- The Premier Italian American Newspaper Since 1931 -

Bridal Gowns Throughout the Last 100 Years

This June, the editors at The Italian Tribune decided to look back on the past century of weddings and see how the traditions have evolved. As one would expect, the tastes in wedding dresses and songs have shown great changes, but some others facts are likely to surprise you. Whether you are looking for a wedding dress inspiration from those bygone days or are wondering why wedding parties have bridesmaids, there is likely a lot of wedding trivia that you probably don’t know.

For example, the tradition of bridesmaids wearing matching dresses dates back to ancient Rome, when bridesmaids not only wore the same dress as each other, but also the same dress as the bride in order to act as decoys against evil spirits. Additionally, did you realize that although the tradition of wearing white on your wedding day became fashionable for society brides in the early 20th century, it was not until after World War II that the trend took off for brides of more modest means?  With that, let us take a peek at the trends, themes, brides and weddings of the past 100 years. See Story on Pages ???


Following World War I, as formal weddings became more popular, those without full-time social secretaries realized they needed help wrangling the caterer, the invitation printer, the florist and the seamstress – and so, the wedding planner was born.

In 1924, the silent film Troubles of a Bride, sought to answer the question: “At what age should a girl marry?” Apparently no conclusive answer was provided, but in that year, the most common age for brides was 21.

By the mid-1920s, wedding vendors began to see the profit potential of marketing to brides and stores began opening bridal departments that offered all kinds of merchandise geared toward weddings, such as silverware, crystal, china and of course, bridal dresses, shoes and veils. It was the department store Marshall Fields in Chicago that is credited with the creation of the wedding registry. The first fully automatic photographic film developing machine was patented in 1928, paving the way for wedding photography as we know it today.

The world changed with the stock market crash in 1929. The Depression led many women to return to the less expensive traditions of generations earlier by simply wearing their best dress on their wedding day.

Prohibition was repealed on December 5, 1933 and for the first time in 13 years, wedding guests could legally raise a glass of bubbly to toast the newlyweds. By the latter years of the decade, bridal gowns were again becoming more glamorous. The average bride paid about $1,000 in today’s money for their dresses.

With the start of World War II, bridal fashions again became more modest. Weddings were often planned in a few days to accommodate servicemen who were on short-notice leave. It was also during the war that the custom for men to wear wedding rings became more prevalent. Men chose to wear the rings while fighting overseas to remind themselves of their wives and families back home.

Wartime weddings often saw the groom wearing his military uniform, while the bride donned her best dress in lieu of a gown. When the war ended, Italian Americans in particular, were ready to eat, drink and get married! Their celebratory mood sparked the Baby Boomer generation.

It is also noteworthy that engagement rings have not always held sparkly rocks. The trend took off in the late ’40s, when a copywriter (working for De Beers) wrote the famous slogan, “A Diamond is Forever,” dramatically shifting the publics (and bride-to-be’s) view of diamonds!

How many readers realize that reality shows were popular long before The Bachelor? In 1954, a daytime series premiered on television called Bride and Groom. It featured real-life couples who would get married on the air.

The early 1960s brought bouffant hairstyles to women with large veils to accommodate them for brides. In 1962, Henry Mancini won the Grammy for Record of the Year with “Moon River” from the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The song went on to become one of the most popular choices for bands to play for the couple’s first dance. By the end of the 1960s, the introduction of the 747 Jumbo Jet made exotic honeymoon destinations a feasible and affordable option for newlyweds. Demand for air travel reached an all-time high levels.

During the 1970s, wedding trends were all over the map, with brides wearing everything from traditional gowns to (gasp) pantsuits. This was also the decade when men started sporting colored tuxedos and ruffled shirts. The desire to have a unique wedding went beyond distinctive wedding attire. The ceremony itself also became more personalized including the choice of venue. Weddings were starting to have the concept of a destination wedding.

For brides, flower crowns adorned with baby’s breath became a trademark of bridesmaid fashion in the early ’70s, while there was a movement towards lots of color and floppy hats during the second half of the decade.

The 1980s welcomed back more traditional styles – taffeta, lace frills and cathedral trains – in addition to poufy shoulders. It was a decade where the fairy tale wedding style reached its peak, exemplified by lace accents, longer veils, bigger bouquets and ever bigger budgets. Elaborate, multi-tiered wedding cakes were a must-have, with some towering as tall as eight tiers high. 1983 marked the first time couples could capture their wedding on film, with Sony’s release of the consumer camcorder. The rise of wedding videography was yet another reasons that caused the cost of weddings to soar. “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” became an instant wedding classic. It was a hit song from what movie and in what year? (Dirty Dancing in 1987).

The ‘90s saw a new obsession with wedding movies, ushered in by the remake of Father of the Bride, but the decade would produce other popular wedding-themed movies, including Four Weddings and a Funeral, Muriel’s Wedding, My Best Friend’s Wedding and Runaway Bride. Bridal gowns of the ’90s were more sleek and simple than the styles popular in the 1980s, but brides still loved a small touch of pouf and drama.

Brides of today may find the next fact difficult to fathom. In 1995, Target became the first major retailer to offer an online gift registry. Its catchy and kitschy name – Club Wedd. Within the first year, more than 125,000 couples registered on the site.

Trends of the later part of the decade included Precious Moments bride and groom wedding toppers. In 1998, more than two million wedding cakes included them. Long before Instagram existed, disposable cameras were a trendy wedding accessory. Couples placed them at tables so guests could capture moments throughout the reception.

As we entered the new millennium, Honeyfund was launched as a way for friends and relatives to contribute to a couple’s honeymoon fund, which has become a not so popular alternative to the traditional registry. By 2007, weddings were no longer intimate family affairs. Couples publicized their ceremonies through media outlets and social media. Say Yes to the Dress also premiered that same year providing an intimate peek into the dress buying process. The Knot became the new Bible for brides-to-be.

An online presence became more and more important as the first decade of the new century came to a close. Style Me Pretty launched in 2007, followed by A Practical Wedding the following year and 100 Layer Cake launched in 2009. It may seem hard to believe, but it was less than ten years ago that Pinterest was launched. Engaged women began using social network to find inspiration for the wedding of their dreams, spawning the term “Pinterest Bride” and by 2012, brides everywhere were turning to wedding blogs as a way to plan their big day. By 2015, the social media obsession had officially infiltrated weddings, with couples inventing wedding hashtags to encourage guests to post photos to platforms such as Instagram and Twitter. Perhaps in a bit of a reversal in styles, one of the recent trends has been reverting back to the vintage wedding style. Maybe after all of the technological and social media bombardment of the past few decades, couples are again beginning to realize that a wedding is about a celebration of love, rather than what Facebook likes.