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A La Robe

 

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The evolution of today's wedding dress

By Hilary Hudson

Wedding dresses as we think of them today are a 20th century invention. Up until the end of the first world war, about 1918, women either made themselves or had made by a dressmaker a new "best dress". The wealthier the bride's family the more ornate the dress.
1900's

By the 1920s a white wedding dress with the groom dressed in formal clothes became the norm. Men in the navy and army would be in full dress and their brides wore long white dresses with veils. The influence then came from the movies and the magazines. What film stars wore in the roles on the screen and for their own weddings influenced the whole world including New Zealand and Australia.

While some big stores sold wedding dresses ready-made, by far the bigger department in the store was for fabrics and patterns for the bride, her mother or a dressmaker to make up.

Before the turn of the century to 1900 and in the early years of it, bustles, a sort of stiff petticoat over the bottom were the height of fashion. The first world war killed that stone dead.

There were still frills and multi layered skirts in the 20s but pictures show that long and slinky was the most popular line.

1920s
The early thirties saw a world depression and simple was the word for most brides. By the mid-thirties things had looked up, men were back in work there was more money around and wedding dresses reflected the European fashions.

The wedding dress of Princess Marina who married the Duke of Kent in the late 30s was studied by women all over the world, much in the same way as the meringue wedding dress of Diana Princess of Wales was viewed in 1981.

From 1939 to 1948 wedding dress fabric was hard to come by, many a wedding dress was recycled from family and friends and so the slinky look of the thirties had an extended life.

1930s

From then to about 1970 was the time of the big full fig wedding. There were few choices of venue for the bride, it was church or the registry office. The status of women was very different. Women were paid less, by law, for doing the same tasks as men. When they married they were expected to resign their paid work positions be it factory, bank, shop, government, office, hospital or school.

The bride was much younger than today usually 19 to 23. Usually she married from home, living with men before marriage was a scandal.

The wedding dress was usually a tight top and a huge skirt, full length and with a veil. When Grace Kelly wore an ankle length dress in the movie "High Society" for her second wedding at home it had less impact in New Zealand than the one she wore when she married Prince Rainer of Monaco. It was, you've guessed it, meringue.

Audrey Hepburn modelled a wedding dress in her fifties movie "Funny Face". Again it was the close fitting silky top and the full skirt. Fashion students still study that film.

1950s

In the sixties those of us who married in London were able to have a huge choice of ready-to-wear wedding dresses. Back home the dressmaker reigned supreme.

The changing status of women from the beginning of the 70s made similar changes to weddings. The pill was now freely available. Women were back in the workforce for all the years they wanted to be. No-fault divorce and equal shares of the property became law in 1973. Universities were beginning to give women an equal crack at the courses which led to careers, law, medicine and accounting. This meant that affluent women, the ones always able to have their choice of wedding dress, were marrying much later.

In 1972 equal pay for women started to cut in. By 1975, the International Year of Women, the whole role of women changed. 

For a start the option of having a civil marriage celebrant gave brides the options they had only seen in movies and on TV. Weddings at home, in gardens, on beaches, restaurants and in historic buildings had an effect on what brides could wear. 

These were also the years of flower power, of soft floating fabrics and pretty dresses. 

As one having a second marriage in the late 70s in the drawing room at home the changes were total.

1970s
The marriages of the Princess of Wales and Sarah Duchess of York made most of the eighties church weddings very formal with big dresses. 

Celebrant weddings however were a different matter. One wedding in the 80s had a fancy dress theme with both the bride and groom dressed as carrots.

The crash of the late eighties and down-turn of the early 90s saw an upsurge in theme weddings. 

1980s

Hire shops now do a roaring trade in medieval weddings in which everyone including the guests are dressed to match the couple.

1920s weddings, gangster weddings, river boat gambler weddings are now all catered for by hire shops and in many cases the local little theatre has a thriving business hiring out clothes for everyone.

The movie " Four Weddings and a Funeral" has had a big impact with the late 90s moving to a more formal mode.

Glad Rags, a wedding dress business in Kapiti, reports more and more brides with babies already, many late twenties through their thirties. Carolyn Morgan of Glad Rags says that the line is more elegant than pretty, soft folds are much more popular than huge skirts and the colours are running at three cream or silver dresses to one white one. She says the decision on white or cream comes down to the brides colouring.

When fashion designer Deanna Eisenhofer married last summer she wore a stunning electric blue gown with a hint of the medieval about it

2000

Some things never change. The delight in the one day when the bride is the star, loved, happy and hopeful often means a dream dress. Where those dreams come from is entirely up to her.