HLOM: Wedding gowns unite fashion, customs
Skip to Main Content

HLOM: Wedding gowns unite fashion, customs

Jan 30, 2012

Posted: Monday, January 30, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 11:35 pm, Sun Jan 29, 2012.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue  and a silver sixpence in her shoe.

Many brides will remember following part of this custom when they got married but probably did not know that that each item in the poem represented a good-luck token for the bride. If she carried all of them on her wedding day, her marriage would be happy.

The different eras influenced what a bride would wear. In the Victorian era, 1800s wearing hoops and petticoats underneath a gown were popular; they added volume to the gown and also prevented the bride’s legs from showing.  Before Queen Victoria married in 1840 brides were married in different colors.  Hence the poem “Married in white, you will have chosen all right. Married in grey, you will go far away. Married in black, you will wish yourself back…”  Queen Victoria was responsible for making the white gown fashionable when she married her cousin Albert of Saxe-Coburg.  Custom decided that white was the most fitting color for a bride and it didn’t matter the material.  White represented purity and the innocence of girlhood.

In later years of the Industrial Revolution, 1880s, the arrival of the department store made the possibility of a dream wedding gown a reality.  White was also a popular color for frontier brides.  Their dress would be very practical and could be worn again after the wedding with only a few alterations.

Between the years of 1900-1910, the Edwardian Era or the Gilded Age, fashions became more extravagant. The movie Titanic was a representation of the clothing of that time.

This all changed with the outbreak of World War I.  Styles became simpler and reflected the changing roles of women in society, hems were getting shortened and the dreaded laced corset was no longer a required garment for women.

By 1920 Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, a premier designer from Paris, was a powerful force behind the changes in women fashions.  The short wedding dress was very fashionable with a long train.  By now white was the universal color for a wedding gown.

The white wedding gown took back seat during the Depression.  Brides wore their “Best Dress” for their wedding.  By 1928 it was not uncommon for a wedding dress to be dyed a navy blue color after the wedding.

With World War II women gave up the traditional wedding dress out of duty.  Brides would either rent a dress or borrow one.  The white dress virtually disappeared during the war years.  Cloth rationing was introduced in 1941, when fashion almost ceased to exist.  A common occurrence, if available, was for a gown to be made out of parachute silk or perhaps borrowed from a relative.  A suit with a corsage pinned to the lapel became the norm for brides.  After the war ended rationing was still enforced.

In the 1950s Grace Kelly’s marriage to the Prince of Monaco inspired many women to go the traditional route for a wedding gown. Grace Kelly became the icon to brides everywhere wishing to emulate the princess’ gown.

In the 1960s the Empire line bodice style was popular showing a modest neckline.  Sleeves were essential because the arms, and especially the shoulders, had to be covered.

By the 1970s the biggest change was that the tight sleeves of the gown cut to a point over the hand were replaced with a looser sleeve. Princess Anne led the way with her extravagant Tudor sleeved wedding gown, and the brides of this decade followed suit with sleeve styles culled from every era. The shape of the dress itself moved gradually from the narrow, high-waisted empire line of the late 1960s to the more flared princess line, with little or no train.

If Princess Anne’s wedding dress influenced the seventies bride, the Princess of Wales' extravagant skirt and huge sleeves proved the style icon of the 1980s.  Every bride now wanted a fairytale crinoline and tiara. Waistlines had already returned to their natural position.

By the 1990s applied embroidery and beading on a fairly stiffly sculpted satin corseted bodice, with or without sleeves, had become very popular. A variation was introduced with off the shoulder designs derived from mid or late Victorian evening wear. Many brides were choosing to add color to the traditional white gown. Some bridal veils have silver or gold threads zigzagging through them. Other dresses include colored accessories like a pale colored shawl thrown over the shoulders for the reception.

The most recent royal wedding to influence fashion was the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on April 29, 2011.  The intricate lace applique bodice and sleeves of Catherine’s dress mirror those on the wedding gown of Grace Kelly, who became Princess Grace of Monaco when she married Ranier III, Prince of Monaco, in 1956. But the similarities don’t end there: both gowns share a high-waisted, full-skirted silhouette with a long, dramatic train and were worn with the sheerest of veils and diamond tiaras.

 Today wedding gowns can be whatever the bride chooses for her special day.  The only tradition that might remain a mainstay is something old, something new something borrowed, and something blue.

The Holland Land Office Museum is proud to announce that wedding gowns from the Museum’s extensive collection will be on display as the featured exhibit at the museum for the months of April, May and June.

If you have a wedding gown, veil, bridesmaid dress or other related wedding items you would like to donate to the museum, we are in need of gowns from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s to the present day to complete our collection. Also if you have any mannequins you would like to donate or lend to the museum, please e-mail to amstarowitz@gmail.com.  You can also call the director, Jeff Donahue at the Holland Land Office Museum at 343-4727.  Please stop and visit the Holland Land Office Museum. 

(This article was written and researched by Anne Marie Starowitz, a board member for the Holland Land Office Museum.)


Get your FREE Genesee County

Vacation Planner

Stay Connected

Sign up for our FREE email Newsletter