Iconic wedding dresses of the ’40s

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. Women were most notably seen in tailored high waist tops and A-line skirts that came down to the knee.

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, as were loafers, oxfords and wedge sandals.

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 a militant masculine form.

Necklines of dresses came in an array of shapes, some were square, others slit, they could also be keyhole or v-necked. Dresses were always modest, revealing very little skin. Evening dresses were the exception to the rule, showing off spaghetti straps or halter necks.

Later in the decade, as fabric began to become readily available, woman embraced colourful patterns with contrasting trims. Pleats, wide A-lines and pockets were being introduced. After the end of the war, Christian Dior debuted a new line of clothing dubbed ‘The New Look’. The line took advantage of the wider source of fabrics and paid attention to women’s forms, producing tighter waists and fuller skirts.

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. After the war, although rationing was still in place, gowns gradually became more detailed once again.

The dresses featured distinctive elements, these included – Gibson or mutton sleeves, long sleeves with a point at the end combined with a high v-neck collar, ‘sweetheart’ shaping high on the neckline and netting. The waist was highlighted, creating a focus on the ‘v’ silhouette. Colours of the gowns were predominantly white, off-white, ivory or beige.

Further Reading: Iconic wedding dresses from the 20’s, 30’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s

Carole Landis, 1943

American actress Carole Landis married her third husband Thomas Wallace in London, wearing this gorgeous silk gown (being a world-famous actress she was able to afford this luxurious fabric). The design featured a sweetheart neckline, tucked-in waist and long, pointed sleeves which were the height of fashion at the time.

Marilyn Monroe, 1942

Upon her first marriage in 1942, aged just 16, Monroe married James Dougherty wearing this traditional full-length lace gown and short veil.

Princess Elizabeth, 1947

Similarly to most wartime and immediately postwar 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.

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