new clothes.