1940s and 1950s Wedding Dress Styling

This week, at Henry Roth we look at Mum’s rocking their frocks on our Facebook page. With this in mind it is an ideal opportunity to look at wedding dress styling through the latter half of the 20th century, which has influenced Henry’s signature “Future Vintage” aesthetic.

Today, we begin with the 1940s and 1950s.


The 1940s are divided into two parts: during the war and after the war. Due to rationing, wartime meant brides often opted for simple designs and borrowed dresses. Post-war, however, signaled the fashion era known as New Look–this was a stylish and feminine approach to dressing. The troops returning home also led to a boom in weddings as sweethearts were reunited after a period of gloom and austerity.

Wartime brides opted for borrowed gowns, mended family gowns or simply wore their best dress. Some style features that might have featured on their gowns are:

  • Gibson or mutton sleeves (Billowing at the top and tapered to fit below the elbow)
  • Long sleeves with a point at the end, especially combined with a high v-neck collar
  • Netting at the neckline
  • Emphasis on waist, often with a “v” shape
  • Slight “sweetheart” shaping high on the neckline, near the collarbone
  • Made of rayon, though sometimes silk
  • White, ivory, off-white, or beige color


1940s Bride, former Miss Brooklyn, Frieda Thomas (nee Siegel)

New Look fashions paved the way for 1950s styling. During this time brides and women in general, looked to tighter waists and fuller skirts.

The most famous bride of the 1940s is Queen Elizabeth who married Prince Philip in 1947 while still a princess. At the time, food and clothing were still rationed in post-war England and so royal dressmaker, Norman Hartnell used Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress to convey a message of renewed hope. He did this in part by embroidering the gown with garlands of spring flowers.


Princess Elizabeth marries Prince Philip, 1947


During the 1950s, wedding dresses tended to be traditional length with sleeves and few embellishments. A lifted rationing on fabrics meant brides now looked to full skirts, rounded shoulders, a very emphasized waist, a bodice with “pointed bosom.” Dressing for women in the 1950s was all about celebrating their hourglass figure. Hoop skirts, crinolines, and other techniques were used to play it up.

During the 1950s French lace was all the rage, as post-war lace began to be manufactured again. It was therefore not uncommon to find brides opting for tiers and tiers of Chantilly lace on their bridal gowns.

A few other looks that made their way into the wedding dresses of the 1950s:

  • Upstanding gothic style collars
  • Lace boleros on top of a strapless dress (opaque ones became popular later in the decade)
  • Ankle-length styles rather than floor-length
  • Flutter hems
  • Layered materials
  • Three-quarter or long sleeves with a wedding point
  • Scooped neckline
  • Dropped hemline (late ’50s)
  • Stiffer, more opaque fabric than the Chantilly lace of earlier in the decade (late ’50s)


Henry Roth’s mother, Reta Weinreich, perfectly exemplifies the 1950s fashioning and silhouette

The most famous bride of the 1950s is, of course, Grace Kelly, who married Prince Rainier of Monacco in a 1956 ceremony.


Grace Kelly on her wedding day to Prince Rainier III of Monacco: Her dress has since become iconic

Princess Grace of Monacco’s wedding dress as since been the source of inspiration for many brides, most famous of which is Kate Middleton who married Prince William on April 29th, 2011 in a wedding dress designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen. The exquisite bridal gown was the source of much speculation in the run-up to the wedding and once revealed, the comparisons to Princess Grace’s wedding dress were instantly made.


Kate Middleton in a Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen couture wedding gown: A modern take on 1950s styling.

For Henry’s take on 1950s wedding gowns, look to Zoe, Zoe Too and Maya.


Maya gown by Michelle Roth


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