“The Bride appears at her loveliest in the new fitted and moulded gowns with long, sweeping lines” Vogue, 1930. Gone were the drop waist short wedding dresses of the 1920s. In were bias cut gowns that slimmed the body in shiny silk, rayon, and satin. Necklines were high, sleeves were long, and accessories were regal. It was the time of high fashion weddings — but on Depression era budgets.
Famous 1930s Wedding Gowns
Most 1930s fashion was taking inspiration from the silver screen. Wedding gowns were no different. Wedding gowns featured in the movies were designer made and affordable only to the rich, but that didn’t stop knock offs from being offered to brides at a fraction of the price. White or light colored party dresses were recreated as wedding gown patterns for brides to be, making the latest designs attainable for all budgets.
The other place to seek inspiration was from the many Royal weddings taking place in the 1930s. Their designs were the opposite of what Hollywood was favoring, but many elements were shared across of the pond.
- Costumer designer Gilbert Adrian designed Joan Crawford’s white organdy party dress in Letty Lynton, 1932, which was widely copied as a wedding gown. The oversized ruffled sleeves are unmistakably ’30s.
- Dedicated bridal magazines appeared in 1936. They helped perpetuate a mass-adoption of specialty wedding gowns, gift, flowers, and home goods. They also reported on Hollywood weddings such as Carole Lombard and Clark Gable in 1939, who wore a light two-piece suit. Lombard’s first wedding in 1931 found her in a sleeveless Deco pieced bias gown with a tie waist.
- Princess Marina of Greece married the Duke of Kent in 1934, wearing an Edward Molyneux white and silver brocade gown with a motif of English roses. The neckline was a modest high V-neck. The court train draped down the from the shoulders. The lace veil was extended with tulle to make in 10 feet wide. The veil was secured with a diamond tiara instead of traditional orange blossoms.
- Wallis Simpson married the former King in a light blue modest bias cut long gown with a row of decorative buttons centered between bust and waist. She wore matching gloves designed to accommodate her wedding ring.
1930s Wedding Dress Trends
- Floor length, bias cut satin dresses
- Long sleeves, high necklines
- Tulle floor length veils
- Tiara style headdress
- Sun hats or small perch hats
- Minimal sparkling white jewelry
The Depression made it difficult for brides to afford new wedding gowns. Many brides wore their “Sunday Best” dress or a new white dress that could be dyed a color after the wedding. A more popular option in the early ’30s was a silk crepe or chiffon floral tea dress that could be worn any day after the wedding. Matched with a pretty white sun hat, they were pretty and practical — especially in hot climates.
Another DIY option was to upcycle another wedding dress. An older style could be trimmed down, given sleeves, and embellished with covered buttons and trim. A party dress could also be recycled into a wedding dress by modification or by reusing the material. A two piece suit could also be worn to a second wedding.
For those that could afford to handmake a wedding gown, there were sewing patterns and fabric available to purchase from local shops or mail order catalogs. Common fabrics were shiny silk, satin, or rayon that draped beautifully down the body. Lace was also worn in the early ’30s. The fit of wedding gowns was hardly the sculpted look seen on thin movie stars. Instead, most wedding gowns were cut a bit looser, fuller, and even more modest than bridal illustrations depicted.
Skirts skimmed the hips and draped to the mid-calf for daytime weddings, or to the floor for formal weddings. After a decade of short 1920s wedding gowns (ankle or calf), 1930s women were ready to return to the elegance of long gowns. Trains and veils were even longer, running down the aisle both long and wide.
Art Deco detailing such as Chevron, geometrics (triangles), and long panels inserted into the gown offered subtle design details in the early 1930s. The middle years saw the waist being accented with belts tied or slide buckled. The end of the decade saw the use of ruching, gathers, and pleats around the waist and neckline to define a more natural hourglass figure.
Wedding dress sleeves were always long- a requirement in most churches as well as a reflection of the fashion of the day. Some brides got away with a sleeveless wedding dress when worn with a short button up crop jacket for the ceremony. Another option were Butterfly sleeves that were a double layer of sheer fabric covering the arms like a small cape or wings. A longer sheer sleeve could be worn underneath or left out for non-church weddings. The split sleeve was another cheat where the sleeve was open around the elbow.
By 1938 and 1939, the Victorian ballgown returned to fashion, thanks in part to the success of Gone with the Wind as well as visiting Royalty. These crinoline supported wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses featured huge gigot/leg ‘o mutton sleeves and embellished skirts with garlands, ruffles, roses, bows, and matching bonnet hats. The fad was short-lived, but influenced formal gowns in the 1940s.
While a lace veil was traditional, tulle was gradually replacing it. Many brides choose a combination of family heirloom lace and tulle for a mix of the old and new. 1930s wedding veils grew longer, reaching the floor like a billowing cape from the back of the head or the shoulder line. Some brides still preferred the skull cap wedding veil, which in the 1920s was heavily embellished. The 1930s version was simply the veil snugly wrapped around the head, with large draping down the back.
Veils were usually accompanied by some sort of headdress. Instead of a traditional crown of orange blossoms, the new wedding headwear was the tiara. Some tiaras circled the head like a halo with diamonds or rhinestones that glimmered in the light. Colored gems in Art Deco designs also decorated many tiaras of the upper classes. Middle classes may have used starched lace or small pearls to decorate their fabric tiaras. Every tiara stood up a few inches and circled the head. By the end of the decade, flower crowns returned, sporting daisies, roses, and gardenias.
There was also a trend for hats instead of crowns. Small white hats were perched at an angle over one eye, or large sheer sun hats shaded the bride’s face. The halo hat was shaped like a shower cap. Its round shape extended around the bride’s head, creating the halo effect.
Bobbed hair was gown out in the 1930s into waves that clung close to the head. Tight curls framing the neck was also popular in the later years. Longer hair was styled into a chignon at the nape of the neck with soft waves framing the face.
Jewelry was uncommon in wedding attire. With modest dresses covering up exposed skin, there was little need to add ornamentation. Some brides who opted for a more revealing neckline chose to wear pearls or a sparkling necklace. Single or multi stand pearls were the most common jewelry item, especially later in the decade. In the early years, some dresses were accented with rhinestone and diamante dress clips, especially square neckline that called for some sort of decoration. Read more about 1930s jewelry.
White paste bracelets were another common option for those who wanted more sparkle. Wallis Simpson wore a diamond charm bracelet with nice crosses inscribed with significant events of the couple’s relationship. Mainstream brides followed her lead, wearing jewelry acquired during the couple’s courtship.
Wedding rings were worn by both bride and groom. While a diamond ring set in platinum Art Deco carvings was the best, natural gold or white gold was more affordable. The designs were also heavily inspired by the Victorian era, with many smaller diamonds circling a center large stone.
Economical brides and grooms turned to simple, small wedding bands with several small diamonds or carvings of flowers instead. These little wedding rings signified the beginning of a life together where, later, more expensive and large rings were given at anniversary.
1930s Wedding Shoes
Since most dresses were long, we can almost never see what shoes brides wore in the 1930s. Our best guess is white evening shoes such as T-straps, Mary Janes (single strap), or multi-strap open toe sandals (pictured left). Solid or perforated slip-on heels would have been another option.
Most wedding shoes would have been made to match the gown or dyed leather. Satin was the most common wedding shoe choice. Some brides went against tradition and wore colored wedding shoes, such as those they might wear with a party dress.
White stockings were always worn with white wedding dresses, even with open toe sandals.
1930s Style Wedding Gowns
A modern 1930s wedding, Art Deco era wedding, or Old Hollywood themed wedding is a perfect setting for a vintage or modern wedding. The bias cut wedding gown has come back in fashion over the last few years, making it easier to find. My favorite brand is in the UK, Ghost London. They consistently make bridal gowns with the 1930s bias cut shaping, satin fabrics, and modest sleeves. See their bridal Instagram for inspiration. The wide range of colors makes them excellent choices for Bridesmaid and mother’s dresses too. In the USA you can sometimes find Ghost London dresses at BHLDN
Besides Ghost, you could look for a vintage wedding dress, veil, tiara, or hat on Etsy or Ebay. For something beaded and sparkly (more ’20s than ’30s), the brands Pisarro Nights and Papell are my favorites. See these and more 1930s inspired Art Deco wedding gowns here.