It is a common misconception that brides have worn white since the dawn of time – a symbol of virtue and virginity. In fact, the tradition only dates back to 1840 when Queen Victoria made the daring choice to wear the colour on her wedding day. Since then, bridal fashion has taken quite a few twists and turns and been a joy to behold!
For the 1920’s bride it was all about rocking a stylish head piece complete with grand veil. Dropped waists, above the ankle hemlines (shocking!) and simple white shoes were the norm along with huge wired bouquets. This continued into the 1930’s but we also saw the very beginning of celebrity culture with increasing demand from the public for spectacular gowns for the rich and famous. The result? Alongside the flapper-inspired gowns shown above, we also saw more traditional elegance and cathedral length veils such as this Norman Hartnell gown made for Margaret Whigham – the effort of no less than 30 seamstresses!
The 1940’s is best remembered for war time wedding fashion due to rationing and the serious shortage of fancy fabrics. Brides focused on simple, elegant short dresses with cinched in waists that they could make themselves. Often paired with a smart matching jacket brides looked very smart next to their grooms who were more often than not in their military uniforms. The cinched waist remained popular in the 1950s but longer skirts came back into fashion, as did long intricate sleeves and lots of lace. Just as Grace Kelly’s wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956 epitomised the fairy-tale ending to any romance, her dress, designed by her favourite costume designer Helen Rose, epitomised 1950’s bridal fashion.
Major changes began to happen owing to the ‘swinging’ of the 60’s. The general relaxation of society’s rules was definitely reflected in bridal fashion. Mary Quant’s controversial mini skirt made its way into wedding dress designs, coupled with capped sleeves, short veils and BIG hair. Fashion reflecting the ethos of the era continued into the 1970’s with Brides enjoying less structure and more freedom: Empire lines, long loose sleeves and simple flowing headpieces dominated the style of the decade.
Nothing sums up the eighties philosophy of ‘bigger is better’ like Princess Diana’s iconic wedding dress. BIG sleeves, BIG skirts and BIG headdresses. Not to mention as many bridesmaids as peach taffeta could be purchased for! This trend continued into the early 90’s (remember Mariah Carey’s wedding to Tommy Mottola?) albeit off the shoulder and with stricter corsetry. Thank goodness the later 90’s brought about some simpler silhouettes – thank you Calvin Klein! – as shown above in the dress worn by Carolyn Bessette, designed by Narcisco Rodriguez.
From the millennium onwards, the hourglass silhouette from the 1950’s made a huge comeback! Fitted bodices, intricate corsetry and the mermaid/fishtail shape all came to the fore as brides wanted to look as much like princesses as they could. We have also witnessed the rise of the ‘vintage’ dress – essentially any dress whose style harks back to one of the decades above: Jazz Era dropped waist gowns with intricate beading, fifties inspired prom style dresses and slinky bias cut numbers all with their own modern twist.
The beauty of this resurgence is that now anything goes! Today’s bride is free to choose any style from any era with a focus on what looks best on her body shape and reflects her character. And whilst I very much look forward to seeing what the future of bridal fashion brings us, I very much hope that personal style and a great fit are always en vogue!
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