Out of the 1940s, women in the 1950s were looking towards Hollywood for inspiration for what to wear so it’s no surprise that this extended to their wedding too. High fashion designers were in the spotlight as brides-to-be flocked to department stores and bridal salons where they viewed the latest runway wedding gowns, veils and flowers. This also extended to menswear, homewares and bridesmaid dresses where a day-long wedding event set the tone for them being a high fashion affair.
Brides were encouraged to emulate their Hollywood icons and dress like the stars in the most expensive gown they could afford. Thanks to many different manufacturing improvements, off-the-rack wedding dresses were now available which were made with cheaper synthetic materials which looked as expensive as the real thing.
Early 1950s gowns
For most of the 1950s the classic wedding gown was one featuring a sweetheart neckline, nipped in waist and a full skirt. Early 50s fabrics embraced a structure that easily molded the torso and shaped the hips down to the floor. Duchesse satins were smooth and shiny adding a touch of luxury, or at least the illusion of it. Lace was also popular and used on the top only or on the full dress. Usually flecked with gold or silver thread, handmade lace was very soft but very expensive. New cotton or polyester-cotton machine made lace was crisp and affordable. Lace was used heavily in 1950s wedding attire, from gowns to veils to gloves.
Full modesty was still required in church, so sleeves were long with some fullness at the top, tightly fitted to the wrist and usually ending in a medieval style cuff. Necklines were also modest, and favoured higher cuts of V, bateau, sweetheart and scalloped shapes. The skirt was A-line and hung from the high waistline being supported by one long petticoat underneath.
Mid 1950s gowns
Mid 50s wedding gowns became more practical in terms of reception gowns. Modesty was still needed in church, but brides wanted something fashionable and modern. 1950s wedding dress designers solved this with removable layers. Many bridal gowns were now strapless, but had a matching three-quarter length sleeved bolero jacket that was worn at the ceremony. Jackets could be made with silk and satin but were most often made with tightly fitted lace. Another option was to have detachable sleeves that the bride would remove for the reception. Sleeveless gowns weren’t acceptable to wear to the ceremony until the 60s. Even short sleeves were controversial, but of course brides wore them anyway.
Late 50s dress
In the mid to late 50s, dresses softened into the round ball gown shape with chiffon and tulle being used to make them physically lighter too. Hemlines rose up to tea-length or even mid-shin, showing the bridal footwear for the first time since the 1920s. After Audrey Hepburn wore a ballerina style wedding gown in Funny Face in 1957, the style took off. The bodice also stayed simplified too with short sleeved being preferred. Plain, wide and rounded collarless necklines gave the look a doll-like charm and innocence.
1950s wedding veils, hats and tiaras
The wedding tiara was still being worn in the 1950s but was quickly being replaced with small hats. Saucer shaped hats were worn low on the forehead to create a halo effect and were often covered with beading and flowers. Crescent shaped hats were also popular. These saddled the head but left room for the curls and bouffant hairstyles that were fashionable.
When Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953, jewelled crowns briefly made a comeback with many brides wearing a crown of flowers instead.
Veils were the one item that was “old” usually being passed down from mother’s and grandmother’s. Long lace veils floating down the back added a classic touch to an otherwise modern wedding gown. Long veils were often updated with crowns of small flowers or were draped over a plain pillbox hat.
In the late 1950s, those brides that chose not to wear a heirloom veil wore a shoulder to waist length tulle veil that echoed the shape of the big ballroom skirt below. Attached to a hidden headband, small hat or comb layers of tulle or net fluffed out from the head, mimicking and protecting the hair from the heavy traditional lace veil. Rock and Roll brides chose to wear a bouffant veil with a single rose placed at the centre of the head.
1950s wedding accessories
As with previous decades, gloves were seen as equally elegant and important as the wedding gown in the 1950s. In the early part of the decade, a short sleeved gown would be paired with over or at the elbow length doeskin white gloves that wrinkled at the wrists. Long sleeved gowns didn’t need gloves, but a pair of wrist length or fingerless gloves in satin, lace or tulle was a nice, delicate touch. Most of the 50s favoured short, wrist length gloves in materials to match the wedding dress and usually paired with short, tea-length dresses the best. Only about 1/4 of 1950s brides chose to wear gloves.
As with the 1940s, jewellery was kept to a minimal pearl necklace for the 1950s bride. In addition, a matching pearl bracelet was also worn – particularly if this was a “something borrowed” from a close friend or relative. Pearl clip-on studs or stud earrings were sometimes worn if the hair didn’t cover up the ears.
Lily of the valley and ferns or a single stem white lily tied with a white bow were popular choices for the modern 1950s bride. As always, movie stars bucked the trends and created their own. Elizabeth Taylor chose daffodils and yellow tulips to complement her bridesmaids chiffon yellow dresses and Jackie Kennedy chose a spray of white and pink orchids and gardenias. Any pink flowers were highly fashionable for most of the decade.
How romantic are the 1950s wedding outfits? I especially love all of the loving looks they are giving each other. Would you have a 1950s wedding?