The Second World War saw both more and fewer marriages – more because of men devoted to their sweethearts, and fewer because of the cost and timing. The 1940s were a time of great change, in everything, and we see that too in fashion and wedding wear.
Various famous people chose this decade to tie the knot. Some were to cement a union, others to reconnect a nation. That being said, we are going to look at some iconic wedding dresses of the 1940s.
Fashion and Trends
Women’s fashion in the 1940s focused on creating an hourglass silhouette whilst incorporating masculine details. A big favourite of the time was, of course, shoulder padding. This military look often appeared in men’s jackets, and after Joan Crawford wore them in Letty Lynton in 1932, women started to adopt the style, too. The large shoulders helped to bulk the frame of women, and possibly to make them seem more like their male counterparts in the workplace. Women most notably wore tailored, high-waisted tops and A-line skirts that came down to the knee.
The start of the war saw a strict rationing on fabric, causing dresses to shorten in length. Dresses of the 1930s were at mid-calf level, whereas the ’40s brought them up to the knee. The war too affected the top half of dresses, taking on the militant masculine form.
The neckline of dresses came in an array of shapes: some were square, others slit, keyhole or v-neck. Even though hemlines were rising, dresses were always modest and revealed very little skin. Evening dresses were the exception to the rule, showing off spaghetti straps or halter necks.
Later in the decade, as fabric came more readily available, woman embraced colourful patterns with contrasting trims. Pleats, wide A-lines and pockets were introduced. Christian Dior debuted a new line of clothing dubbed “The New Look”. The range took advantage of the wider source of fabrics and paid attention to women’s forms, producing tighter waists and fuller skirts.
Accessories consisted of hats, gloves, handbags and jewellery. Jewellery played an important role, aiming to repel the sombre wartime. Most popular was colourful beaded necklaces, large floral brooches and chunky earrings. The peep-toe heels were the favoured shoe of the decade, popular alongside loafers, Oxfords and wedge sandals.
Here Comes the Bride
Bridal fashion in the 1940s can effectively be divided into two sections; wartime and post-war. Wartime rations meant that wedding dresses in the early ’40s were simple, practical, and often borrowed, or were handmade from cheap fabrics like rayon. In fact, many dresses made soon after the war were cut from the fabric of old parachutes!
After the war, although rationing was still in place, gowns gradually became more detailed once again. Even Queen Elizabeth had to use ration coupons to buy the fabric for her 1947 wedding dress!
The dresses featured distinctive elements. The sleeves became statements, as fabric became easier to come by. For wedding dresses, big sleeves represented a return to the woman being unburdened by manual labour. The waist was often highlighted, creating a focus on the ‘v’ silhouette. Colours of the gowns were predominantly white, off-white, ivory or beige.
Lucille Ball, 1940 and 1949
The actress and comedian met Desi Arnaz while filming in 1940. They eloped the same year, before he was drafted into the army. The pair enjoyed a second wedding in 1949, although divorced in 1960.
At that first wedding, Lucille’s white dress sat just off her shoulders with frilly lace. A short veil gathered on top of her head and she wore big jewellery. At their second wedding her dress did not touch the floor and was a starchier rayon fabric. Through their long career together, the pair wed plenty of time on screen, as well!
Marilyn Monroe, 1942
There can hardly be a person alive who has not heard of the popular icon that is Marilyn Monroe. Four years before she adopted that moniker, Norma Jeane Mortenson walked down the aisle to meet James Dougherty in 1942. At 16 years old, the blonde bombshell was her natural brunette.
Monroe wore a traditional full-length lace gown and short veil. The gown had a frilly scoop neck but was otherwise not too dissimilar to anything brides might wear today. She was not yet an actress or a model, and as such she wore what any other bride of the day would have worn. She brought the dress out for a photoshoot with Richard C Miller after she and James divorced.
Carole Landis, 1943
Carole Landis was an American actress nicknamed “Ping Girl” and “The Chest” due to her figure. In 1943 she married husband number three at wedding number four at just 24 years old. She and Thomas Wallace, a US army air forces captain, wed in London, wearing a gorgeous cream-coloured silk gown. As she was a world-famous actress, she was able to afford this luxurious fabric.
Her dress was designed by Norman Hartnell, dressmaker for the royal family. The design featured a sweetheart neckline, tucked-in waist and long, pointed sleeves which were the height of fashion at the time. She had a string of pearls around her neck and orange blossoms in her hair; flowers made popular by Queen Victoria.
Princess Elizabeth, 1947
Similarly to most wartime and immediately post-war brides, in 1947 the future Queen Elizabeth saved up her ration coupons over the months in order to purchase enough material needed to create her stunning satin gown.
The modest yet extravagant ivory dress was created by English designer Norman Hartnell, and featured floral embroidery representing the national emblems of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The gown was meant to celebrate unity, in more than one way, as the country was still suffering from the World War.
Which is your favourite of these dresses? Let us know in the comments!