Here Comes The Bride: History of Weddings Throughout the 20th Century (PHOTOS)

Studio wedding portrait of Theresa Jacob and Robert Leske, married on March 25, 1931
Studio wedding portrait of Theresa Jacob and Robert Leske, married on March 25, 1931

Although I never had a real wedding of my own, choosing instead to get hitched to my sweetheart at a judge’s house while his wife served as witness, I have always been fascinated by the wedding choices of others.

Not only that, but the ever-changing styles. I distinctly recall telling my best friend in sixth grade that I wanted my bridesmaids to wear peach colored dresses.


The choices a couple makes when it comes to tying the knot say a lot about the couple. In fact, weddings have become a very serious way to showcase your personal style. Formal, informal, church, beach… These days, anything goes. But that wasn’t always the case.

According to LaCrosseTribune.com, in the 1850s, weddings were very solemn occasions. Serious business, you guys! No music, no dancing.

The traditional wedding marches we hear these days didn’t come to weddings till the early 1900s. In the 1850s, the bride wore as fancy a dress as she could afford, in any color she chose. She wore a short veil, or none at all. Out of a practical need for minimalism, most weddings took place in homes.

It wasn’t until the century was coming to a close that weddings began to be fun events with games and yes, even dancing.

Those weddings of yesteryear may sound boring but there is something about them that speaks to me. They were usually small family gatherings at the home of the parents of the bride or groom. Nothing elaborate. It’s simple. Sweet. A slap in the face of brides like Kim Kardashian, obsessed with the costly fashion statement weddings we’re seeing more and more of now.

So, in celebration of the upcoming holiday about love, I thought I’d show you how lovers of years past choreographed that most special day.

1900. That’s where we pick up with photos.

Ladies and gentleman, may I present to you, weddings throughout the 20th century. Tell me, if you had to choose one decade to base your wedding on, which would it be? For me, it’s easy. Roaring twenties, baby. All the way. Fashion is a trend and a social statement, finally breaking away from the rigidity of the Victorian era. Pin curls, flowers in the hair. Still feminine, yet edgy, Art Deco is all the rage and anything goes.

  • 1900s 1 of 26
    In the early 1900s, white has become the customary choice for brides. It all started in the mid 1800s when Queen Victoria of England got married in a white dress. And still, many brides of the 1900s choose to wear azure, mauve or pale pink. High waists, high collars, long trains, long gloves, and veiled hats are also in fashion. In this photo the bride stands slightly behind a seated groom which was the custom of the day. According to The Montreal Gazette "When grandma had her wedding tintype made, it was grandpa who was seated. Grandma stood up and to the side, if not slightly in the back." It shows who wears the pants in the family. Interestingly, it later switches to the bride sitting and the groom standing behind her, perhaps as a show of gallantry? Or feminism, more likely.
    Photo Credit: duryeapa.com
  • 1910 2 of 26
    The 1910s introduce a more flowing silhouette for wedding gowns. Dancing also becomes a popular part of the wedding celebration, with phonographs providing background music. In this decade women, as a result of the Suffrage movement, begin to assert their independent choices about what kind of wedding they want to have. Note, now the bride is seated and the husband stands behind.
    Photo Credit: bridalguide.com
  • 1920s 3 of 26
    My favorite decade. At this point, anything goes. Brides are increasingly turning to professional wedding planners or they are just doing whatever they want. Non-conforming is the order of the day. Formality has gone out the window and that is reflected in brides showing off a little big of leg for the first time ever. Ankles! Oh my. Elopements increase, instead of using a minister in a church couples get hitched quickly with a justice of the peace. Bobs are popular so there are a lot of really cool head pieces like what you see here.
    Photo Credit: doyledoyle.com
  • 1930s 4 of 26
    The progress of feminism in the last half decade can be seen in wedding photographs. Again, according to The Montreal Gazette, weddings in this decade reflect the slow but steady advance of equality. "Formerly the bridegroom was the important person at the wedding….but now its the bride.Pictures of bridal couples have lost popularity but if we do photograph the happy pair, the bride gets the spotlight." However, The Great Depression was underway and most weddings were frugal with the bride opting to wear the nicest dress in her wardrobe.
    Photo Credit: lacrossetribune.com
  • 1940s 5 of 26
    War time weddings abound in this decade often with the bride wearing a nice suit rather than a wedding dress. Weddings were often impromptu to accommodate a boyfriend coming home on 24 or 48 hours short notice leave, before being sent overseas. This is also when wedding bands for men become popular so as to connect them to a sweetheart back home.
    Photo Credit: fashionera.com
  • 1948 – Dezi Arnaz & Lucille Ball 6 of 26
    By the end of the 40's the return of proper, dignified weddings is en vogue. Take, for example, Lucille Ball's gown. Lucy and Desi originally eloped in 1940 but 9 years later had a Catholic church wedding. Desi wore a white suit and Lucy wore a blue satin wedding dress.
    Photo Credit: www.loc.gov
  • 1950s 7 of 26
    The 50s herald a return to formality after the roaring twenties, The Great Depression and wartime weddings. Fancy church services are all the rage. Think Wedgewood china, white roses, cut glass, and silver on damask cloths. The attention to etiquette and decorum means that those that can't afford formal attire rent it for the big day, which is what many of us still do today. Also, the hemlines of dresses begin to rise to more attention is being paid to bridal shoes. Manolo Blahnik would be pleased.
    Photo Credit: bridalguide.com
  • 1940s 8 of 26
    According to BridalGuide.com, "In many ways, the concept of the DIY bride was born in the '40s: with limited funds available during the war, brides used furnishing fabrics to make dresses (like Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind), lace curtains to create veils, and paper flowers in their bouquets."
    Photo Credit: bridalguide.com
  • 1953 – JFK & Jackie Kennedy 9 of 26
    The wedding of Jackie and JFK beautifully exemplifies how formal weddings came back into style in the fifties. He wore a morning suit and she wore her grandmother's lace veil, a tiara of orange blossoms and a gown stitched from fifty yards of cream faille. The classic formal wedding.
    Photo Credit: intheusualway.blog.com
  • 1956 – Prince Ranier & Grace Kelly 10 of 26
    In still another example of a formal wedding that influenced millions, American actress Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1956 in what was then called "the wedding of the century."
    Photo Credit: psclausen.wordpress.com
  • 1960s 11 of 26
    Dress hemlines continue to rise for the gals inclined to show a little leg. The strict formality of the 50s wedding is relaxed. According to BridalGuide.com, "Gowns in the '60s featured high-waisted empire lines, and many brides wore domed pill-box hats with bouffant veils flowing from the hat."
    Photo Credit: flickr.com/librarianguish
  • 1960s 12 of 26
    Here's a perfect example of those rising hemlines, particularly as the decade comes to a close.
    Photo Credit: flickr.com/kkanouse
  • 1967 – Elvis & Priscilla 13 of 26
    Elvis and Priscilla had a highly publicized wedding in Las Vegas. It was followed by a quick press conference and a $10,000 breakfast reception, attended by friends, family, and business associates from MGM, RCA, and the William Morris Agency. According to About.com, "Presley wore a black brocade silk tuxedo and Western boots, while Priscilla wore a floor-length wedding gown of her own design: white silk chiffon, with beaded yoke, trimmed in seed pearls and topped with a three-foot tulle veil secured by a rhinestone crown."
    Photo Credit: elvis-tkc.com
  • 1970s 14 of 26
    Much like the weddings of today, weddings in the seventies featured a little bit of everything. Fairytale dresses, hippie gowns, pantsuits, even! Women begin to finally focus on their own fashion personality instead of bending to the dictates of society. And the men? Well, they rocked colored tuxedos.
    Photo Credit: artopiaupdate.blogspot.com
  • 1970s 15 of 26
    And while we can all agree that exploring your own fashion personality is awesome, I think we can all equally agree that the colors of the 70s were most definitely not awesome. Had to throw in a typical bridesmaid shot for your viewing displeasure!
    Photo Credit:
  • 1981 – Prince Charles & Princess Diana 16 of 26
    Gamechanger. It may very well be the most famous wedding of all-time, with, as FOX reports, 750 million people tuning in to watch. The wedding set the tone for the decade with brides seeking the romantic fairy tale. Big dresses, dolled up flower girls, the whole nine yards. Quite literally, I might add, as Diana's 25 foot train translates into nearly nine yards!
    Photo Credit: mix1065fm.com
  • 1980s 17 of 26
    After Diana, EVERYONE wanted to be the princess. And, well, it was the eighties when excess was in style. Weddings in this decade centered around this idea of the perfect, dreamlike wedding day. According to randomhistory.com, "Cathedral trains, lace-edged frills, full-length veils, and oversized bouquets made a comeback during the '80s. flowing sleeves gathered at wrist." Yet another return to formality which included men in morning suits. Also for the first time, couples were able to capture their weddings on video, creating the wedding videography industry. As a result, average costs for weddings began to soar.
    Photo Credit: bridepower.com
  • 1990s 18 of 26
    By 1990 the nation has become obsessed with weddings and the movies of the decade reflect that. Starting with a remake of Father of the Bride (1991), popular movies centered around weddings included Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), My Best Friend's Wedding (1997), and Runaway Bride. (1999) According to sellthebride.com the average cost of a wedding at the dawn of the decade is $15,000. This is also the first time, really, that wedding receptions change from local pubs and restaurants to fancy hotels and country houses we're used to seeing today.
    Photo Credit: marythekay.typad.com
  • 1993 – Tommy Mottola & Mariah Carey 19 of 26
    Mariah Carey's gown is the perfect example of how the nineties kicked off with a more is more ideology when it comes to weddings. Ex-husband Tommy Mottola has said the songbird wanted to outdo Princess Diana's famed wedding. At the time, the wedding was considered extravagant at $500,000. According to TV Guide, Carey's Vera Wang gown — complete with a 27-foot-long train (2 feet longer than Diana's!) that cost $25,000.
    Photo Credit: iconcast.com
  • 1996 – JFK, Jr. & Carolyn Kennedy 20 of 26
    Mid-decade a more minimalistic style gained momentum. The tide turned when Carolyn Bessette married JFK, Jr in a slim sheath, bias-cut shift dress. Not only does this mark a return to simple style but now, like Carolyn's wedding off the coast in Georgia, others begin planning destination weddings.
    Photo Credit: loveisspeed.blogspot.com
  • 1990s 21 of 26
    The start of the 90s was filled with the same excess as the 80s, but Carolyn Kennedy's wedding marked a return to the simple elegance that we see toward the end of the decade.
    Photo Credit: tressugar.com
  • 2002 – Jessica Simpson 22 of 26
    Simpson was right in line with the burgeoning style of a sleeveless gown.
    Photo Credit: celebritybridgeguide.com
  • 2000 23 of 26
    The new millennium marks the emergence of the strapless wedding gown. Although less is considered more when it comes to style, women are as wedding obsessed as they've ever been, reading magazines, making scrapbooks and spending months and months planning the big day. According to sellthebride.com, the average wedding costs $22,000.
    Photo Credit: valencienne.com
  • 2010 24 of 26
    More and more brides are favoring curve-hugging gowns — the mermaid is one of the hottest silhouettes. But really, anything goes. It's about personal style. Many women opt to frame their wedding around a previous decade like the roaring 20s or the 60's. Others still want to be princesses like Diana in the 80s with big full skirts.
    Photo Credit: Flickr.com
  • 2011 – Kris Humphries & Kim Kardashian 25 of 26
    In one of the most costly weddings of all-time and an extreme example of how wedding obsessed some women can be, Kim K. disgusted the world with her reportedly 11 million dollar wedding to Kris Humphries. However, she is rumored to have received nearly double that from those who "sponsored" the wedding.
    Photo Credit: UsMagazine.com
  • Today 26 of 26
    Today, even though we've been through tough economic times, according to Reuters, the cost of the average wedding is inching toward $30,000. The wedding industry is a billion dollar one where women try to outdo each other on reality shows or just want to make the biggest fashion statement of their lives. Here's to hoping for a return to simpler times when a wedding was about two people and their VERY closest friends and family.
    Photo Credit: mazelmoments.com

You can also find Monica on her personal blog, The Girl Who. Read more from Monica on Babble:

Top photo credit: lacrossetribune.com

Article Posted 5 years Ago

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