Are you looking for inspiration for your outfit on your big day?  Well, you are not alone. What dress to wear has been the crucial question for brides for decades. Here Charlotte Freestone takes a  look back at the 20th century to see just how the fashion and economic trends of the time influenced a woman’s choice of gown.


The Twenties, a time of fun, frolics and flappers. The typical flapper style of dress is something that pops up every few years on todays’ catwalks as designers emulate the drop waisted  dresses and elaborate headbands.

In general, wedding dresses were short to the knee at the front with a long train at the back. Coco Chanel introduced the first official knee-length wedding gown. The bride’s cloche veil was fitted close to the head and low down on the forehead to give a bell like look.




The turn of the decade saw gowns become more feminine and slimming. Fitted at the bodice and cut at the bias over the hips, the dresses still followed the shorter fashion, lengthening to around mid-calf length.

The decade of the Great Depression saw less fabric being used with most dresses being reasonably simple. Veils moved onto a more flamboyant style, decorated with lace and patterns to add beauty to the gowns.




It was the Forties that saw hem lines of wedding dresses drop to long. The full-skirted designs followed the nipped-in style of the Thirties but became much more elaborate, often decorated withlace. Lace either served as a simple piece of decoration or was used as a cover-up for arms and bust.

Having said this, the war had quite an effect on wedding attire in the Forties and brides often chose to wear their military service uniform or borrowed dresses from someone already married as fabric was not readily available.






With the war over, the Fifties became a decade of prosperity. This spilled over into wedding attire as dress makers looked to more expensive fabrics and gowns became fuller in style than ever before.

Many dresses were ballerina-length with a circular skirt and stiff petticoat. It became fashionable to wear a short, fitted lace jacket over the top of the fitted bodice. The dresses were cut in such a way that many women went on to dye them and kept them as special occasion outfits.







The most obvious shift that was seen in the Sixties was the bride’s choice of headwear. Brides could choose from cathedral veils, bonnets and even soft hats to compliment their dresses.

Shift and empire line styles flattered the Sixties bride as dresses reverted back to a simple cut with less ornate embroidery than in previous decades. The dresses were generally long and full, however there was a fashion for long shift style dresses which soon evolved into an empire line.





The Civil Rights Movement saw not only a huge shift in wedding attire but also in some women’s attitudes. Newly liberated women began wearing white suits with an open jacket for their weddings, embracing their sexuality and even revealing a little skin.

Those who did opt for the more traditional wedding dresses chose elaborate sleeves similar to those in   Tudor times. Waistlines fell naturally on the waist with dresses flaring out to form princess line skirts, similar to the style of many available today.






The Eighties saw the wedding of the century, that of Lady Diana Spencer to Prince Charles. Her staggeringly elaborate dress with puff sleeves and intricate embroidery was finished with a 25 foot train.

Everyone getting married in this era wanted to have the perfect princess dress, which meant that full skirts and over-the-top embroidery with pearls, sequins and sparkles to create the perfect fairytale gown. Tiaras became a popular choice of headwear for the Eighties bride, topping off the princess bride dream.

9 Responses

  1. Vintage

    Wow classic theme wedding dress, a very interesting theme is very unique and attractive, modern dab casual, perfect for my wedding next month, hopefully, I can buy it…

  2. mary young

    I wore an exquisite edwardian white dress that belonged to my father’s sister.
    She was an early photographic mode. It was purchased in New Orleans. My sister wore it and my neice wore it as well. Unusual as it was about a size 14 not the usual size
    zero. My mother took it to France to have it repaired in 1952. I had it expertly cleaned in 1962 and it cost a $60 to be cleaned. That was alot of money then.
    My sister had it professionally altered because my neice was 4 months pregnant
    and wore a hoop skirt. You would never know that it was altered as she did a beautiful job. There it sits in an acid free box for the next bride.

  3. mary young

    My mother was married in 1926 and wore a typical dress of that era. Her maid of honor wore the same dress in another color. We used to make so much fun of it but
    now I realize that it was classic. Sorry mom. It was not stored properly and is in shreds. Too bad.
    I have a picture of another bride from 1930-1930 era and It looks like she is wearing
    a chin strap to hold on to her veil. ha ha

  4. Julie

    Not to be picky, but full length wedding gowns were very common throughout the 1930s. Trains were generally not present or quite small – although this is not only the case. In fact, mid-calf would be rather uncommon. Also, most 20s wedding gowns were not as short as knee length. This article is uncommonly over simplified for you, Queens of Vintage.

    • Lena

      Fair enough Julie. It’s an old feature we originally published 3 years ago when the standard wasn’t quite as high. Full-time job + pregnancy make it hard for me to come up with new blog posts at the moment. Maybe once I’m on maternity leave!