From the white weddings to the wacky weddings, the way we tie the knot has changed drastically over the last 100 years. We are walking hand in hand down memory lane and taking a trip down the aisle to take a look at the most iconic wedding trends, decade by decade.
1. 1920-1924: Weekday Weddings Were Standard
While weekday weddings are not so much the norm in current American culture, in the early 1920s, getting married in the middle of the week was totally standard. There was an old saying, “Marry on Monday for health, Tuesday for wealth, Wednesday the best day of all, Thursday for crosses, Friday for losses, and Saturday for no luck at all.”
Yes, marrying on a Saturday was considered bad luck. Noontime was considered to be the most fashionable time to host a wedding, and they were usually followed by a late lunch. Wedding fashions included dropped waist gowns, headdresses, and anything else that was considered ornate.
2. 1924-1928: The Birth Of Wedding Registries
Imagine the horror of opening wedding gifts and finding two of the same salad bowls given by two separate guests. Must have been a real life nightmare on a couple’s dream day. But in 1924, the department store Marshall Fields put an end to that conundrum and created the first wedding registry after couples would find that their gifts to be redundant.
The department store registered each gift to avoid repeats, paving the way for the wedding registries everyone uses today. And speaking of paying and gifting, parents at this time were actually not expected to pay for the wedding. Instead, that responsibility fell entirely on the groom.
3. 1928-1932: Budget Cutting During The Great Depression
With the Great Depression plunging the world into economic chaos from 1929 to 1933, the weddings around this time became significantly less opulent. The normal silk wedding dresses of the early 1920s were replaced with cheaper, more cost-effective fabrics such as rayon, in order to cut down wedding costs.
Some brides at this period in history would not even purchase a wedding dress. Instead, they would opt to wear one of the nicest dresses that they already owned. Other ladies would purchase a white dress in a fabric that would be easy to dye, so that they could recycle it for later. Regardless, couples had to calculate and slash down a ton of costs before they even cut the cake.
4. 1932-1936: All About The Hats
Hats off to the happy couple! Well, actually, please refrain from taking those hats off. During weddings in the 1930s, hats were all the rage when it came to wedding attire both for guests and for brides. Many brides decided to ditch the traditional white tulle veil, or to keep it but with a hat-inspired twist.
This wedding trend was mostly based off of the popular Art Deco style of the 1930s. Couples aspired to create their weddings in this style, often choosing black and white color palettes, gold accents set in grand ballrooms complete with chandeliers. And if that does not sound fun, then you’ll be comforted when you consider what the repeal of the Prohibition Act must have done for weddings at this time, too. Bottoms up!
5. 1936-1940: Not-So-White Wedding
Even years after the Great Depression, many Americans were still recovering financially. That fact was apparent in many snapshots of American life at the time, but especially when it came to weddings. When picturing a wedding in the late 1930s, just make sure not to imagine a bride in a classic white dress.
Unless a bride was particularly wealthy, she would not be wearing a white dress. Instead, brides opted to wear dresses of different colors, or perhaps a dress with a white background and a pattern. These fabrics were usually much more affordable, and could easily be washed after the big day.
6. 1940-1944: Shotgun Weddings
In the early 1940s, as World War II was being waged in Europe and the Pacific, weddings looked a little different than the norm, even in the United States. Instead of the usually longer engagements, weddings were a quick affair. Couples could be engaged at the beginning of the week and be married by the weekend so that grooms could sooner get back to war.
In 1942, Vogue wrote that “Weddings nowadays hang not on the bride’s whim, but on the decision of the groom’s commanding officer…The 1942 schedule may run something like this: engagement announcement on Monday, invitations sent out by telegraph on Wednesday, the last handful of rice and rose petals flung on Saturday.”
7. 1944-1948: Diamond Rings Become A Wedding Staple
The mid to late 1940s was when one of the most recognizable modern wedding traditions really began to take off: the concept of wedding rings. Before this time period, it was not very common for men to wear wedding rings. But as many of America’s married men were off fighting in World War II, wearing the wedding band became a customary reminder of the love they had back at home.
Wedding rings for women were already common, but it was not like today when engagement rings almost always include diamonds. In 1947, De Beers Jewellers ran their famous ad campaign “A Diamond Is Forever” and started this new American thirst for the perfect rock.
8. 1948-1952: Elizabeth Taylor Becomes Center Of The Wedding World
Before there was Vera Wang or a Royal Wedding, there was only one wedding that mattered: the wedding of Hollywood darling Elizabeth Taylor. Her 1950 wedding to Conrad “Nicky” Hilton Jr. was one of the most closely-watched weddings at the time. And while the marriage would only last exactly 205 days, the actual wedding would go on to inspire brides for years.
Pictures of Taylor’s satin gown with its off-the-shoulder neckline would end up being brought with hundreds of brides to local stores in hopes of finding a similarly glamorous dress, and the “Old Hollywood” vibe would inspire many to pair their dresses with white, satin gloves.
9. 1952-1956: Elaborate Wedding Dresses
The early to mid-1950s ushered in the return of grand, opulent weddings. Fabric was no longer being rationed as it had been during World War II, and it seemed that every bride was trying to make up for lost time. Marriage ceremonies during this time were marked by big, voluminous skirts replete with tulle, lace, and beadwork.
It might come as a surprise that with such large dresses, wedding footwear would become a real star, a central feature of the whole look. Brides began to experiment with shorter wedding dresses, which drew more attention to shoes. We hope these brides at the time brought shoes that would be comfortable for dancing at least!
10. 1956-1960: All About Grace Kelly
If actress Elizabeth Taylor’s wedding was the unofficial opener to 1950s weddings, then fellow Hollywood actress Grace Kelly’s wedding to Prince Rainier III of Monaco certainly closed out the decade as far as iconic wedding moments went. Her dress has been called “one of the most elegant and best-remembered bridal gowns of all time.”
Basically every single bride at this time was trying to emulate the look. Long-sleeved wedding dresses made of lace that featured tiers, layers, and thick skirts became a signature look of this era. Every look at the time became just that much more grand, even for the brides who were not so lucky to marry a prince.
NEXT: Those classic wedding looks are only about to get even wilder!
11. 1960-1964: Receptions Become A Must
Sure, weddings are supposed to be all about the ceremony and the joy that comes with watching two people who are in love commit themselves to each other in front of their friends and family. But everyone knows that the best part of a wedding is the reception that follows that ceremony. Before the 1960s, this was not always the case.
In decades before the 1960s, ceremonies would be followed by a small gathering with some finger food and refreshments. But we all have this time period to thank for the rise of true wedding parties. Soon enough, receptions became an expected norm at every wedding.
12. 1964-1968: Matching Bridal Party Flowers
Throughout the mid to late 1960s, hemlines gradually continued to rise. But that was not the only thing that was getting just a tad shorter when it came to wedding style. Items like short, bouncy wedding veils made out of material that was not tulle — such as lace or netting — became popular in bridal magazines.
Dresses were less about volume and puffy sleeves and more about sleek, chic, simple silhouettes. And don’t forget, this was also a time when the whole “flower child” cultural trope was taking shape. When it came to weddings, this meant that basically everyone was including daisies in their wedding, or other flowers that gave a natural, wildflower type of vibe.
13. 1968-1972: The Rise Of The More Natural Bride
If the 1950s was all about celebrating opulence with gigantic dresses and the 1960s was all about toning some of that down, then the 1970s focused on turning the volume all the way down. By the beginning of this decade, brides seemed to opt for a more natural bridal look and wedding theme.
The most famous example of this natural look came with the 1971 wedding of model Bianca Pérez-Mora Macías and Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger. Bianca wore a YSL white suit jacket paired with a skirt and a veiled wide-brimmed hat. Despite all of the planning and effort that went into these weddings, brides at this time nonetheless wanted their weddings to seem carefree, mellow, and natural.
14. 1972-1976: Make-It-Your-Own Weddings
In the decades before the 1970s, weddings were usually confined to themes that were predominant in the mass culture of the time, with similar trends prevailing from one ceremony to the other. But then, the 1970s came around and changed the marriage game. Finally, brides became more inclined to show off their personal style and individualize their weddings.
Some brides were more into the flower child look, while others were more inclined towards the classic trends. Whatever sense of personality the couples were feeling would be reflected in their weddings. The ’70s became a time for men to rock colored suits in wedding parties. But during this time period, no two weddings seemed to be the same.
15. 1976-1980: Flower Crowns Take Bloom
Like pretty much everything in fashion, there are some wedding trends that go dormant and then pop up again years later. The flower crown is a definite example of that concept. While flower crowns may have made a comeback at weddings in recent years, the trend really took bloom in the late 1970s.
The flower crown was the wedding-based response to the decade’s peaceful hippie young adults who just couldn’t leave their Woodstock days behind and decided to get married in a reminiscent style. Soon enough, crowns made of greenery, baby’s breath, and other delicate flowers sat atop brides’ heads alongside traditional white wedding veils. Some wedding parties had all the bridesmaids sporting flower crowns as well.
NEXT: Who wouldn’t want to be treated like a princess on their special day?
16. 1980-1984: Everyone Wants A Princess (Diana) Wedding
Were there even any weddings in the early 1980s other than the marriage of Great Britain’s Prince Charles to Princess Diana in 1981? Because it certainly did not feel like it. The ceremony dubbed the “fairy tale wedding” or the “wedding of the century” was watched by 750 million people around the world.
And although not everyone could be counted among the millions watching the wedding unfold on television, they may well have been part of the thousands of people who tried to emulate the event, although very scaled down, in their own weddings. Wedding gowns with layers of ruffles, puffy sleeves, long trains, and gigantic veils were in high demand. Everyone wanted to be a princess on their wedding day.
17. 1984-1988: Bigger Is Better
Maybe it was Princess Diana’s 25-foot train on her wedding dress that paved the way for this wedding trend, but in the mid-1980s, the outlook on weddings quickly became “the bigger, the better.” Everything was big, from the reception halls to the billowing flouncy wedding dress skirts to the cascading bouquets that brides would clutch onto as they walked some over-the-top aisle.
It was at this time in wedding history when couples really began investing a ton of their wedding budget in floral arrangements. But another trend that thankfully has not yet made it out of the 1980s? Balloon arches. Yes, seriously. Tons of weddings at this time had “tasteful” balloon arches, if such a thing could ever exist.
18. 1988-1992: Wedding Cakes Become Elaborate
We hope that everyone has saved a ton of room for wedding cake. If anyone at any wedding during this time period was wondering what is the hulking tower in the corner of a wedding reception, it is probably the massive cake. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, wedding cakes had doubled and, sometimes, tripled in size.
Before this time period, wedding cakes would traditionally be about 3 or maybe 4 tiers for the more extravagant weddings. But by the end of the ’80s, cakes had grown to hold an average of a whopping 8 tiers. And every single tier was covered in complex, detailed handiwork that made eating a piece feel like guests were ruining an artful masterpiece.
19. 1992-1996: Weddings Like The Ones In The Movies
Ever wondered when wedding productions truly became an enormous affair? Anyone can basically trace the wedding industry boom directly to the early 1990s, for a few reasons. Many of those justifications could be seen on movie theater marquees across the country.
Movies like Father of the Bride in 1991, Four Weddings and a Funeral in 1994, and later movies like My Best Friend’s Wedding and The Wedding Singer fueled the wedding industry and made wedding planners a must-have. That pop culture boom, plus Target’s first-ever online wedding registry launching in 1995, turned weddings into an entire business model, along with breakout fashion designer Vera Wang beginning her empire during this time.
20. 1996-2000: Big Bouquets Get Tossed To The Side
For years, everything involving weddings kept increasing in size, scale, and detail. From the 1980s, dress styles and wedding cakes varied and grew more extravagant, as the entire industry as a whole benefited from a massive boom. But in weddings, much like in fashion, the trends soon take on the exact opposite of what has been popular. In this case, weddings in the late 1990s became much more understated.
One major wedding accessory that was given a much-needed downgrade was the flower bouquets. Huge, cascading bouquets were tossed aside and made way for small, quaint flower bunches. Minimalist style prevailed, and simple, well-tailored dresses and suits became the height of wedding fashion.
NEXT: So what’s changed for wedding fashion so far in the new millennium?
21. 2000-2004: Wacky Weddings and Elopements
In the early years of the new millennium, weddings were becoming increasingly secular. Less and less couples were opting to have their wedding in grand churches or other religious establishments. Instead, court weddings became more popular, elopements became more common, and Las Vegas chapel ceremonies became a staple.
Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton tied the knot in Vegas in 2000, while Britney Spears married Jason Alexander in a Vegas wedding in 2004, along with Nicky Hilton and Todd Andrew Meister. Saying vows next to an Elvis impersonator became part of the wacky wedding lexicon at this time, as couples decided it was their best way to express their hunka hunka burning love.
22. 2004-2008: Cute and Colorful Nuptials
If one word could define weddings in the mid-2000s, it would be the word “cute.” The cutesy theme seemed to take over during this time. Bridesmaids reviewed and selected their matching dresses with matching outfits worn to get ready for the big day, and wedding cupcakes took over, in some cases replacing wedding cakes.
Since weddings were often a far more secular event at this time, brides were increasingly electing to wear strapless, revealing dresses with straight-across necklines for their ceremonies and receptions. Beading and lots of bling, either in wedding dress belt details or in the bodice itself, became the law of the land, and tanning before the wedding became an essential step in the process for many brides.
23. 2008-2012: Pinterest Changes Wedding Style
The website Pinterest launched in 2010 and completely changed weddings following its arrival. Suddenly, brides-to-be were ditching traditional wedding magazines and instead logging online and piecing together their ideal wedding by “pinning” their favorite ideas to their online mood boards. Not long thereafter, Instagram launched, and the goalposts for unique wedding aesthetics were pushed forward once more.
Both Pinterest and Instagram changed the way weddings were planned, and introduced the DIY, or “do it yourself,” wedding. Brides began to share their weddings and others would try homemade methods to copy the trends. Homemade signs, seat numbers, place cards, and everything in between became a couple’s way to make a personal mark on their own wedding.
24. 2012-2016: Rustic and Romantic
The trend towards having weddings at grand halls and country clubs took a sharp turn in the mid-2010s. Instead, couples began doing the exact opposite, and began seeking out and booking more “rustic” wedding venues in wooded areas, farmlands, and barns. An old wooden farmhouse quickly became the idea wedding backdrop, and farms across the country began to advertise their vacant barns as an event venues.
Typically, these barns would be outfitted with tons of flowers and fairy lights, creating this “rustic and romantic” feeling. Brides began to embrace asymmetrical gowns and curve-hugging dresses with more whimsical silhouettes and detailing. After being shortly overshadowed by satin and taffeta in the early 2000s, lace and tulle made a triumphant comeback.
25. 2016-2020: The End of Matchy-Matchy Bridesmaids
Weddings have most recently become the ultimate expression of a couple’s individuality and unique personalities. And while that has been true for brides and grooms for a long time, that self-expression has trickled its way on down to the bridesmaids standing by their sides.
Instead of the traditional take on bridesmaids, where every single lady wears a likely dreadful matching gown in an even more garish color, many brides and grooms are opting to let their bridesmaids use their occasion to express themselves too. It has become the norm to pick a color palette and let bridesmaids pick their own dress. A win for everyone!
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