Iconic Wedding Dresses from Every Era

We take a look back at wedding dress trends through the eras - from Gatsby glam to fab fifties style


Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue — there’s nothing like a wedding to make you think about tradition. But customs change from decade-to-decade; even wearing a white dress has only been popular since Queen Victoria married Prince Albert and started the trend.

To celebrate weddings gone by and the history of bridal fashion, we’ve delved into the archives of Ellis Bridals, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and scoured the beautiful book, The Wedding Dress: 300 Years of Bridal Fashions (V&A Publishing, £30, www.vandabooks.com) — both crammed with the most stunning trends of the past.

Turn of the century wedding dress

Photo: V&A Publishing

Turn of the Century

As longer engagements became commonplace for couples (especially when they included a Tiffany solitaire diamond ring), wedding photography was the latest trend. Wagner’s Bridal Chorus and Mendelssohn’s Wedding March were firm favourites for the bride’s entrance and exit.

The fashion was for big hats rather than veils, and high-waisted, empire line, long-skirted dresses (like this dress dating from 1906-1908) were all the rage.


1920s wedding dress

Photo: V&A Publishing


The “roaring twenties” were in full swing, flapper dresses, with their rising hems, were scandalising older generations and even brides were showing off their legs for the first time – at least from the knee down. Dropped-waist styles showed off slim figures such as this 1926 dress.

Other conventions went temporarily out of the window; metallic lamé, lace and pale pink become fashionable for glamorous brides and headdresses replaced veils. Even bridesmaids got trendy, dressed in shades that contrasted with the bride’s gown.


1930s wedding dress

Photo: V&A Publishing


Styles turned slinkier in the ‘30s. Cut on the bias, clinging white satin dresses had demure long sleeves, trailing skirts and high necks, as well as long, glamorous trains, like this starry version from 1933.

This decade also started the fashion for cascade bouquets and simple but dramatic arrangements of long-stemmed flowers. And in 1934, the hours when church marriages could take place were extended from 3pm until 6pm, starting a trend for evening receptions.


1940s wedding dress

Photo: www.micheletaylorcoach.me.uk


Wartime played a big role in the changing customs of the 1940s. With rationing and shorter engagements, everything was simpler than before – even cakes contained more spice to disguise the lack of sugar.

Some dresses had shorter sleeves due to the lack of material or were even made from parachute silk. Veils were small and ornamental, sometimes attached to a hat or comb like at Michele Taylor’s parents’ wedding in 1945.


1950s wedding dress

Photo: V&A Publishing


After the austerity of the war years, brides wanted elaborate and indulgent weddings with longer formal church services and special suits for the groom and ushers.

For brides, this meant full-skirted, floor-length ladylike dresses with a flowing veil — like this Hardy Amies dress dating from 1953. Some were high-necked, others strapless with long gloves, but what mattered was the billowing yards of material.


1960s wedding dress

Photo: V&A Publishing


The “swinging sixties” changed everything. Although brides still stuck to some traditions, the newest fashions put miniskirts in vogue as well as edgier, structured styles like this Jean Patou Zibeline design from 1967.

Civil ceremonies were also becoming more popular and weddings were small-scale, witnessed by 54 people on average.


1970s wedding dress

Photo: Ellis Bridals


Romance returned in the ‘70s and dreamy boho styles were “in”. Brides chose lace and pearls to decorate their floaty full-length dresses similar to this 1975 Ellis Bridals gown. Unique crocheted styles and suits (a la Bianca Jagger) were big news too.

The trend for bride and groom to light a ‘unity’ candle, symbolising two becoming one, began to emerge.


1980s wedding dress

Photo: Ellis Bridals


Bigger was better in the ‘80s. After Princess Diana married in a flouncy gown with puff sleeves and 25ft train, dresses, hair and veils all made a statement. The bride made sure she was the centre of attention by wearing something like this 1986 design from Ellis Bridals.

Pastels were the most popular choice for bridesmaids and décor, especially pale pinks. And after all the social changes of the ‘60s and ‘70s, church weddings were falling out of fashion.


1990s wedding dress

Photo: Ellis Bridals


In the early ‘90s, the traditional fairytale princess look came back, with a fitted bodice and flared skirts such as this 1991 Ellis Bridals dress. As the decade went on, narrower silhouettes, bare shoulders and corset-style bodices became more popular.

For the first time, more couples chose civil ceremonies than religious ones and they could marry in any licensed venue, rather than their local register office.


21st century wedding dress

Photo: V&A Publishing

21st Century

In the 21st century, anything goes! From beach weddings to traditional church ceremonies, and a huge variety of civil venues, the big trend for the 21st century is choosing something personal.

There’s been a rise in the number of themed weddings and vintage styled gowns, like this Jenny Packham design from 2010. The three-tier fruitcake made way for extravagant chocolate creations as well as cupcake towers.


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