Wedding Dresses 1775-2014 at the V&A

When I was planning my wedding, one of my favourite things was looking through magazines and blogs to get ideas for my wedding. I made a scrapbook (yes, I'm one of those brides) and filled it with pictures of flowers, decorations, hairstyles, make-up looks - and dresses. Lots and lots of dresses. So you can understand that when I found the V&A was going to have an exhibition of wedding dresses, I was ridiculously excited to check it out and see all the gorgeous gowns.

The exhibition looks at changing wedding dress fashions and trends from 1775 up until the present day. Sadly as the downstairs area (especially around the entrance) was pretty crowded I couldn't really get any decent pictures of them, but there were some beautiful dresses, from Regency Jane Austen-style cuts to Victorian gowns with incredible lace and embroidery details. Some of the fabric were amazing as well - things like brocade men's waistcoats and a particularly gorgeous pink polka dot fabric for Princess Beatrice's wedding dress (no not that one).

Ridiculously tiny corsets. I don't know whether to be impressed that someone managed to fit into that or a bit saddened that women had to suffer for beauty (though I suppose we still do, but this isn't the time or place to get onto that...)

Love this quote that was on the wall in the exhibition - it really captures how I feel about my own wedding (though I should point out I'm excited in a kid-at-Christmas-wanting-it-to-be-here-now kind of way too!)

I could imagine this beautiful drop waisted 1920s dress being worn by a character on Downton Abbey - the beading and lace looks incredible and I love the sparkly belt.

This is a terrible quality picture I know but I couldn't get up close enough to get a good one. However I had to include it as it's just so pretty. It's a 1940s tea dress in the most gorgeous red chiffon and harks back to some of the earlier dresses, which were often colourful rather than white so they could be worn again. I love the idea of a wedding dress being repurposed into everyday life.

This is a Dior New Look dress from the late 1940s/early 1950s and is absolutely beautiful. I love the lace detailing and the beadwork as well as the sweetheart neckline under the lace. This is actually very similar to a dress I tried on and very nearly ended up buying - but you'll have to watch this space to see the real thing!

Moving upstairs to find the more modern (1960s onwards) and celebrity wedding dresses...

I feel a bit mean but must admit this sign did make me chuckle!

I really like this dress - it's very simple but the ruching on the bodice, the beautiful neckline and the gorgeous flowy skirt just lift if to something else. And you can't go wrong with a bit of a princessy tiara...

I have a bit of a thing about bows and so the giant one on the back of this dress is utterly brilliant - after all, during the ceremony most people are going to be looking at your back, so it makes sense to have some detail there.

The embroidery detail on this wedding dress (they're meant to be phoenix feathers!) for a Chinese bride is just so incredibly detailed. And how fierce are those red shoes?!

Speaking of detail, this is Kate Moss's wedding dress and it's beautifully intricate - just look at the sheer amount of beading and sparkle on there! This was one of my favourite dresses in the whole exhibition, despite not liking it when I first saw photos of it; it's really one you need to see up close to appreciate the full effect.

One celebrity wedding dress I have loved for years, however, is Gwen Stefani's. I really like the unusual detail of the pink dip-dye and the fact it's utterly romantic yet still oozes rock-star cool.

Saving the best for last - my favourite dress of the whole exhibition. This is the dress Dita Von Teese wore when she married Marilyn Manson and it is just so, so beautiful. The gorgeous mix of pinks and purples and blues in the fabric, the shape - demure yet sexy - and the playfulness of the tri-cornered hat are a winning combination in my book

If you fancy checking it out, Wedding Dresses 1775-2014 is on at the V&A until 15 March 2015 - so plenty of time to pay them a visit! - and tickets cost £13.50.

Have you been to this exhibition? Which of the dresses is your favourite?

Book Review: Dracula

Whilst I'm not a fan of horror movies, I love a good spooky story. There's something about a novelist creating that sense of creeping dread that lingers with you for days that I find brilliantly unsettling; it's the kind of thing that makes you check under the bed and behind doors because, even though you know there's nothing there, you can't quite be sure...

With Halloween less than a week away, I thought that this week's book review had to be on one of the most brilliant examples of this: Bram Stoker's Dracula. It's one of those stories that you've seen depicted on TV or in films a million times, but there is nothing quite as thrilling as actually reading it for yourself and finding out where the vampire mythology that has saturated popular culture for the last few years all began.

Image source
The novel opens with Jonathan Harker, an English solicitor, visiting Count Dracula in the mountains of Transylvania to oversee the Count's purchase of some land in England. Once he arrives at the Count's castle, however, all is not what it seems... (I know that's incredibly short but I really can't say much more than that as it will spoil it!)

Firstly, I have to say that Stoker writes horror utterly brilliantly - the first part of the book, which takes place in Transylvania, is filled with a horrible build-up of tension as Jonathan, and the reader, realise that he's trapped in the castle. There's one particularly gripping sequence where I ended up missing my stop on the train because I was so immersed in it and didn't want to wait to find out what happened next. However, once the action shifts to England, the novel's style turns and it becomes more like a thriller which leaves you rooting for a small team of mortals pitted against seemingly impossible odds.

I also found the characters really engaging; even Lucy Westenra, a young aristocrat and friend of Jonathan's fiancee Mina Harker, could have been a two-dimensional simpering cypher, yet manages to come across as fully rounded and as developed as the central figures. It's a bit of a cliché but they really do all leap off the page and come across as completely believable. The settings are really well drawn too, particularly Whitby - I felt completely immersed in the surroundings and could picture it all so vividly, to the extent it's making me want to go there and see all the places in the novel for myself.

Overall I really enjoyed Dracula; it's a book that you might come to thinking you've seen it all before, but it's fantastically gripping and the pace really sweeps you along. Highly recommended for your Halloween reading. Just don't have nightmares...

Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium

Regular readers of the blog will know that I am a massive cat lover. Whenever we go to Nick's sister's house I always make a huge fuss of their cat and I can lose hours to the Emergency Cute Stuff Twitter feed. I'm desperate for our own kittens but sadly living in a first-floor flat near a main road puts paid to that a bit (at least until we buy somewhere). So when I found out a few months ago that London was getting its very own cat café in the form of Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium, I knew I just had to pay them a visit.

For those who may not have heard of it before, Lady Dinah's is modelled on the 'cat cafes' in Japan, where cats roam free as patrons enjoy their snacks and drinks - the perfect solution for animal lovers who don't have the space for a furry friend of their own or live somewhere with a 'no pets' rule. The waiting list has been ridiculously long for months on end, but we finally went for my birthday earlier in October - and it was definitely worth the wait.

When we first arrived we waited in the lobby area, which also serves as a take-away facility where you can buy cake and tea.

The team at Lady Dinah's are constantly learning from their feedback - these cards with each booking hanging up in the entrance were something they only introduced on the morning of our visit!

Once we'd checked in we were taken down to the cafe area by Lauren, the lovely friendly owner of the cafe. She and the rest of the staff were great at talking to us about the cats, answering our questions and making us feel incredibly comfortable, as well as being genuinely concerned about the cats' welfare - it's very clear that the felines always come first.

To the cats!

We sat downstairs which was a lovely cosy area with lots of comfortable sofas and quirky bits of decor - I love the shelves full of cat-themed books and bric-a-brac and the unusual take on the 'do not disturb' signs.

I really like these old-fashioned signs with descriptions of what the cats' different body language means - it's really helpful for telling when the cats want to play and when to leave them be - and the little pictures and descriptions of each cat.

The cafe has twelve cats (they were ten when we were there as they were adopting two more kittens the week after our visit), all strays who've found a new home there, and they all have their own unique personalities. As we were there quite early in the morning many of them were still enjoying their snooze but we got fuss from Romeo - whose main focus was getting to the treat tube - handsome Persian-tabby cross Wookie (Best. Name. Ever.) and adorable black kitten Loki.

Romeo and Loki say hello to each other.

As it was my birthday Nick very kindly treated me to some birthday goodies - I got a delicious sticky toffee cupcake (surely your birthday is the one day cake for breakfast is acceptable?), a gorgeous Lady Dinah's tote bag to add to my ever-growing collection, and this lovely card:

Because if you can't have cake for breakfast on your birthday, then when can you?

I also had the Indiana, a really tasty chai latte with a salted caramel shot. Chai lattes and salted caramel are two of my favourite things in the world so when I saw it on the menu I just had to order it! And how adorable is the chocolate powder cat's face on the top?

After my cake and drink I popped upstairs to see what the other cats were up to - most of them were asleep as you can see but I did get some fuss off the lovely Donnie here:

I also made the acquaintance of the gorgeous Artemis, who was very keen on the pigeons flying around outside the cafe - look how focused she is!

I love this cat-sized hamster wheel; is it a bit sad I want to get one for when we get our own kittens?

Sadly you can only book Lady Dinah's for 90 minute slots, and our time went by so quickly I almost didn't want to leave! It was such a nice relaxed atmosphere and just like being in your friend's house with lovely mismatched furniture and the most adorably cute cats to stroke and play with. I think when I come back I'll try and book an afternoon session as lots of the cats seemed to be perking up just when we were leaving, but it was such a wonderful experience and I'd definitely recommend it if you're a cat lover.

Have you been to Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium? Would you visit a cat cafe like this?

Strictly Come Dancing Bloggers Tag

Have I mentioned before I'm a huge Strictly Come Dancing fan? No? ;) The new series kicked off last week  - you can read my post on fulfilling a dream by being in the studio audience here - and it got me thinking about what I would do in the unlikely event I ever become famous and get to take to the floor myself. (On a side note, I wonder how long it will take before one of the super-bloggers is asked to do it...)

Thankfully the Strictly Come Dancing Bloggers Tag, created by the lovely Natasha and Rochelle at Next Route Style, allows you to do just that! I had loads of fun filling this out so thanks to the girls for tagging me :) Read on for my answers...

1. What would be your outfit choice? (colour, style etc)
Obviously lots of sequins! I like the idea of one of the prom-style dresses with the big frilly knee-length skirts (so lots of movement when you dance) and a bright colour - maybe something like turquoise blue, Cadbury purple or a beautiful ruby red.

2. To compliment your chosen outfit, how would you like your make up?
A sparkly eyeshadow, classic black eyeliner flicks and red lipstick. Essentially, for those of you who watched it the other week, I want Kristina's jive look (as seen in this clip). I have a bit of a habit of falling in love with entire Strictly outfits!

3. You have the chance to have your dream hair (style, colour, length, extension, up, down etc) - what would yours be?
A lovely sleek beehive - it's the one hairstyle I really want to master but it never seems to come out right when I do it.

4. What would be more important to you - your make-up being flawless or your hair being perfectly styled?
Probably the make-up - my hair is very rarely perfect, which I must admit I quite like, but to have bad make-up on Strictly would be a nightmare (think of the HD)!

5. What would be your favourite dance style? (eg American Smooth, Salsa, Samba, Foxtrot, Quickstep, Charleston, Rumba, Tango, Paso Doble, Waltz, Jive etc)
Ooh I have loads! Probably jive or quickstep though.

6. What would be your song choice to dance to?
'You Make My Dreams' by Hall and Oates (as heard in (500) Days of Summer) - it's uptempo, 80s, fun and a bit cheesy which are all of my favourite things in music.

7. Who's your favourite judge?
Len - I agree with him that there is 'too much messing abaht', plus he has the most brilliant turn of phrase and gives constructive criticism without being mean.

8. It's themed week - who or what would you like to dress up as?
I like the idea of a magic/circus theme - think top hats and lots of colour!

9. Behind the scenes, you get to meet the talented hair and make up designer, Lisa Armstrong. You can ask her one question, what would it be?
Which iconic hair and make-up look would you like to recreate, and which pro/contestant would you give it to for which dance?

10. Who would you like to win?
Steve! He looks like he's having a huge amount of fun, which is always what I like in a Strictly contestant, and seems like a genuinely nice guy. Plus, y'know, the muscles don't exactly hurt...

11. Which professional would you like to dance with?
Kevin from Grimsby - he comes across as a really good patient teacher but also like someone you'd have loads of fun with in the training room.

I tag everyone reading this to do this post - if you do let me know in the comments and I'll pop over for a read!

August and September Empties

It's that time of the month again - my empties post! This is a bit of a bumper edition because September was such a busy month for me that by the time I'd got round to writing up my August empties it was practically the end of September, so I figured it was better to do a double post. Thankfully things are quietening down a bit in October though (well mostly) so hopefully I will be more active on the blog in the coming months!

I must admit the last couple of months than I'd like on the empties front because everything I was using turned out to be a long-haul job and seemed to take ages to use up, even the samples. In the meantime, here's what I thought of the products I used up in August and September...

 Proactiv Deep Cleansing Wash
This was part of a care package that I was very kindly sent by Sali Hughes, the Guardian's beauty writer, after meeting her at an event. Not only did it last ages (Sali sent it to me in May and it ran out in early August), it also helped clear my breakouts and even began to work on my spot scars, which have been an issue for me for a while so anything that clears them is good! The microexfoliators aren't scratchy or irritating - though I will warn you now that you'll have to scrub your eyebrows unless you want little blue beads in there - and it left my skin feeling clean but not tight. I have since repurchased and it's not the cheapest product but again considering how long a bottle lasts I'm quite happy to buy it again.

Soap & Glory Clean, Girls Body Wash travel size
I bought this when I went to visit my parents a few weeks ago and foolishly forgot to pack shower gel, and actually really like it. Again it lasts ages (this tiny bottle lasted me a month!) and has a lovely creamy rich fragrance. I did find I needed to use body lotion afterwards but if your skin isn't so dry then you might be able to get away with it. All in all, a great product and one I'll definitely be repurchasing when I've cleared my shower gel mountain.

Molton Brown Rhubarb & Rose Replenishing Hand Cream sample
This was a sample in my March Birchbox and I'm actually quite sad to see it go! It's a very delicate cream with a nice floral scent that's not too sweet or overpowering, sinks in quickly and leaves my hands feeling really soft. I've definitely noticed an improvement in the condition of my hands since I started using it and it's something I'd consider repurchasing, though again not for a while as I have a couple of other hand creams to use up first.

And now the samples:

Hawaiian Tropic Satin Protection Ultra Radiance Sun Lotion SPF 15
This is not a product that you necessarily want to wear to work - I did this and what I thought was going to be a subtle shimmer turned out to be full-on disco ball glitter. However, if you work somewhere where glitter is appropriate (or it's not a workday), this is a really nice product. The smell is like summer in a bottle - if you like coconut scents then you'll love this - plus it's really moisturising and doesn't take ages to sink in. If you're off for some autumn sun and don't mind a bit of sparkle it may well be worth picking some up.

Garnier Skin Naturals Moisture Match Goodbye Dry Ultra Hydrating Rich Cream
Is it a rule that any kind of high street skincare product that comes in pink packaging must have that slightly artificial fruity smell? This is the second time on the run I've had a product like that in one of these posts and I'm starting to wonder if it's a thing. Other than that, this was a bit of a 'meh' product for me - whilst it didn't break me out and was nicely moisturising, I just didn't think it was anything particularly special.

Garnier Skin Naturals Moisture Match Shine Be Gone Mattifying Fresh Cream
I was not keen on this, mainly because of the texture - it seemed to go sort of bobbly when it was applied and didn't feel nice on my skin at all. That said, it did sink in quickly and I felt it did go some way towards making my skin look a bit less shiny, and the smell wasn't too bad either. If the texture wasn't bad this would be a decent drugstore moisturiser for my combination skin but otherwise I don't think I'll be purchasing it.

After that and with twelve new products from the last two Birchboxes, I'm currently at a net total of 270 products - worryingly I'm accumulating more stuff not getting rid of it! I'm not expecting to make much progress on empties next month as I am currently working my way through a giant bottle of Lush Tramp shower gel and have gone back to a tried and trusted skincare routine after my skin exploded with horrible cystic spots recently (not good just weeks before the wedding!). But I will try to keep up with using things up where I can - there are quite a few things that feel like they're going soon so hopefully October's empties might not be too bad going!

What have you used up this month?