The cake, the decor, the music. They’re all essential to planning the ideal wedding. But let’s face it: It’s all about the dress. No matter the budget, every bride wants to wear her fairy-tale gown as she glides down the aisle. Styles evolve over the years, but the hunt for the right dress never changes. In this collection, you’ll see some of the most famous bridal gowns from the 1930s to the 1980s.
The evolution of the wedding dress by decade:
Simple silhouettes and silk were in. Americans rejected extravagant styles during the Depression, opting for wear-again dresses within their budget. But brides still fantasized about the lavish gowns featured on stars like Claudette Colbert in movie weddings.
Long sleeves and lace made a comeback. With limited resources during World War II, many women used rayon satins for their gowns instead of silk. Wartime conservation also forced many to shorten their trains and ditch the traditional veil.
Sweetheart necklines and full skirts swept sales. As brides begged for copies of Elizabeth Taylor’s dress in Father of the Bride, retailers met the demand. Others chose simpler ballerina styles with tulle skirts and scoop necklines.
Higher waists and shorter hemlines hit the scene. Many women preferred simple shift dresses to fuller styles, while others maintained silhouettes from the late ‘50s. Some brides scrapped the gown altogether, wearing pants or peasant dresses.
Flowery frocks and ruffled revivals made statements. Hippie-inspired fashions remained popular early in the decade before more formal gowns returned to glory. Brides channeled styles of the 1930s and ‘40s and embraced designs with embroidery.
Lace frills and puffed sleeves came back into style. Princess Diana’s fairy-tale gown inspired brides around the globe, bringing dramatic trains back in vogue. To top off the romantic look, some women went back to an old favorite, the full-length veil.
The Perfect Dress Photo credits:
Slides 1-4: From the Leonard Stanley Collection, Costume Designers Guild Collection and Costume Design Drawing Collection of the Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Slides 5-6: Burbidge Wedding Gown Design Collection, Archives Center, NMAH, Smithsonian