Struggling to choose a wedding dress for your big day? Or maybe you want a vintage wedding dress but not sure from which era? Sometimes it's best to look back and see what made the history books. From the beaded styles of the 1920s, to the simple wedding dresses of the 1990s, we take a look at wedding dresses through the decades.
Wedding dresses in the 1920s
The ‘Roaring Twenties’ was the age of the flapper. Women over 30 had won the vote in 1918, and by 1928 women over 21 had won it too. With more social freedom and independence than ever before, women of the 1920s expressed this readily through their bold choices of fashion! From short skirts, bobbed hair and dramatic make up, these fashions also influenced what was worn on a wedding day. Brides of the day wore shorter dresses which were commonly made out of different materials.
In 1927, Alec Stratford Cunningham, a British flying ace and politician, married Ruth Mary Clarisse. For the big day Ruth wore a knee length dress with a drop waist and a belt around her hips, epitomizing the fashion of the 1920s. Love this style? Check out our vintage-inspired wedding dresses.
Wedding dresses in the 1930s
Even though it was the Great Depression era, weddings in the 1930s were an elegant affair, with fashion tending to be more conservative and practical, with hints of glamour. To save money, most brides wore rayon instead of silk, with styles tending to be figure hugging but with demure high necklines and long sleeves.
One of the most prominent weddings of the time (and perhaps scandalous) was Wallis Simpson’s marriage to Edward, Duke of Windsor in 1937. To walk down the aisle Mrs. Simpson wore a dress with a high neckline and corseted waist, demonstrating the modesty of the period.
Wedding dresses in the 1940s
Up to 1945 Britain was at war with Germany. During WWII there was extensive rationing, and the anxiety of wartime meant that merriment was not always at the forefront of people’s minds. Brides however did their best, using what they could afford or find. It was seen as the beginning of the DIY wedding, due to the unpredictable nature of when her sweetheart would get time off.
Because of the war, many brides of the decade wore more practical outfits for their wedding days. This included smart jackets and knee length skirts. War weddings were perhaps not the most grand affairs, but definitely some of the most romantic. Slightly later on in the decade longer veils came into fashion, and brides would often carry bouquets of chrysanthemums, a flower typically carried by war brides of the 1940s.
Of course, the most famous weddings of the 1940s was Princess Elizabeth’s marriage to Philip Mountbatten in 1947. 200 million people worldwide tuned in to hear Elizabeth and Philip tie the knot in Westminster Abbey. The Queen wore a wedding dress designed by Norman Hartnell - a duchesse satin bridal gown with motifs of star lilies and orange blossoms. Despite being a princess, Elizabeth still had to use ration coupons to get the material!
Wedding dresses in the 1950s
In the 1950s weddings became a high fashion affair, and Hollywood had a big impact on the styles. Thanks to manufacturing improvements, wedding dresses were more available and more affordable. The sweetheart neckline, small waist and full skirt was the classic wedding gown for most of the 1950s. Lace wedding dresses were also incredibly popular. As modesty was still required in churches, many brides of the era wore dresses with long sleeves, or outfits with removable layers.
One of the most iconic wedding dresses of the decade was Grace Kelly's, who wore a long-sleeved lace wedding dress for her marriage to Prince Rainier in 1956.
In the late 1950s the shapes of dresses softened to a round ballgown, and hemlines rose up to a tea dress length. The most famous example of this style being Audrey Hepburn’s tea length ballerina styled wedding gown, which she wore in the movie Funny Face.
Wedding dresses in the 1960s
The 1960s was the decade where wedding fashion went through the most rapid changes. In the early 1960s hemlines grew shorter and trains did too. The new shift dress or baby doll shape made weddings more casual and comfortable. During the mid-1960s the A-line silhouette with an empire waist was the style du jour, while Brides were also united by their love of daisies.
Notable weddings of the 1960s include Audrey Hepburn’s second marriage to Andrea Dotti in January 1969. Hepburn wore a Givenchy designed long sleeve, funnel necked minidress in a pale ballet pink, which she coupled with white tights, white ballet flats, and matching headscarf and gloves.
In 1960, Princess Margaret married photographer Anthony Armstrong Jones in Westminster Abbey, which was the first royal wedding to be broadcast on television. Her dress was designed by Norman Hartnell, who had also designed Queen Elizabeth’s, however her dress was simpler despite the fact that 30 metres of fabric were used to make the full skirt.
Wedding dresses in the 1970s
As the era of disco and hippie culture, the free-spirited outlook of the 1970s had its influence on weddings, with popular styles including bohemian wedding dresses, off-the-shoulder wedding dresses, and dresses with bell sleeves. One of the most notable trends of the day were also bridal headpieces with many brides wearing halo-style crown headpieces covered in flowers or jewels.
One of the most iconic weddings in the 1970s was Bianca Jagger’s marriage to Mick Jagger in 1971. Her outfit consisted of an Yves Saint Laurent Le Smoking jacket, with nothing underneath! Coupled with a floating skirt and large sun hat, she epitomizes 1970s chic. Want to wear a suit on your wedding day? Here's where to get a bespoke one made.
Wedding dresses in the 1980s
1980s was the age of Madonna, Maggie Thatcher and designer labels. With Britons becoming more materialistic and consumerist, how did this influence weddings? The wedding dresses of the 1980s were bigger and bolder than ever with puffed sleeves, frills, church length veils and lace cuffs. During this decade ball gowns were in, and sleeker gowns were out.
The wedding of the decade (and perhaps the century) was of course Princess Diana’s marriage to Prince Charles in 1981. Designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, Diana’s wedding dress was made from ivory silk taffeta and featured puffed sleeves, a 25-foot train, sequins, embroidery and 10,000 pearls.
Wedding dresses in the 1990s
Following the excess of the 1980s, wedding dresses in the 1990s became sleeker, sexier and minimal.
Carolyn Bessette’s simple Narciso Rodriguez dress, worn at her wedding to John F. Kennedy Jr in 1996, perfectly exemplified the fuss-free wedding fashion of the era. The wedding industry also boomed with wedding movies such as Four Weddings and a Funeral and My Best Friend’s Wedding being released at an impressive rate.
While the 1990s didn’t have an official royal wedding, the celebrity royal wedding of the year belonged to Posh and Becks, who tied the knot in 1999. Victoria Beckham deemed minimalism over, why wearing custom-made Vera Wang strapless ball gown, which she teamed with a gold and diamond tiara.