“Ordinary” Wedding Dresses

Christina here. Some of the other Wenches have talked about wedding dresses in previous posts – see for example Anne’s visit to a wedding dress exhibition in 2014 with some magnificent gowns! (Link here). Recently I was asked to lend my own wedding dress to a small local exhibition and I thought it could be fun to take a look at some more “ordinary” wedding dresses from the last century. The exhibition in my local village consisted only of outfits worn by people living around here, so no couture gowns or specially designed specimens. They show the eclectic tastes of brides and many of them were of their decade – mine included.

The majority were white or cream, as is the custom these days, but there were a few examples in other colours, notably red. I’ve always felt that red wedding dresses are utterly suitable for winter weddings, and it’s such a cheerful colour too. If I’d been married in winter, I would definitely have considered that. As it happened, I was married in August 1985, and my dress was typical of that decade – the Laura Ashley-inspired leg-of-mutton sleeves and big bustle at the back exactly what I wanted. To tell the truth, I would have chosen this design if I was to get married now as well simply because it’s my favourite type, but it was definitely fashionable back then. I dug it out of a cupboard where it had languished for nearly 40 years in its original box and was pleased and surprised to see that it was still intact. I lent it to the exhibition, together with the accessories – a long veil, white fingerless lace gloves and a little reticule. The shoes I wore are sadly long gone.

Naturally, I went along to check out all the dresses on display – it’s always fun to see what someone else has chosen to wear. (I’m a huge fan of the Say Yes to the Dress type programmes, always fascinated to see what different brides end up with). I was hoping someone would have hoarded a great-grandmother’s dress (like the one in this photo – some of my ancestors getting married in 1898 – don’t you just love those hats?!), but the earliest one was from the 1940s.

As I was curious, when I got home I dug out some old photos from my family to compare with and found one from my grandmother’s marriage in 1931 (in Sweden) and a great-aunt who married in 1934 in the UK, wearing what looks like a hat but is probably a strange arrangement of her veil. Their styles were somewhat different!

 

Wedding dress material must have been difficult to come by in the 1940s, and many women probably just married in their best dress (as in this photo on the left from 1947). There was a lovely cream silk dress from 1946 in the exhibition though (dress on the right in the photo on the right) which was very elegant.

 

From 1955 came this patterned brocade dress (left), which reminded me a lot of the gown my mother wore in 1957 (right), although hers was silk with lace over the top. The styles are similar though and very pretty, don’t you think?

 

 

There was one dress from the 1960s, and then came one of my favourite outfits – a 1971 crocheted trouser suit complete with bell-bottoms! The bridesmaid wore a little crocheted jacket to match the bride, and according to the information card next to it, Whiter Shade of Pale by Procul Harum was played in the church – how fun!

Another 70s dress (from 1974) was beautifully made by the bride herself, and was influenced by the one worn by Princess Anne when she married Captain Mark Phillips. Understated and elegant in duchess satin with lace under the bust and on the cuffs. Lovely!

Apart from mine, there were several dresses from the 1980s, this one very similar to mine from 1988 – same shape and sleeves – and next to it a lovely dress in burgundy velvet. The owner (and maker) of the red dress told me she had a winter wedding so that would have been perfect.

I didn’t see one from the 90s, although there was one whose date I forgot to write down – this lovely dress with matching jacket.

And the final dress was from 2011 – very sparkly!

Although I still like the Victorian design I originally chose, I think I might be very tempted by a so-called mermaid dress with lots of little crystals on the bodice. Or perhaps a really big floofy princess dress! As it is, I will have to just imagine my heroines wearing those instead.

If you are married, what style of dress did you/your wife have? And if you were to marry now, what type of dress would you choose?

 

22 thoughts on ““Ordinary” Wedding Dresses”

  1. My first wedding was in January 1975. I made the dress myself out of white cotton velvet for wormth. V-neck, long sleeves. All the material long-since re-purposed in various ways.

    Love that crochet suit!

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  2. What a fun display, Christina; thanks for your post and all the pictures. I wore a rather sparkly tea length dress to my sunny outdoor wedding. Part of the neckline was scalloped which led to a very interestingly shaped sunburn.

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    • Oh I bet that looked fabulous in the sun, Kareni! And LOL regarding the sunburn – at least it didn’t matter on the day. Thank you for sharing!

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  3. Boy, I loved those Laura Ashley dresses. I owned quite a few. My parents were married in 1953 & she had a tea length dress which was not that common at the time. Neither my sister nor I could ever fit into as she was so thin. I married in January 1976 in Wisconsin & my dress was very Victorian with long puffy sleeves & high collar.

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    • That sounds like my kind of dress, Jeanne! I too had (still have) quite a few Laura Ashley dresses, although sadly I can’t get into most of them now. I tell myself they might become antiques at some point so I’m keeping them. I couldn’t fit in my mother’s dress either – she had the tiniest waist!

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  4. I got married in the early 80’s. I had to borrow my dress as we didn’t have much money. I loved it!! It was ivory in colour and was in the Regency style. A high neck with a type of small ruffle around the edge. The long sleeves ended in a v shape over the hand edged in lace. A long train completed it. I felt like a princess for a day and to be honest fashion is not really my thing.
    A lovely post with some lovely pictures.

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    • How wonderful, Teresa – I didn’t see any Regency-inspired ones at the exhibition but they are so elegant, aren’t they! And that sleeve detail sounds very pretty. So glad you got to feel like a princess!

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  5. What a lovely exhibit and post! I particularly liked that it featured only locals, what a wonderful way to tribute women that you may know!
    I made my dress (actually a floor length skirt, halter top and jacket) out of two different shades of ivory colored fabrics. Nobody noticed the difference or at least they were to polite to say anything! I wonder if I could still fit into any of it? hahaha And I’d pick the same style again today, I thought it was lovely

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    • Thank you, Jenni, and I love the sound of your dress! How clever of you to have made it yourself – I always wished I could do dressmaking but unfortunately I am totally useless at it. My sewing teacher despaired of me 🙂 As regards fitting into it – all the ladies I talked to at the exhibition said the same thing, none of us could wear our dresses now, but it was wonderful to have the memories of that special day!

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  6. What a great community exhibit! But what I love most in the pictures, Christina, are the bouquets carried by your grandmother, great aunt, and mother – gorgeous!
    I was married in 1979 and told the bridal store attendant, “I want a dress to be married in, NOT a wedding dress.” She looked me up and down, turned to the rack, and handed me the perfect dress! (Of course, I had to try on a few others before I could agree to the very first dress I saw!) It was ivory silk, tea length, with a shirtwaist-style top that was sheer with sparkly buttons. Since then, my sister wore it for her second wedding, and my niece wore it for hers just 5 years ago.

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    • Many thanks, Constance, and yes those bouquets were quite something, weren’t they! Mine was slightly more modest 🙂 Your dress sounds exquisite and I’m not surprised other members of your family wanted to wear it too!

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  7. What a lovely exhibit, Christina! The dresses varied but the shining smiles were always there. As a girl, I never, ever dreamed of my self in a white wedding dress–white has never been my color. So when we got around to getting married in 2012, I went online to find a maker of historical gowns and had a medievalish one made up in a stretch burgundy velvet. It seemed just right for me, though it startled some of the wedding guests, I think. Here’s the blot I wrote:
    https://wordwenches.com/?s=when+wenches+wed

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    • What a beautiful dress! And that shade of red is fantastic on you.

      I remember trying on my mother’s wedding dress once when I was in junior high. I couldn’t even get it zipped up all the way. My mother was very thin, possibly because she smoked at the time. (She quit later.) Since I’d obviously never be able to wear it, she donated it to a nonprofit.

      My parents weren’t happily married so I never wanted to marry and have not. Nor did I ever engage in mental wedding planning or think about what kind of dress I’d want. During the pandemic, I went through a phase of watching “Say Yes to the Dress” clips on YouTube (try not to judge) and concluded that I’d like a dress that was somewhat covered up, or with a matching jacket, and with a boho or vintage vibe. No ball dress or mermaid style, nothing too fluffy or sparkly. And I might consider pale pink instead of white because pink is my favorite color.

      I think that, if the occasion were to arise, I’d look at resale shops for a dress because my thrifty soul rebels at the idea of spending thousands for a dress to be worn 1 time. Also, there’s something about wearing a dress that someone else wore on a happy day, you know?

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      • That sounds like a great idea, Susan! Some of the dresses on ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ are obscenely expensive, aren’t they! (And some brides even buy two – one for church and one for the reception). I think one should wear whatever colour one likes best and the ones in blush pink are lovely.
        You’ve also made me think back to playing dress-up – I don’t think I was allowed to try my mother’s wedding dress, but she let me play with lots of other vintage clothes – such fun!

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    • Yes, I remember that post, Mary Jo, and your dress was gorgeous! Absolutely perfect for a romance author too and red is definitely your colour – you looked stunning!

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  8. You look stunning, Christina! The exhibition looks fascinating. My brother-in-law and his first wife had a winter wedding in the late 1970s. She made her own dress, and the dresses of all the bridesmaids (!). I remember her telling me her gown had a velvet, fur-trimmed cloak with a heart-breaker hood which I *think* was crimson, but I haven’t seen her for a long time, so I can’t be sure.

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    • Thank you so much! That dress sounds wonderful and definitely fitting for a winter wedding! I would have loved a cloak too but it was very warm the day I got married so I had a little lace parasol instead 🙂
      If you want to see the exhibition, it’s not too far from you at Ewyas Harold, in the building behind the Memorial Hall – our new Craft Centre.

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  9. I loved SYTTD too! My favourite is Curvy Brides Boutique but I think they’ve stopped making it ☹️

    We’ve got my mum’s 1971 wedding dress somewhere in the loft: white velvet, a-line, knee length, long-sleeved with—my favourite part—a hood trimmed in white fur. She wore it with lace-up knee-high boots. Her bridesmaid had the same style in burgundy, lined in pink, with pink boots; and my dad, not to be outdone, had a burgundy velvet suit. Both of them skinny as anything: mum’s dress shrank in the wash so I only tried it on as a child, but my dad’s suit jacket was too narrow across the shoulders for me when I was 15!

    I absolutely love her style, but if it were me I think I’d go full Princess and drown in a sea of tulle. In red, or pink, or purple. With a cloak. I love cloaks.

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