Wedding dresses were originally based on Victorian styles.
The color white became the tradition for wedding attire in 1840 after Queen Victoria got married to Albert of Saxe-Coburg. She wore a white gown with lace trim, and that became the style of the day for all brides.
Most wedding dresses remain white to this day, but they’ve changed in many other respects.
In the 1920s, cloche-style wedding veils, as seen in the photo above, became popular.
Wedding dresses at this time often included a longer hem or train in the back, while the front of the dress was a bit shorter.
White wedding dresses still hadn’t completely caught on with the middle class. It was considered frivolous to spend money on a new white dress that could easily get stained during the wedding festivities and be worn only once.
After World War II, many people enjoyed a higher quality of living, and lower classes were able to copy the wealthy on their wedding days by buying a special white dress for the occasion.
The white wedding dress became even more popular after it started appearing on actresses in wedding scenes in Hollywood movies.
Here, the bride wears a dress with a long yet practical full skirt, covered in lace. She looks ready to go dancing.
In this more formal portrait, the bride stands next to her groom in a white dress with puffed sleeves and a simple, silky long skirt. Her veil is so long that it gathers around her feet.
Extravagantly long veils were clearly in fashion at the time. This bride’s veil is also so long that it wraps around her feet. Given that Meghan Markle had attendants holding her long veil at her wedding, this trend clearly hasn’t gone away!
The dress shown here is perhaps the most experimental design yet. This 1950s dress features a much shorter veil, and the dress has a lot of unique components, from that fur-trimmed skirt to the buttons on the bust.
Here’s another 1950s dress with a similar button-up style on the top, exaggerated puffy shoulders, and long wrist-length sleeves. This dress is exceedingly modest. It’s common for wedding dresses to be more modest than everyday wear, though there have been exceptions for certain fashion trends.
This bride wears another very similar style of dress as she poses next to her mother. How does this bride manage to look businesslike and wedding-ready at the same time?
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, brides tended to follow the dress trends of the day. Dress designers didn’t attempt to model their dresses after throwback styles, but instead they came up with new and innovative styles every year.
Cinched waists and full skirts were in fashion. Sweetheart necklines were also all the rage, as made popular by Elizabeth Taylor in the film Father of the Bride. Dresses were often full of lace details and frill.
During this time, brides were encouraged to dress like Hollywood stars. By this time, wedding dresses were sold “off the rack” at retail stores, so brides didn’t need to have a dress custom-made by a tailor. Brides were supposed to spend as much as they could reasonably afford on a dress.
This dress from the 1960s retains the modest look of previous years, but this decade is when it did become acceptable to wear sleeveless gowns to a wedding. In accordance with the fashion trends of the ’60s, it was also popular to wear slim-fitting and A-line dresses.
Even minidresses made an appearance at weddings — a quintessentially ’60s look!
However, this decade is also when brides began to look to the past for fashion inspiration and bring back some of the more Victorian aesthetic.
This bride is clearly straight out of the 1970s, with a dress so plain that it gives off earth-loving hippie vibes. She even holds a single flower rather than a big extravagant bouquet.
In the 1980s, wedding dresses became extravagant and over-the-top — puffy, with eye-catching details.
White wedding dresses also become popular around the world. Even in countries and regions with other traditions for wedding attire — as in East Asia, for example — brides often posed for portraits in white wedding dresses as well.
The 1990s brought an emphasis on minimalism, but they were also a hodgepodge mixture of previous trends, like sweetheart necklines, lace details, puffy sleeves, and voluminous skirts. Minimalism also became popular in this era, particularly in the mid to late ’90s.
Brides in the ’90s also started to get more creative with their veils. They often used the addition of a headband.
It also became popular in the 1990s for every bridesmaid to wear the exact same look, from the dress to the makeup to the manicure.
It’s hard to imagine a bride in most of these dresses today, but wedding dress designers continue to be inspired by specific aspects of seemingly “outdated” dresses. Even now, dresses with sleeves are becoming popular once again after many years in which sleeveless dresses dominated weddings.
You just never know what’s going to come down that aisle!
Save these photos of vintage wedding dresses for showing to friends, who fancy the elegant classic styles of everything.