Planning the perfect 1950s’ wedding complete with a Rock n Roll band, retro food, and plenty of dancing? You certainly need a 1950s’ vintage wedding dress to complete the look! Here’s some tips, some history and some advice to help you find the perfect dress.
In spring 1950, Dior released the “vertical line”. Now commonly known as a shift style dress, this style accentuated height rather than curves. It seemed that the 50s would dress women in styles that hid their figures. However, just six months later, the brand released the “oblique line”, and hips were in once again.
Fashion in the majority of the 1950s mainly revolved around ultra-feminine full tea-length dresses, as well as tight figure-hugging pencil skirts. These styles were both designed to accentuate the waist to really create an impact. This, styled with short or shoulder-length curly hair, created a recognisable look.
The tea-length dresses were all about volume, and were usually comprised of layer upon layer of net or a hoop skirt in order to achieve this effect. Petticoats came back in, oftentimes with a decorative hem that was meant to be seen rather than hidden. To add to this powerful and glamorous look, women also teamed their dresses with bright-red lipstick and killer heels.
It’s worth noting, however, that despite the heels and tight waistlines, 1950s’ dresses didn’t tend to show a lot of skin, and were actually extremely modest. It was rare for gowns to feature low neck-lines, and dresses with sleeves were the height of fashion at this time.
Historically, the abundance of fabric used for dresses in the 1950s is thought to be a direct reflection of the relaxation of World War Two fabric restrictions that were in place only a few years before. The ’50s also witnessed the growing popularity of lace, which also had been hard to obtain during the war.
Wedding dresses often mimic the fashions of the time, and this is no different in the 1950s. Celebrities from Audrey Hepburn to Grace Kelly got married in this decade, and their gowns are hailed as iconic. If you want to read more about these dresses from the time, you can read our other article.
Bolero jackets were all the rage, and therefore plenty of brides wore them to keep warm – or demure – at their weddings. These were often made of lace, and covered dresses that were excessively lacy, too. Other than that, there were limited embellishments to these gowns.
Find Your Own 1950s’ Style Dress
Vintage nostalgia is currently one of the most popular wedding themes around, and therefore there is no shortage of boutiques and designers offering replica 1950s’ gowns. You may even be able to find an original dress if you search hard enough! Take a look around your local charity shops, search online, and even try asking around – you never know, your perfect wedding gown could be lying around in someone’s attic!
If you are unable to find the dress of your dreams in a boutique or bridal shop, you can always consider looking for a gown that isn’t in the traditional white or ivory. Brigitte Bardot wore a pink gingham dress when she married Jacques Charrier in 1959, and Ava Gardner wed Frank Sinatra in a blush pink dress. Elizabeth Taylor was the queen of coloured wedding dresses, walking down the aisle in green, yellow and full rainbow.
However, if you have your heart set on a white wedding, in a 1950s’ style, look instead for an evening gown, cocktail dress or prom dress. By letting other varieties of dress into your hunt, you are far more likely to find the style you are looking for!
The rockabilly fashion of dresses would really suit a wedding gown. The popular fashion style from the era encapsulates short dresses with layers of petticoats underneath. Imagine a white dress trimmed with red underskirts. This would look good with a halterneck, strapless or with a bateau style neckline. Similarly, this would suit strong colours as well as floral or polka dot patterns. This would certainly suit your alternative wedding.
Think of an idealised ball gown and you have the idea of a sweetheart dress. From a small waist to a long, full skirt, this style of dress would have been popular in the early 1950s. A sweetheart neckline with sleeves allowed brides to flatter their features while remaining covered. Similarly, sometimes the area above the neckline would be a sheer fabric for modesty. This style is very elegant and flattering to taller, slimmer figures.
Lace was a popular material for wedding dresses anyway, but the mid-1950s was an era that brought it front and centre. It is possible to have lace embellished on just your bodice or your skirt, but a more dramatic style would be to go for all-out lace.
Grace Kelly’s wedding dress to Prince Monaco featured a highly decorative lace bodice with long sleeves – think Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Less well recognised was the dress Kelly wore to her civil ceremony the day before, which was made of pale pink taffeta covered with cream-coloured lace. Her style would be a beautiful one to emulate.
Short dress, calf-length or slightly higher, were popular late in the 1950s. Here is the time to show off your shoes and make the most of accessories. Softer shapes and fabrics make for a softer, more innocent look. Tulle became very popular, and is still easy to find today. Think of Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face for an idea of this style of gown.
If you have found a 1950s’ dress you love, but it’s a little on the plain side, you can accessorise. A great way to top off the look is to team it with a white embellished headband or crystallised headpiece. Large bows alongside soft and curly hair will also help to achieve a 1950s’ look wonderfully well.
That being said, genuine 1950s’ wedding outfits tended to have limited embellishments. Extra style came from lipstick, often dark red in colour, and bright shoes. Certainly, if you plan on wearing a shorter gown then having statement shoes would be a great touch.
Similarly, having hair bold but without glitz could be the way to go. Hairstyles of the time involved loose curls and also the “Italian haircut” – think Ava Gardner and Dorothy Dandridge.
If you want some decoration to your hairdo, consider a simple tiara, or more appropriately a small hat. Definitely remember a veil, and consider asking your mother if she still has hers; 1950s’ brides often wore heirloom bridal veils. You can dress it up with flowers or a floral crown.
If you are wearing a short gown, consider long, elbow length gloves. On the other hand, a long gown suits short, wrist length gloves well. Otherwise, a single simple bracelet should suffice.
Take the 1950s’ style in whichever way you want, from the bold rock ‘n’ roll to the demure ballerina. Top it all off with your wedding theme for a night to remember…