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100 Fabulous Years Of Wedding Gowns
"I see myself as a true modernist. Even when I do a traditional gown, I give it a modern twist. I go to the past for research. I need to know what came before so I can break the rules." ~ Vera Wang
It is always fascinating to see vintage photos of relatives in their wedding attire. Great-grandmothers, grandmothers, mothers, all young and beautiful wearing unique and fabulous gowns of the day adorned with accompanying accessories that were so different and yet so wonderful. The bridal gown has certainly changed often throughout the years both in colour and style. In this segment we are going to take a look at 100 fabulous years of wedding gowns.
Oftentimes I have mentioned that the bride's gown is "la pièce de résistance" of every wedding day. The anticipation of seeing the beautiful bride walk down the aisle decked out in her fabulous regalia is shared by everyone, young and old.
The White Wedding Gown
In western cultures, the use of wearing white wedding gowns was popularized in the 19th Century by Queen Victoria of England. However many, many years ago brides did not wear white. During the middle ages, brides dressed according to status. For example, if you came from a family of wealth or nobility, chances are that you would wear elaborate gowns in rich fabrics such as silks or velvet. The colours would be as equally rich such as burgundy, dark green, blue or maroon. Brides that hailed from poorer families would generally wear the very best pieces of clothing they had on their wedding day.
Circa 1910 to 1919
The elegance of the Edwardian era had ended approximately around the year 1910. It was also a few short years before the start of WW1. Although still influenced by the romantic Edwardian style, wedding gown fashions were once again changing.
The style of the day was comprised predominantly of empire waisted dresses. This type of dress had a waistline raised above its' natural positioning and rested primarily just below the bust. The bottom or skirt part of the dress was generally straight and tight and the empire style also gave an appearance of added height and helped women in masking bottom heavy issues. They accessorized their dress with large and often heavy hats. These dresses and hats were probably not conducive to comfortability but really, isn't that what fashion has always been about?
Circa 1920 to 1929
"The Roaring Twenties" came in at full speed following World War I. This was indeed a time of cultural changes and most certainly a time of prosperity. The United States and certain parts of Europe experienced great economic growth. Perspectives and attitudes had also changed and it could be seen through music, dances such as the Charleston, hairstyles, and of course, fashions.
When I think of wedding dresses from the 1920s my mind always envisions styles from The Great Gatsby. Generally the dresses of this happy go lucky era had dropped waists and shapeless bodices. Some brides wore their dresses around ankle length especially if they were getting married in a church. Others wore their dresses in the typical "flapper" style of the day that were short, (slightly above the knee). Their headpieces were worn relatively low and above the eyebrow.
Circa 1930 to 1939
On the heels of the 1920s arrived the fashionable 1930s. This decade exuded sheer elegance and of course glamour. With the starlets, movies and fashions coming out of Hollywood, you would never have known that the world was in the midst of The Great Depression following the Stock Market Crash of 1929. If you envision actresses of the day like Carole Lombard, Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo you could see their onscreen fashion influenced the styles of bridal gowns as well.
Wedding dresses were primarily bias cut, fitted, sleeveless, had low cut backs, plunging necklines, and the waistlines at this point in time went back to normal. Rich fabrics such as silks and satins were generally used although these types of fabrics were most certainly not flattering to every body type. Headpieces were reminiscent of cloche cap styles worn in the 1920s however updated to reflect the style of the day.
Circa 1940 to 1949
The war years brought about many changes in fashions and fabrics. People were conscientious about conserving certain fabrics for the war effort and some materials were restricted for use. However, synthetic fabrics such as viscose rayon satin were being used.
Bridal gowns in the forties were primarily broad shouldered, slim wasted or basque waisted with a sweetheart neckline. Gowns were fairly simple with very little beading and frills. Headpieces used at this time were beaded or wax flower crowns, and decorative hats or caps with veils. Some brides chose to do away with extravagant white bridal gowns altogether. Instead, many brides during the war years chose to wear a lovely suit adorned with a corsage.
Circa 1950 to 1959
When I think about the 1950s, I often associate it with the introduction of the television; the advent of the post war baby boom; and the dawning of middle class suburbia fully equipped with the perfect nuclear family and the ever present domestic diva decked out in heels, pearls, perfectly coiffed hair, and of course, an apron. Okay, maybe that was just June Cleaver.
Weddings were once again in full swing and designers in Europe were sketching away their latest bridal designs. When we picture bridal gowns in the 1950s, it is pretty difficult not to associate the style of the day with the beautiful gown worn by Elizabeth Taylor in the classic Father of The Bride. Another huge influence was the real life fairy tale wedding of actress Grace Kelly to Prince Rainier of Monaco. Every bride-to-be wanted to emulate these famous ladies by wearing the same type of wedding gown. The gowns of the 1950s had an hourglass appearance with long sleeves and full skirts often accompanied by crinolines or hoop skirts. The shoulders were often rounded, the bust line tended to be more on the pointed side and the dress had a pinched waistline. Lace fabrics were often used during this era as well. Decorative skull caps with veils were generally used for headpieces.
Circa 1960 to 1969
When I think of the sixties, movies like To Sir With Love and The Graduate come to mind. I think of bands like The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel and The Mamas and The Papas to name a few. I think of changes in both social and political views. I think of hippies and mods. I think of varying fashions like mini skirts, go-go boots and beehive hairdos. But, above all else, I think of the graceful elegance of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. She epitomized the fashion of the first part of the decade with her pillbox hats and perfect suits. She was the first to make sleeveless gowns and opera length gloves sophisticated and glamorous.
Many bridal gowns reflected the various style variations throughout the decade with lengths shifting from mini to maxi to midi. In the early sixties bridal gowns were cap sleeved, scooped neck, banded waist bubble sheath style. By the mid sixties mini skirt style bridal gowns were being worn in some circles but not entirely accepted. The A-line cage gown was a more popular style. The gown essentially had no waist and had no defined shoulders. Also, the dress came sleeveless worn with gloves or three quarter length sleeves. In the latter half of the sixties wedding gowns took on a caftan like appearance with bell sleeves, Watteau trains draped from the shoulders and ankle length hemlines. Although not yet quite popular, towards the end of the decade, bridal gowns were ankle length and reminiscent of the "flower power" style of the subsequent decade of the seventies. Oftentimes these dresses were accompanied by real floral wreaths as headpieces.
Circa 1970 to 1979
The seventies was a decade of extremes. We started off with the first part of the decade devoted to "flower power" and the latter part of the decade was dedicated to "disco fever". Yes, it was a decade where polyester, knits and funky prints abounded. There were various styles of bridal gowns introduced in the seventies.
Weddings in the first part of the seventies were diverse and often informal which strongly reflected the "Flower Power" or "Hippie" attitudes. Many gowns were loose and made of a light muslin fabric and were cost friendly. Mini dresses and shift dresses were also quite popular. For the more formal dress the Tudor style gown with flowing, wide sleeves were worn. The style was popularized by Princess Anne when she married Mark Phillips in London, England. The wide sleeves replaced the tight sleeved gowns of the previous decades. The gowns also had a more flared princess line, with little or no train. As we approached the mid-seventies we saw a shift once again in bridal fashions. We saw the advent of the Column dress. The gowns were essentially shapeless bodices with high collars and fabrics such as heavy satins were used. As the seventies came to a close, we saw the rebirth of couture dresses and the formal ball gown was the desired choice. This was indeed the foreshadowing of things to come in the 1980s.
Circa 1980 to 1989
The eighties was certainly a decade of excess. When I think of the eighties I think of Madonna, Boy George, Michael Jackson and Cyndi Lauper amongst a plethora of equally memorable bands. Movies like The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Pretty In Pink, The Color Purple and When Harry Met Sally, (to name a few) were all the rage. Also, everyone was glued to the television to watch one of their many favourite shows like Dallas and Dynasty! Who could forget the fashions? We endured a decade with big hair, neon colours, jelly shoes, leg warmers, stirrup pants, leggings, huge shoulder pads, parachute pants, acid washed jeans and skirts, denim jackets, and of course, the baggy, colourful blazer with rolled up sleeves popularized by the police drama Miami Vice. Yes, we had the preppie, the new wave and the punk rock looks. Somehow, it just wouldn't end, ( just kidding). After all, the fashions from the eighties are making a comeback.
As with everything else, the bridal gown styles were also changing. The first part of the decade we saw the trend of Victorian style dresses with high lace collars and hats for headpieces. The romantic gowns were made of light, delicate, and translucent chiffons that fell softly around the feet. In some instances it seemed as though "less is more" was not the mantra of the wedding fashions of the eighties. We were then introduced towards the mid-eighties to bridal gowns that were bigger and somewhat more ostentatious than ever. Many were adorned with sequins and pearl beaded satin acetate gowns. When I think of bridal gown fashions during this period of the decade the extravagant and incredibly beautiful Emmanuel gown that the late Princess Diana wore on her wedding day comes to mind. I remember waking up in the wee hours of the morning with my mother to watch the sumptuous day unfold. I will never forget how transformed and beautiful she looked. She epitomized our childhood fantasies of a true fairy tale princess. No sooner did Lady Diana display her elaborate sleeved, ivory silk taffeta dress that all the knockoffs were being produced. Every bride wanted to look like her. By the time the eighties wound down, sexy and glamorous sheath style wedding dresses with lots of detailed beadwork, sequins and glitz were making the scene.
Did you like the late Princess Diana's Wedding Dress?
Circa 1990 to 1999
When I think of the nineties, I think of Huge Cell Phones. I think of the World Wide Web. I think of movies such as Titanic and Goodwill Hunting. I think of music that included boy and girl bands like Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls. Who could forget Pokémon, Tamagotchis and the Furby? This decade also brought us fashions like colourful clothes, butterfly clips, overalls, scrunchies, lots of denim, the grunge look, the hip hop look , Blossom inspired hats and so on.
However, bridal gowns during the first part of the nineties were still reflective of the eighties. Sleeves were still exaggerated and the ball gown skirts with bows were still quite popular. The nineties gown was modified with a dropped waistline that fell to the hips and had a full, flared skirt. As we moved towards the mid-nineties dress designs with off the shoulder styles were slowly becoming popular. We also saw the introduction of tightly fitted and sculpted corset type bodices. Thicker and stiffer fabrics allowed for more details such as a variety of appliqués and beading. As the decade came to a close, we saw a trend towards softer more fluid materials. Bridal gowns became sexier and brides were wearing gowns that were strapless, sleeveless or had plunging necklines.
The New Millennium
The new millennium has brought about many political, technological and environmental changes. It has also brought about changes in individual attitudes about many things including marriage and weddings.
For those couples planning a wedding nowadays, it has become more about showcasing their personalities and personal styles. Today couples want to place a unique stamp on their wedding plans, from the very lavish and glamorous to the simplest affair and this includes the outlook towards wedding gown selections as well.
In this new century, the dominating bridal gown style has been feminine and strapless. It seems that virtually every bride is wearing some form of strapless dress. We have also seen detailed, mermaid style halter dresses that flare out at the knees. We have seen rosette adorned, one shouldered ball gown styles. Of course, we can't forget the simple elegance of Kate Middleton's lace wedding gown. Her dress was certainly a welcomed and unexpected change.
Moving forward, couples are incorporating influences from years gone by with a modern element. We are also seeing more themed weddings with the use of costume type attire. There are also trends towards combining colour with the wedding gown. Although gowns are still primarily white or ivory, some brides are adding some faint colours. Also, pale coloured accessories such as jewelry are being used. Wedding gowns are continuing to develop in both fabrics and styles. It will be interesting to see what fabulous bridal gown trends will develop throughout this Millennium.
Every decade provided its own personality when it came to bridal gowns. As the years moved forward influences from the past were creatively infused into the style of the day. Bridal fashion trends continue to shift in shapes and styles with some pushing the fashion envelope. I hope you have enjoyed this tiny peek into 100 fabulous years of bridal gowns.
Did you like Kate Middleton's wedding dress?
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