The History of the Wedding Dress

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Whether you are getting married, already married or just an avid pinner on Pinterest, the wedding dress is the most important outfit you will ever wear, no pressure. When the wedding party turns to look at you it is important to feel special, unique and beautiful. Those pictures will last a lifetime! We reminisce about some of the most iconic fashions and styles with our look back at the history of the wedding dress.

Origins of the Wedding Dress

When the wedding party turns to look at you it is important to feel special, unique and beautiful. Those pictures will last a lifetime! As the wedding season is upon us we thought we would share a brief history of the wedding dress and the much-loved eras that are inspiring us here at Rokit!

Once upon a time, in lands not so far from here, women would have worn their best dress for the occasion and would have NOT splashed their cash (so to speak) on a new garment. In fact, dark fabrics were a popular choice if you were from a humble background as the colour could easily disguise a stain or a tear in the fabric, meaning the woman in question could wear the dress again (it's common sense right?). Pale blue was also a popular choice as it symbolised purity and the Virgin Mary (yawn...). Of course the elitist would splash the cash on such a significant time as it was a representation of their social status (and how much they loved their daughters - only joking!).

It wasn't until Queen Victoria wore white on her wedding day to Prince Albert that white became the number one fashion choice for brides. Queen Vic went against the trend's of the age to look the purist she could when she married her cousin (not sayin nuthin'!!) in 1840.

And so it is that Queen Victoria's wedding dress caused a ripple effect of trends that have been copied, changed and adapted throughout the following years and into the 20th century. Wedding dresses have gone from being painfully tight, corseted contraptions to loose and floaty beauties to having the biggest, puffy sleeves we've ever seen. (Here's looking at you Diana!)

The customary wedding dress of the time featured an S-shaped corset, which drew in the stomach and pushed out the bosom, an effect emphasized by frills on the bodice. Wide, puffy sleeves that tapered to a narrow forearm were popular as well as high waists, high collars, long trains, long gloves, and veiled hats, While white was still the colour of choice for affluent brides, due to Queen Victoria's trend-setting gown in 1840, other brides opted to wear azure, mauve, or pale pink.

1920s Flapper

THE LOOK: loose- fitting sheath, narrow shoulder, no waistband. Sack-like and airy.

AS SEEN ON: twenties 'It Girls' Clara Bow and Louise Brooks

The 1920's saw great change within fashion and of course the wedding dress. Or simply: 'Good Bye Corset!'

Pioneered by Coco Chanel, corsets were thrown out as waist lines and necklines dropped, and a more streamlined silhouette took hold. These dresses were perfect for the young Flapper's of the era who took to dancing the Charleston, smoking too many cigarettes and getting sloshed on Gin Rickey's (supposedly F. Scott Fitzgerald's favourite drink!). Wedding gowns reflected this new found freedom and were usually in the shape of a sleeveless tube dress that accentuated the Flapper's narrow hips, with a low waistline and ankle-length skirt. The dresses often featured ornate beading and embroidery, while bouquets were teeming with flowers and greenery. Brides also favoured Juliet headdresses or cloche hats for their veils.

1930s Hollywood Glamour

THE LOOK: columnar. Slim and narrow, often bias cut, curve-revealing.

AS SEEN ON: blonde, pocket rocket Jean Harlow (she was 5ft 1 and a half!)

In a complete juxtaposition from the roaring twenties, the thirties was a more sombre decade. After the 1929 Wall St Crash money was tight. Wedding dresses of the depression-era were often made from rayon, due to its affordability compared to silk. To escape reality and the economic hardship of the time, the public would visit their local picture house to watch the silver screen goddesses light up the theatre. Wedding dresses were often influenced by the beautiful gowns worn by the starlets in the Hollywood films. The dresses were a lot more conservative than those in the twenties, featuring slim and narrow skirts that touched the floor. They were often bias cut and draped to the body.

1940s Wartime Bride

THE LOOK: fitted waist, full skirt (tea length or full length) with crinoline, princess cut.

AS SEEN ON: Queen Elizabeth 2nd & Scarlett O' Hara

During the war, fashion was at a premium and so was time. Young couples were often engaged and married within a week, not knowing when they'd see each other again. Wartime brides had to be efficient in the preparation for their big day. They wore practical wedding dresses which reflected the austere decade. During this era the DIY bride was born. With limited funds available during the war, brides used furnishing fabrics to make dresses (like Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind), lace curtains to create veils, and paper flowers in their bouquets. Even our Queen Lizzie had to use ration coupons to obtain the material to make her beautiful satin gown designed by royal dressmaker Norman Hartnell.

1950s Princess

THE LOOK: fitted waist, full skirt (tea length or full length) with crinoline, princess cut.

AS SEEN ON: Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn & serial bride Elizabeth Taylor

After the war, dress skirts became fuller to celebrate the end of rationing. Christian Dior's 'New Look' popularized the hourglass silhouette with a nipped in waist, ballerina skirt, delicate gloves and a sweetheart neckline. The look worked well with a defined waist and small bust as well as curvy, hourglass figures. During this decade mass-produced garments were selling in a variety of sizes meaning off the rack was now available. The 50's saw the rise of celebrity bridal style as wedding gowns were modelled after Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday and Grace Kelly when she married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956.

1960s Space Age

THE LOOK: empire waists with long slender skirts; shorter A-line shifts.

AS SEEN ON: Yoko Ono, Mia Farrow and Cilla black

Wedding dresses in the 60's became a little more casual and a whole lot shorter! The gowns during the Space Age featured an A-line silhouette, metallic embellishments and accessories such as pillar-box hats and bouffant veils. Celebrities such as Yoko Ono and Mia Farrow chose this daring style for their high profile weddings. Cilla Black took it to the next level in a bright red, velvet shift dress. She looked awesome!

1970s Hippie

THE LOOK: Man-made fabrics, loose and flowy with narrow skirts. Peasant/prairie inspired; Victorian revival with puff shoulder.

AS SEEN ON: Bianca Jagger and Elizabeth Taylor, again, this time to Richard Burton, who she married twice. Baffled.

Whilst the sixties focused on the future and the space race, the seventies took a more nostalgic route as styles of the Edwardian era and the thirties and forties came back into fashion. The seventies was an extension of the hippie movement seen in the sixties and was heavily influenced by flower power and the concern for the environment. The hippie look rebelled against the notion of war, more specifically the war in Vietnam. Brides during this decade wore free-flowing dresses and leg-of-mutton sleeves, which had full gathers and buttoned cuffs. Sleeveless wedding gowns also became more mainstream during this time. Following on from the sixties the more daring couples wore matching ensembles (think Mick Jagger and his wife, Bianca at their wedding in St. Tropez).

1980s More is More

THE LOOK: puffed sleeves, cinched waist, dramatic trains and floral crowns

AS SEEN ON: Princess Diana & Sharon Osbourne (Have to giggle at Ozzy's face! Bless.)

The return of formality to weddings brought back a traditional style of dress with lace-edged frills, full length veils and over-sized bouquets. The over-the top styles could have been influenced by the economic boom at the time. In Britain the public felt the presence of Margaret Thatcher as greed was rewarded and consumerism thrived. The decade championed women in powerful careers and positions which was reflected in the rather large shoulder pads worn at the time. The most iconic dress of the decade, worn by Princess Diana in 1981, introduced the notion that more is more. Diana's dress resonated with the nation who loved the romantic feel and fairy-tale fabric.

1990s Minimal

THE LOOK: Simple, elegant necklines, short sleeves, long, wide skirts and tightly fitted bodice.

AS SEEN ON: Carolyn Kennedy & Cindy Crawford

The wedding dresses of the 90's moved away from the ornate, over the top styles of the 80's and took on a more minimalistic aesthetic. As the decade progressed, shift dresses were introduced into day-wear. This trend then filtered into wedding dresses where fabric was layered over a lining for an ethereal effect. Fashion designers such as Calvin Klein glamourized the fresh, understated look that many women, ironically, tried hard to emulate. Carolyn Kennedy pioneered this laid back style by wearing a simple sheath dress on her wedding day to John F. Kennedy Jr.

The iconic shapes and fabrics of the eras are reflective of the political and social change of their time. Each decade seemed to challenge each other. The turn of the century saw restriction and frills, whereas the twenties brought freedom and the death of the corset. The eighties reflected the wealth of the decade and the power-hungry mind-set of the public yet the nineties rejected this notion opting for simple cuts and detail.

The Dress of Today

If history has taught us anything then it is that fashion almost always repeats itself. We are now seeing vintage inspired wedding dresses in the modern day such as Kate Middleton's dress, which was reminiscent of Grace Kelly's lacy princess cut gown. Kate Middies' dress looked timeless, elegant and romantic. It was the perfect dress for a day when the nation came together to celebrate the royal family.

Your mum might have cringed at her choice of shoulder pads and frou frou, yet you modern ladies are putting your own take on the decade's iconic styles. Fashion royalty and all round cool ladies Lily Allen and Kate Moss have both worn vintage inspired wedding attire on their special day. And why not! Lily Allen chose a fun style that reflects the jazz age in its heyday. Kate Moss chose a more classical, simple thirties gown that oozed sophistication yet still let her personality shine through.