We find that a lot of couples are interested in historical weddings. Whether they are looking for a theme, or just interested in the origin of traditions, we are always happy to oblige. Today we thought we would dive back to wartime and explore bridal fashion of World War One.
Fashion and dresses in World War I broadly leant towards the art nouveau movement. Out went restrictive corsets and in came the modern bra. Free flowing lines and freedom of movement became popular in clothing, as did military style garments. During the start of the 1910s, dress designs had a horizontal layered look and empire waists.
Although the Edwardian era officially ended with the death of Edward VII in 1910, many consider the period to continue until the start of the war. That being said, the Edwardian silhouette consisted of a blouson bodice, an A-line skirt and cinched in waist. Later, a popular style of tunic dresses, square necklines and capped sleeves also became in vogue.
While fashions in the workplace became more masculine and practical, fashions at home tended to the feminine. As men came home on leave, girls felt it was important to look good and keep morale up. “War crinoline“, as it was dubbed, fell out of fashion as everyone realised the war was not over by Christmas.
There were many designers who were changing the forward face of fashion. While previously only royalty and the wealthiest were dressed to the nines, now more of the public could see. The war brought about a quick decline in the availability of fabric, and dresses became more practical than fashionable.
Poiret reached his peak in the years leading up to the First World War. He is credited for bringing Oriental fashion to the Western market, and also for phasing out the corset. A dress of his style even appears in the first series of Downton Abbey, as Sybil’s new harem dress.
The Oriental style that he brought to the market influenced both shape and colour. Colours could become richer and were getting cheaper to produce. Meanwhile, lightweight fabrics remained cool on hot days and sleeve length started to vary.
Paquin became a trailblazer for fashions of the time, and turned heads for being a woman. She loved to use colours, with black and red being prominent in her work. She also recognised use of the Paris Metro when designing, and as such made gowns that were comfortable foremost. She designed countless wedding dresses that would have been at the height of fashion, and using colours other than white.
Lady Duff-Gordon, known professionally as Lucille, was a leading British designer. She hosted the first fashion parades and gave her dress with highly evocative names. She called these “emotional gowns”. Some of her dresses now belong to the V&A Museum in London.
You may have heard of Lady Duff-Gordon; she was a passenger on the Titanic and escaped on an early, half-empty lifeboat with her husband. Her character appeared in the 1997 film.
Charles Frederick Worth
Although Worth died before the turn of the century, his work influenced younger designers. He has been dubbed the “father of haute couture”. Empress Eugénie of France was one of his most famous clients and her tastes influenced his work. For example, in the 1880s he created a dress with a shorter hemline, so the Empress could walk without tripping.
Although he was born in England, he moved to Paris at the age of 20 and started to build a reputation soon after. Therefore, he was at the forefront of the modern design movement and had influence on both sides of The Channel.
If you are a fan of the Channel Four programme Married at First Sight, then you wouldn’t believe that actually this was a common occurrence during wartime era. Many young couples became engaged without even meeting face to face and courtship exchanges were primarily through letter writing. The hasty acts were perhaps due to the fear of being a single woman at this time, and the ingrained view that women’s prime destination in life was to marry and have children.
Because of the war, many marriages were planned very quickly, either before the groom went away to fight, or whilst he was home on leave. Many brides had no option but to borrow a wedding gown to wear on the day. Others, with the help of their families, would save every single penny to ensure that they were still able to marry wearing the dress of their dreams. The limitation of resources meant that wedding gowns were simplistic, but this is not to say that they weren’t romantic.
The devastating effects of the war meant that women were outnumbering the young men. Hence, when a marriage was possible, the young women and their families jumped at the chance.
Wedding dresses were feminine, modest, free flowing and with an abundance of lace. Brides accessorised their bridal looks with capped veils and a bouquet of fresh traditional flowers. Makeup during the early twentieth century was a natural and simplistic look, consisting of small pots of rouge, face creams, and blotting papers.
However, there was no one bridal style, mainly due to the fact that dresses were reworn and reworked. The formal suits we worn by some brides may be explained by the likelihood that these women couldn’t afford a wedding gown at this difficult time. Either way, a romantic vision was still achieved.
Certainly, the elaborate gowns created by Poiret and co were not the norm for brides of the day. Nevertheless, these gowns are what we think of when we consider the period. This is most likely due to the fact that weddings between the higher classes were more heavily documented.
Downton Abbey Bridalwear
Returning to the fashions of Downton Abbey in wartime, there are three more demure weddings that occur. These more accurately define what brides would have worn at their weddings. Anna wed Mr Bates in a simple white blouse with a blue skirt and matching hat. Mrs Hughes wears a purple dress, and a coat borrowed from Cora, for her marriage to Mr Carson.
However, the Downton moment that most encapsulates wartime brides is Daisy’s wedding to William, on his deathbed. She wears her best dress, which is floral with long sleeves. Unfortunately, this would have been a reality for many brides during the First World War.
Whether you were looking for information or inspiration, we hope you got what you wanted out of this post. Talk to us about your favourite wartime wedding dresses below!