Wedding dresses have changed with the times, each decade having distinct features. Often these distinct features gain popularity from royal or celebrity weddings. When Queen Victoria wore white to her wedding in 1840 she changed the face of weddings. Before this, white wasn’t considered the standard in wedding dresses. A few years after Queen Victoria’s wedding however, the color white was considered “the most fitting hue” according to Godey’s Lady’s Book. Of course, up until the end of the 19th century, many brides couldn’t afford to buy a new dress or white fabric and so would wear their nicest dress which would also be worn for other occasions. Even those that could afford white would usually buy dresses that could be worn over and over again. But as time changed, wedding dresses changed too.
Here are some images in the museum collection that showcase some of the styles of wedding dresses through the decades.
Brides usually wore their nicest dress that could be worn again though wealthier women or women in cities with better access to materials did often choose white. Even if a bride didn’t have a white dress, veils were still favored and could be kept as a memento.
High necklines, frills on the bodice, and wide puffy sleeves that tapered to the forearm or wrist were fashionable. Veils were usually very long and the dress was tight at the waist, accentuating a tiny waist
Sleeves were shorter and often went to the elbow and skirts were slimmer with a higher waist. Veils were still long and often worn from a floral or lace headpiece.
Because of post-WWI trends such as flappers, dresses had a looser fit and were often shorter, falling just below the knees. Waistlines were dropped and dresses had straight silhouettes. Veils were often worn from headbands and hair was in finger waves or tight curls.
Due to the Great Depression, brides often just wore their nicest dress. If they could afford a dress, it was usually ankle length and with a slightly higher waistline than the 1920s. Veils were not always worn and hair was in pin curls or finger waves.
The beginning of the 1940s was influenced by WWII. Many brides didn’t wear wedding dresses due to rationing or hasty weddings if their groom was drafted. Wedding dresses were often made from whatever materials were available or were borrowed from other people. Hair was usually in soft curls or victory rolls.
Dresses during this time usually had quite a bit of lace and ballerina length (just above the ankle) was popular. Veils became shorter and were often attached to a small cap.
Empire waistlines were popular during this time and necklines were usually fairly modest. Dresses ranged between miniskirts to full length. Veils were usually shorter and often attached to hats.
Many dresses of this time followed a bohemian trend although some brides still preferred more traditional styles. Brides customized dresses to a larger degree and fabrics were often light and flowing. Hair was often worn long and loose or feathered.
High necklines and lace edged frills were popular during this time. The later part of the decade was dominated by over-sized shoulders and large skirts. Princess Diana’s dress for her wedding in 1981 inspired many of the trends in wedding dresses.
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The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.