As an artist, I’ve done a lot of drawing and sketching of figures, in various time periods and period clothing, so I’ve done quite a bit of research into popular clothing styles through the ages — including wedding gowns and bridal fashions. This research taught me a lot, not only about fashion, but how styles adapt and evolve over time.
It’s no secret that style and fashion change. Every few years, some new style is created and popularized, and people adopt to these styles quickly and eagerly, as shown in the illustrations drawn specifically for this article by my friend, artist Matthew Christopher Nelson.
Wedding dresses aren’t exempt from these changes. As the years march forward and sensibilities of the ages change and grow, wedding gowns adapt to meet the demands of fashion conscious brides. A woman’s wedding is one of the most important days of her life, and the wedding gown- the most important piece of clothing in many women’s lives- has to stay current to ensure each new bride feels as beautiful and special as possible on her day of days.
Each generation has had its own style which rose in popularity before adapting to change and rising again. How have wedding gowns changed to meet the ever changing sensibilities of the fashion conscious bride?
The 1800s -1900s
In the 1800s and 1900s, practicality was the name of the game when it came to wedding gowns. Economic factors had divided people into upper and lower classes, and for many brides unable to purchase or make a dress for the specific purpose of getting married, they would make do with a dress they already owned or could adapt to the job- regardless of the color.
Typical of these dresses were full skirts, floor length of course, with a corset and long sleeves. During this era, even wealthy and well to do families would have had a hard time justifying the expense of a dress which would only be worn once. And since there weren’t many people buying and saving white dresses in boxes, they tended to be made of dark colored, sturdy materials and would see future use as party gowns and church dresses.
The 1900s – 2000s
By the 1900s, lighter colors and more delicate materials began to become more popular. Silks, satins, and lace began to be seen as changing styles started mimicking the dresses created for the very wealthy, and those designed for royalty.
Many brides, less wealthy than powerful politicians and captains of industry, used lighter, cheaper materials- like muslin- when creating their wedding dresses. Like the previous generation’s dresses and gowns, modesty was prevalent, with high necklines, floor length skirts, and long sleeves being the ideal choice for virginal brides of the era. Though this generation also used dark colors for wedding dresses, white was quickly becoming popular, as it helped the bride feel and look chaste and untouched- virtues held in high esteem during this generation.
2000s and Beyond
By the 20th and 21st centuries, the white dress had become the norm, again for its chaste and virginal appearance. Regardless of whether the bride was either chaste or virginal, dresses of white have been the most popular choice for much of this era, a trend that is unlikely to change- for awhile at least.
While floor length skirts with long trains are still a very popular choice, shorter skirts have began to gain popularity. Many dresses of this more modern era are also low cut affairs and sleeveless- showing much more skin than previous eras would have allowed in a church- and being much sexier. And as time passes, shorter and shorter skirt, with tighter res styles are gaining in popularity.
Styles and sensibilities are always changing; They have changed from previous generations to what is currently popular and, just like all other styles in fashion, will continue to adapt and change as each new generation defines what is acceptable and popular in wedding gown style.
What will the future hold for brides-to-be? Know one knows, but whatever the fashion choice, one thing is certain: brides will always chose the dress that makes them feel like the most important woman in the world. Because on her wedding day, each and every bride is.
That’s all that matters.