During and after WWI, the wedding industry had few ceremonies. This began to change in the 1920s. Widowed young women married new young husbands lucky enough to return from the War, while middle aged brides also found second husbands, often much older. The excitement of weddings was once again a regular occurrence with new and old traditions melding in the post war era.
1920s Wedding Gowns
At the start of the 1920s, brides, especially second-time brides and those of limited means, were choosing to forgo traditional wedding dresses and instead wear a nice dress or suit. These were often worn with white accessories such as a cape, coat, veil, hat, and gloves to give them that special wedding look. These same accessories may have been worn traveling to the bridal honeymoon to indicate they were “just married.”
Brides could buy ready made wedding gowns from department stores or specialty bridal shops popping up in big cities. The wealthy may have visited Paris to order a custom wedding gown from a luxury designer.
Brides that purchased or hand-made a wedding dress were still wearing medieval style gowns in the early 1920s. The gowns were tubular shapes with a silk slip dress topped with a beaded tunic. Silhouettes followed the same designs as party dresses and semi-formal afternoon dresses. Ever shorting hemlines, a loose boxy fit, and light flowing fabrics were key design elements.
The early 1920s saw one deviation from the slip dress. It was the Robe de Style gown. It featured a full skirt attached to a sleeveless shell top. Skirts could be tiers, ruffles, petals, or gathered. They usually needed to be fit over a pannier shaped crinoline or several petticoats. The fuller gathered skirt remained popular into the mid 1920s, but without the under supports.
White wedding dresses continued to be embellished as the decade moved on into more wealth. Winter brides may have added white fur or feathers to hemlines. In summer, a scalloped edges or lace applique was also added to lengthen short skirts.
The handkerchief hem bridal gowns was especially trendy in the mid to late 1920s. It often had a drop waist around the low hips, secured with a thin belt or wide sash band.
See more 1920s wedding photos on Etsy.
1920s style wedding dresses today. While trends change every year, the brides who choose a 1920s wedding have more choice today than they did 10 years ago. Beaded wedding gowns are in fashion and make excellent wedding gowns inspired by the 1920s, but more appropriate for evening events. The daytime bride may choose lace, chiffon, or tulle white dresses for a softer look. See many 1920s style wedding dresses, from simple to luxury, here.
Hats and Caps
Most brides wore a Juliet cap over short bobbed hair or long hair gathered into a low chignon bun. It resembled a lace or beaded bed cap, in which the very long veil was attached from earlobe to earlobe and decorated with flowers. A mop cap-style bridal hat had full gathers around the head and a wide forehead brim embellished with beads, lace, pleats, and ribbon.
The simplest headband was a wreath of flowers or gemstones placed over a single long veil. It circled the head across the forehead or at the hairline.
The final trend for wedding headpieces was the Coronet crown. It was a stiff flat piece of wire frame laid against the forehead, circling the head like sunrays. It was heavily embellished in beading, pearls, white crystals, and Chantilly lace.
A cloche hat with small upturned brim could also be worn topped with a short veil, another affordable option for limited budgets. Hats could be decorated later and worn with summer frocks.
Worn in lieu of a train, the long wedding veil swept the ground in a single layer of silk tulle or heritage lace (passed down from family). The general rule was the shorter the dress, the longer the veil.
In 1926, Vogue described a veil “transparent from the shoulders down to the part below the waist, most subtle curtained little windows through which the audience can glimpse the figure of the bride as she advances up the aisle.”
With the exception of the wedding rings, brides wore limited jewelry. The most common accessory was a long pearl necklace (12 to 20 inches) or other faceted bead necklace in white or clear beads.
The “shower” bouquets was the key piece in an entire wedding outfit. It was an extremely large cluster of flowers, with long ribbons tied in lovers knits that cascaded down to the floor.
“Whether the bridal bouquet is an exquisite cascade of the flowers traditionally appropriate for the shower bouquet, or an armful of her favorite roses, a spray of exotic white orchids, a delicate bouquet of lilies-of-the-valley, a sheaf of dignified calla lilies, or a gem-like corsage for the simpler wedding, it ‘seizes a beauty from the skies’ and wears it triumphantly. Since the bridal bouquet must be in harmony with the bridal costume, the groom consults the bride as to her preferences, and interprets them as a devoted cavalier should and would do.
“What flowers shall the bride carry? It depends on the style of the wedding gown and the formality of the wedding. If the gown is in the ultra-fashion of the moment, a bouquet should be arranged to be consistent with the details of this fashion. If the gown is of a certain marked period, the flowers should then add the most distinguishing touch to the effect of that period. But above all, the flowers should be “becoming.” That is, they should project the individuality of the wearer. One should feel, when seeing the bridal bouquet, an exquisite sense of completeness.
The shower bouquet, which is the conventional bridal bouquet, is one of the loveliest and most graceful arrangements for bridal flowers. This arrangement allows a luxuriant and massed effect in the arms of the bride, and, through tiny branches of small flowers tied at intervals to narrow streamers of white ribbons of varying lengths, it gives a lovely and interesting effect of artistic irregularity. The flowers we usually associate with shower bouquets are orange blossoms, small white orchids, gardenias, roses, white azaleas, white jasmine, lilies-of-the-valley, white lilacs, white iris, white columbine, white sweet peas.
As the background for any of these combinations, the long tapering sprays of exquisite lilies-of-the-valley should lend their feathery grace. Sometimes the bride chooses to have only these ethereal valley lilies in her bridal bouquet.” – Weddings; Modes, Manners & Customs of Weddings, by Mrs. John Alexander King. New York, Delineator, 1927.
See how this floral designer recreated her great grandmother’s bouquet from 1924.
Beaded or embroidered silk “Mary Jane” heels with a low Cuban heel were the prettiest wedding shoes. The Colonial pump with silver buckle on the toe box was another option, though prone to snagging long dresses. T straps / T-bar shoes came later in the mid 1920s. Basic white satin, leather, or canvas pumps were a good choice if no dancing was involved in the celebration.
The bridesmaids were dressed in matching gowns for upper class weddings. The maid’s dresses could be any color found in a spring garden: rose-pink, leaf green, buttercup yellow, delphinium blue, peach, or apricot to name a few. Jewel tones were better choices in winter: deep blue, chartreuse green, rose red, silver, gold, orchid purple, burnt orange, turquoise, and beige.
The maid of honor would wear the same style of dress as the bridesmaids but it was usually a deeper hue, such as rose red with shell pink bridesmaids dresses.
Brides would choose multiple shades in the same color family for flowers, hats, and decorations, too. Examples are orange and yellow, light and deep blue, purple and pink. The all white wedding was a new but short lived trend.
The style of bridesmaid dress would have followed current dress trends in the afternoon or party dress styles. They were usually plain, lacking in decoration so as not to outshine the bride. The Robe de Style or fuller skirt dress was especially popular with bridesmaids and flower girls.
“To match,” “to harmonize,” “to correspond,” “to contrast”—these descriptive phrases offer us the best suggestions for the type of hat to be worn with the costumes of the attendants. Large, picturesque hats—of fine horsehair or transparent braid, of leghorn or Milan or Neapolitan straw, or of tulle or georgette or net or lace— are usually the most effective hats for the bridesmaids.
In autumn and winter weddings, large velvet hats are much worn. Leaf brown velvet hats harmonize with many shades. Bridesmaids’ hats usually have little trimming, their shape and materials forming their effectiveness. Picturesque effects are sometimes obtained with streamers. Sometimes, instead of hats, the bridesmaids wear veils, silver veils with blue dresses, for instance, or lace veils with dresses of a medieval type. – Weddings; Modes, Manners & Customs of Weddings, by Mrs. John Alexander King. New York, Delineator, 1927.
Bridesmaids would wear shoes and stockings dyed to match their dresses. If that was not possible, white stockings were worn with light dresses and black stockings with dark colors.
Bridesmaids did not need to wear gloves, jewelry, or other accessories unless the bride especially requested them.
Under no circumstances were bridesmaids ever permitted to wear a “flapper dress.” 1920s weddings took place in the morning or noon at the latest. There was no call for beaded evening gowns to be worn by anyone. Modesty was very important at church weddings and receptions.
Mother of the Bride
“She glorifies her regal progress down the aisle—and her entrance is most important, since she is the last person seated before the entrance of the bridal procession—by wearing a gown, perhaps of gray or purple, but oftener of a lovely soft beige, for some time one of the most popular shades, or of a lustrous becoming blue (powder blue, for instance, but not a dark blue), regal American beauty, chartreuse green, rich Satin crêpe or lace, or a combination of both, are especially suitable materials for the dress of the bride’s mother. ” – Weddings; Modes, Manners & Customs of Weddings, by Mrs. John Alexander King. New York, Delineator, 1927.
Read about 1920s Mature Women Fashion, Mrs. Clothing here.