Brides in the 1930s, 1940s, & 1950s

Brides in the 1930s, 1940s, & 1950s
This is the seventh in a series of articles about the evolution of bridal fashion. We will begin with early brides and go up through the modern age. Each article will feature a museum that currently has wedding gowns on display to visit. Keep coming back to learn more!

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After the stock market crashed in 1929, life's pace slowed down a bit and everything became more serious. With so many people out of work, a fancy wedding gown was completely out of the question for many brides.

New styles reflected the somber tone of the nation -- gone were the fancy (and expensive) embellishments and adornments of the Flapper era. Dresses were now simple, sleek, and elegant. A dress of bias cut silk, skimming the floor, became the new fashion ideal.

Men and women escaped the reality of their lives by going to the movies. Designers began copying some of the fantasy dresses created in Hollywood, for those who could afford them.

By the end of the decade, synthetic fabrics became available, drastically reducing the cost of a wedding gown. By the beginning of the war years, brides were again trimming dresses with fancy touches of lace, brocade, and silk.

If the 1930s were sophisticated, the 1940s were refined. War restrictions limited the use of fabrics, and anything made overseas was not available. Many couples married while the groom was on leave from the military, which meant flexible, last minute plans on the Army's timetable. Engagements were short, leaving little time to plan a full-blown, traditional affair.

Instead, many brides opted for a smart, tailored suit in lieu of a wedding gown. Some borrowed a white dress from a friend of family member, or even rented one. But street clothes became the norm as Americans adjusted to doing without. Some women even considered it their patriotic duty to forgo the trappings of an elaborate wedding in favor of something more economical and practical.


With the havoc of World War II behind them, everyone was glad to get back to what mattered most. Postwar marriage rates soared, and the average age for brides and grooms dropped.

After the sacrifices of the Depression and the war, opulence returned to fashion. Along came Christian Dior's "New Look," and after years of rationing women flocked to own dresses with yards and yards of fabric, in pretty, feminine styles.

Bridal fashion returned to elegance as well. Full, cocktail-length ballerina skirts with tight fitting bodices were all the rage. Stiff crinolines created looks reminiscent of the hoop skirts in the 1860s.

Veils were almost universal in the 1950s, but very few gowns had trains. Newly invented nylon helped to create some of the new looks.

Throughout most of the 20th century, many designers have claimed that their dresses could be worn again, with little success. It seems the idea of wearing a one-time only fantasy dress is firmly entrenched in the minds of modern brides. Bridal separates were advertised in Life magazine in 1952. After the wedding, the bride could pair the full skirt with a sleek bodice to create a new evening dress.

Postwar prosperity allowed many brides to experience a full-fledged traditional wedding, with all the trimmings that 1940s brides had been denied.

Some high-profile celebrity weddings created an even larger demand for the Cinderella-type fantasy. Grace Kelly wed the Prince of Monaco in a striking, glamorous gown comprised of 25 yards of peau de soie (a fabric with a smooth texture and a fine ribbed surface), 25 yards of silk taffeta, 100 yards of silk net, and 300 yards of Valenciennes lace (a French/Belgian bobbin lace).


The following museum exhibitions are currently under development:

The Victoria & Albert Museum in London will display “some of the most glamorous and romantic dresses ever worn,” according to their website, from May to October 2008. The exhibit will include dresses from the 18th century, which is far older than many museum exhibits you will see!

The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA is planning an exhibition called “Wedded Bliss: The Marriage of Art & Ceremony” which will open April 26, 2008 and be on view through September 14, 2008. The exhibition will “explore the wedding ceremony as an impetus for the creation of art in cultures around the world,” according to the museum’s website.

The next article in this series will focus on modern brides.

You Should Also Read:
Victoria & Albert Museum
Late Victorian Brides
Turn of the Century and Roaring Twenties Brides

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