Vintage Wedding Dress Styles 1920’s – 80’s

This Blog will take us on a journey through out the decades starting with the 1920’s and finishing in the 1980’s looking at fashion trends and wedding dress inspiration. Giving us a deeper understanding to the source of the movements. If you love vintage as much as we do, then we hope you will enjoy taking this trip down memory lane with us.

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1920’s

Clothing fashions changed with women’s changing roles in society, particularly with the idea of new, post-war fashion. Dresses evolved from the structured form to dresses with shorter skirts with pleats, gathers, slits or trim to allow motion and style to fulfil the glamorous 20’s lifestyle. The most famous fashion trend of the “Roaring ’20’s” was by far “the flapper” look. Flappers were a generation of young Western women who wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, listened to jazz and wore excessive makeup. Rather than showing off a woman’s curves, like previous fashions did, flapper dresses hid women’s figures. These attributes were not only a fashion trend but also the expression of a blurring of gender roles at the time.

When we picture the 1920’s style, we picture glamour, sparkles, pearls and martini’s. With help from the film, The Great Gastby. Low-waisted dresses with fullness at the hemline allowed women to easily kick up their heels in dances like the Charleston. Evening gowns were typically slightly longer in satin or velvet, and embellished with beads, rhinestones, or fringe. Wedding dresses mirror these fashion changes and styles, complimented by 20’s accessories too. Cloche hats were very trendy usually made of felt for everyday wear or made of beads or lace for evening wear, dancing or for bridal wear. 1920’s dresses and cloche could be decorated with appliqués, embroidery, jeweled brooches, scarves or fans of feathers.  20’s style wedding dresses are very fashionable today to devise a classy, dazzling bride.

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1930’s and 1940’s

The fashion of the 1920’s disappeared and was partially moved back to the more flattering, fitted style made up of a natural sitting waist, longer hemline, high neckline, and wide shoulders, which was seen as the ideal figure for a woman in the 1930’s onwards. However not all women were blessed with the desired figure of  tall and slender with a very small waist and narrow hips, this is why attention was drawn to the shoulders, where we saw the return of the trend of puff sleeves, shoulder pads, full collars, and sleeve styles such as caplet, butterfly, banjo or ruffled cap, that gave the illusion of smaller waists and hips in comparison.  Short bolero jackets, capelets, and dresses cut with fitted midriffs or seams below the bust (empire line) increased the focus on breadth at the shoulder.

The decade also introduced the use of man-made fibers, including rayon, viscose and synthetic nylon. Silky, clinging fabrics were common in evening gowns that were often complemented with a fur. Fabrics that were popular included chiffon, silk, crepe-de-chines, and satin, cut on the bias to create elegant, clingy, flowing lines. Evening  and wedding dresses often had small trains in the back that were also very fitted in the waist, slim and fitted through the hips, easing out mid-thigh or just above the knees, where they flared elegantly to the floor, with puffs and ruffle sleeves. Gloves were key in the 1930’s. They were a type of accessory that was seen as both a comfort and style. The elaborate trim was removed and was replaced by plain gloves. Gowns were accompanied by elbow length gloves, and day costumes were worn with short or opera-length gloves of fabric or leather.

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1950’s

1947, Christian Dior launched the first collection of the House of Dior. The new collection went down in fashion history as the “New Look”. The signature shape was full skirt, below-mid-calf length, a pointed bust, small waist, and rounded shoulder line. The New Look was resisted at first, where fashion magazines still showed padded shoulders until 1950, the new desired silhouette of the hourglass soon became immensely popular, influencing fashion and other designers for many years to come. Foundation garments became essential items to maintain the curvy silhouette, especially waspies, girdles and horsehair padding. It was stated that the sales of corsets doubled in the decade 1948-58. Dior’s ‘New Look’ collection brought back the boned intimate apparels for women, even the young one, in order to create the feminised silhouettes.

The glove trend continued carrying the elegance, comfort and style and as for Bridal wear, the ‘go to’ gown was the tea gown that was either just above the floor or mid calf length, with wider hem lines and T-shirt style top. 1950’s Hairstyles also saw fashion trends for women. Generally, a shorter bouffant style was favored by female movie stars, paving the way for the long hair trend of the 1960s. Very short cropped hairstyles were fashionable in the early 1950s. Fuller hairstyles included the short, curly “elfin cut” or the “Italian cut” or “poodle cut” and later the bouffant and the beehive became fashionable. Stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Connie Francis, Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn usually wore their hair short with high volume.

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1960’s

The leaders of mid-1960s style were the British. The Mods or Modernists adopted a new craze that would be imitated by many young people. The look of the Mods was classy as they took influence from the clothing and hairstyles of high fashion designers in France and Italy. Mod girls also wore very short miniskirts, tall, brightly colored go-go boots, monochromatic geometric print patterns, and tight fitted, sleeveless tunics. Flared trousers and bell bottoms appeared in 1964 as an alternative to capri pants, and led the way to the hippie period introduced in the 1960s. Bell bottoms were usually worn with chiffon blouses, polo-necked ribbed sweaters or tops that bared the midriff.  By the mid-60s, fashion no longer emphasised the waist and bust. The new silhouette focused on a more Twiggy-inspired, gamine shape. Surely the most iconic and influential of all 60s fashions! Another 60’s icon that sparked conversation was Yoko Ono who famously married John Lennon in 1969, wearing a pretty tiered mini, white knee socks and a huge white felt hat.

The 60’s for wedding dresses, shifted into a trend for softer and more girlish dresses. These would typically be ankle-length, with shaping seams below the bust. The sixties were a great time to be married with the choice of several new styles of 1960s wedding dresses such as the 50s style tea gown continued with shorter hemlines and small sleeved designs, the new shift dress or baby doll shape made a wedding casual, fun and comfortable, the long wedding dress didn’t disappear. It slimmed down into a straight column shape with empire bust line, smooth satin and taffeta gowns as well as lace were worn.

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1970’s

Fashion in the 1970s was about individuality. In the early 1970s, Vogue proclaimed “There are no rules in the fashion game now” due to overproduction flooding the market with cheap synthetic clothing. Instead of brands and following the trends like previous eras, the 70s were about “Freedom”, “identity” and “Personal Expression”. Generally the most famous silhouette of the mid and late 1970s for both genders was that of tight on top and loose on bottom. The 1970s also saw the birth of the indifferent, anti-conformist casual chic approach to fashion, which consisted of sweaters, T-shirts, jeans and sneakers.

70’s bridal wear is popular for being simple pretty with no fuss or frills. This relaxed look and undone style is partnered with those flares, trumpet sleeves and suede fabrics were all anyone wanted to be seen in, bringing a little of the fun and retro styling of the seventies into their bridal looks. In the early Seventies, the hippie vibes of the sixties had turned distinctly bohemian, with more of an emphasis on long and floaty pieces, which were considered hugely stylish but worn in a carefree fashion.  kimono sleeves on a silk Grecian look dress being its key design feature. That slight wrap effect at the bust is also a strong Seventies design.

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1980’s

80’s fashion was heavily influenced by media as it was became more and more popular, with emphasis on celebrities such as Madonna and films like Working Girl. The early 1980s saw a minimalist approach to fashion, with less emphasis on accessories, and practicality considered just as much as aesthetics. Clothing colors were subdued, quiet and basic; varying shades of brown, tan, and orange were common, which flipped to the bright colours, fishnets and layers of beaded necklaces later on. Also the 80’s saw the return of the shoulder pad and puffy sleeves which is clear when looking at wedding dress trends from that decade.

When I think of 80’s bridal wear I think of the wedding dress of Princess Diana on her wedding  to Charles, Prince of Wales, on 29 July 1981 at St Paul’s Cathedral. Diana wore an ivory silk taffeta and antique lace gown, with a 25-foot (7.62 m) train, valued then at £9000. It became one of the most famous dresses in the world, and was considered one of the most closely guarded secrets in fashion history. The dress was designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, who described it as a dress that “had to be something that was going to go down in history, but also something that Diana loved”, and which would be “suitably dramatic in order to make an impression”. The gown was decorated with hand embroidery, sequins, and 10,000 pearls. The lace used to trim it was antique hand-made Carrickmacross lace which had belonged to Queen Mary. This dress painted the way for more wedding gowns throughout the 1980’s.

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By Josie Mumby

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