The evolution of bridal fashion has a somewhat distinct trajectory from the rest of the fashion industry. “It doesn’t necessarily reflect the particular era in which it was made, rather it is a sort of amalgamation of fantasy, historical styles and contemporary trends,” explains fashion historian Sara. Idacavage. And the influence of geographic regions, religious groups, socio-economic status, family traditions and personal values make bridal wear even more modest in their adaptations.
Yet there are historical events that have had a direct and overt impact on the industry over time. From poverty-stricken wars to the Great Depression, flapper dresses and escape mentalities, and, of course, a royal or Hollywood wedding every decade, bridal fashion has reflected every event, whether it s ‘From high collars, corsets and long veils, to crowns of daisies and pantsuits. And then there is today, where micro-weddings are more popular and social media is king, defining a new era of bridal wear around the world.
Meet the expert
- Michael kaye is an award-winning Canadian fashion designer currently based in New York City. He is an assistant professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology and also owns an evening gown on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the New York Permanent Collection.
- Sara Idacavage is a fashion historian and doctoral candidate in the Textiles, Merchandising and Interiors Department at the University of Georgia.
- Lydia edwards is a fashion historian and lecturer based in Perth, Western Australia. She is the author of “How to Read a Dress” and “How to Read a Costume” and is currently working on another book devoted to wedding dresses.
- Dr Sonya Abrego is a New York-based design historian specializing in 20th century American fashion history. She has also taught at Parsons, the Pratt Institute, New York University, and the Fashion Institute of Technology.
Ahead, fashion experts will be looking at historical events and their impact on bridal wear, decade by decade.
1840s: Queen Victoria
Like many trends throughout the history of bridal fashion, the tradition of the white wedding dress came to fruition with a royal wedding, that of Queen Victoria. “Queen Victoria was known to have invented two things: the white wedding dress and the black funeral dress,” says designer Michael Kaye.
Unlike her predecessors, Queen Victoria married for love. Wanting the best fabric available to wear in honor of her wedding, the Queen wore French lace which, at the time, was only available in white. And just like that, the rest is history and the white wedding dress has become supreme.
1910s: World War I
During World War I, “smart and practical fashions took precedence over more ornate looks,” says Dr. Sonya Abrego, American fashion historian. “We’ve generally seen women’s clothing simplified in a way that makes it more modern, deliberately moving away from the Victorian aesthetic … the skirts were cropped slightly above the ankle and, as in the depression years 1930s women could wear again; something formal that didn’t call out “marriage”.
1920s: Roaring Twenties
“The fashion of the 1920s shows such a sharp break with previous generations, with shorter, more revealing lengths, open backs, dropped waists and less structured silhouettes,” says Dr. Abrego, “These qualities were also visible. in wedding dresses, but not for all people.You see interesting examples of wedding dresses that follow what used to be common, but on average keep longer lengths in skirts, for a more traditional and formally conventional look .
Kaye adds that while the trends in bridal wear were even more traditional, brides had more freedom to “breathe” and move around during this time. “It was the age of jazz. At the time, they all bounced and the feet moved, ”shares the designer. “The shoes have become very popular, [as did] the dropped waist and the corset had disappeared. And we can understand why! Looser cuts were needed for more dancing and fun.
1930s: The Great Depression
“In the United States, the Great Depression forced many brides to go back to what their grandmothers did on their big day: simply wearing their best dress as a wedding dress,” reveals the author and fashion historian, Lydia Edwards.
Given the economic hardships, paying money for a dress was not an option for many brides at this time. “A lot of people had to make do with what they had, especially Americans,” Kaye explains. “Silk was scarce, so we used a lot of rayon. It was more affordable. And they tended to wear something that they also had to dye, so if it was white, they would dye it afterwards and shoot. more mileage of this. ” Fine French lace was also a thing of the past, and instead brides wore cotton, a crochet weave during this time.
1940s: World War II
While Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth during this time and spared no expense for her royal dress, other high society socialites in American history have always opted for more subdued styles.
“The rationing introduced by World War II meant that during the seven-year conflict period, the majority of brides again chose the best item of clothing from their wardrobes,” says Edwards. “Sometimes it could be as practical and austere as a costume. – in keeping with the simple and neutral tone of a groom’s military uniform. The practice of renting or borrowing more traditional wedding dress styles has become popular, and some brides have taken advantage of the best silk available to create a dreamy wedding dress.
More importantly, fashion historian Sara Idacavage points out that WWII focused on budgeting, not spending, when it came to fashion in general. She notes: “After all, if you live in a time of great austerity, or in a country in desperate need of supplies for soldiers, you probably don’t want to wear a particularly ostentatious wedding dress, although you can. to allow ! ”
1950s: American royalty
When you think of 1950s bridal wear, Audrey Hepburn and Jacqueline Kennedy immediately come to mind, and rightly so! Both were style icons and the epitome of American royalty at the time. Kaye also adds: “The keyword of the 1950s is ‘ballerina’. Think cinched waists like Audrey Hepburn and American Princess Jacqueline Kennedy.
1960s: Vietnam War and the hippie movement
The 1960s marked the emergence of the Vietnam War and the era of counterculture, which had a huge impact on how people viewed everything from politics to religion and style. “This is when our waistlines go up higher, or sometimes there is no waistline at all,” says Kaye. “There was [also] metallic and floral ornaments. Daisies were the popular embellishments of choice, the flower child, “all we need is love” types.
1970s: Me Decade
“The ’70s were the’ Decade for me, ‘” says Kaye, “It was individualistic,’ I’ll do whatever I want, ‘and the suit has become a popular choice for getting married.’ ‘Bianca’s wedding and Mick Jagger was important, where she wore a costume with nothing underneath. Princess Anne also got married and wore a clean puff sleeve dress, with layers of ruffles at different levels at the bottom.
1980s: the great 80s
The event dubbed the “wedding of the century” happened in the 1980s: none other than the wedding of Princess Diana. “Princess Diana wore a dress so big you couldn’t even put it in the carriage,” says Kaye, “It was considered fantasy and set a precedent for all other brides.”
As a result of this iconic moment, other prominent bridal styles emerged: large shoulder pads, plunging necklines and puffed sleeves.
90s: Mixed Bag
“The ’90s are a mixed bag,” Kaye reveals, “Think American royalty John F. Kennedy Jr. marrying Carolyn Bessette and that slip dress. Clean, neat, clean, there was not a hint of anything on this wedding dress. Carolyn Bessette was widely recognized as the benchmark for what a wedding dress looked like for the ’90s. ”
Another notable name that has become popular? Vera Wang. The former magazine rose to fame as a ready-to-wear designer, and later a world-famous name in bridal fashion.
The 2000s saw the rise of marriages outside the church, so women no longer needed to cover their shoulders. Strapless dresses became popular, and brides also began to experiment with different silhouettes. “The turn of our century again showed a lot of looks that looked like the 90s, which tended towards more minimalism,” shares Dr. Abrego, “the fashion pendulum swinging the other way after the super bulky 80s” .
2010s: a royal affair
The most notable bridal mention for the 2010s is the wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William. The royal bride wore an Alexander McQueen gown, designed by Sarah Burton, with a padded bodice at the hips, an eight-foot train and lace sleeves. The Duchess of Cambridge also wore a Cartier tiara borrowed from none other than Queen Elizabeth, to put the whole look together. As a result, brides around the world have been inspired to replicate her iconic hourglass figure, defining a new era in bridal fashion.
Today: social media
“Today styles are more pluralistic and turnover is faster, so the options are limitless,” shares Dr. Abrego, “The pace of social media means styles can be seen by the world instantly and the any designer’s idea can be reproduced faster. . “In an age where trends on Instagram and Tik Tok come and go in the blink of an eye, bridal wear is also being shaped by what is made popular by social media influencers of the current generation.
“Throughout history, bridal fashion has been primarily inspired by family and cultural traditions, as well as celebrity weddings which have probably helped spread the trends more than anything else,” Idcavage notes. “And the lasting influences of Queen Victoria and Princess Diana’s wedding dresses are proof of that!” However, while movie stars and royalty may have had the biggest impact on what brides aspire to in the past, social media influencers have helped democratize who brides turn to for inspiration. style in recent years.
However, one thing is for sure, bridal fashion history is about to repeat itself, just like in the past, but this time using a different medium. But overall, the feeling remains the same: Brides will always want to look their best on one of the biggest days of their lives.