100 Years of Wedding Dresses: 1930s

Updated: Jun 16, 2020

The 1930s were consumed by economic downfall with the era became known as the Great Depression. Its effects spread worldwide with unemployment and poverty rife, especially in the United States following the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the largest stock market crash in American history and in Germany where they were dealing with reparations resulting from World War I.

With money being tighter than before and luxury items not as common or affordable, many brides often wore the nicest dress they already owned. Many brides who did opt to buy a new dress for their wedding would choose one that they could dye and wear again due to the economic hardship they were facing.

The ‘Golden Age of Hollywood’ saw in a new era that brought the “talkies” to the forefront of cinema and full-colour being used from 1930 onwards. More than 50 classic Hollywood films were made in the 1930s such as The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind. This, in turn, had an effect on fashion with the return of ladylike glamour and effortless and understated elegance.

Many Hollywood starlets started to wear their hair long with finger waves, inspiring brides to mimic this look. Makeup trends included pale faces, thinly styled eyebrows and dark red lips. Moon manicures also became popular in this era.

Inspiration also came from royal families with many weddings taking place in the 1930s. One of the most notable was the marriage of Wallis Simpson to the former British king Edward VIII in 1937, six months after he abdicated the throne. Her dress was a long, modest bias-cut dress in light blue with a row of buttons between the bust and waist with matching gloves. Princess Marina of Greece married the Duke of Kent in 1934 wearing a white and silver brocade gown, with a modest v neckline and a train that draped down from her shoulders. Her lace and tulle veil was 10 feet wide and secured with a diamond tiara.

The silhouette of wedding dresses in the 1930s was long, flowing and figure-hugging. Dresses were usually modest with high necks and long or oversized puff sleeves but would skim a women’s curves through bias cutting. A popular style of dress was the lingerie style wedding dress in white, ivory or cream.

Waistlines were becoming more prominent, with dropped waist silhouettes still popular but rising higher than in the 1920s. The mid-'30s saw the waist accentuated with belts or ties and by the end of the decade ruching, pleats and gathering techniques were used around the waist and neckline to define a woman’s hourglass figure.

After a decade of short dresses in the ‘20s, the elegant long gown was back and trains and veils were even longer and wider.

Rayon was the material of choice as it was more affordable but imitated the look and feel of traditional silk. Tight budgets also resulted in moving away from the detailing and embellishment that was popular in the 1920s.

While the skull cap wedding veil from the 1920s was still prevalent in a more affordable simple version, tiara style headdresses and sun hats were gaining popularity. Floor-length veils in traditional lace or modern tulle, or a combination of both, were accompanied by tiaras. These came in the form of halos or royal crowns decorated with glittery jewels – Art Deco coloured gems if it could be afforded or more reasonable starched lace and pearls. Alternatively, small white hats perched at an angle over one eye or large sheer sun hats that shaded the bride's face were also on-trend.

Images above include (1) Princess Marina of Greece on her wedding day to the Duke of Kent in 1934, (2) The wedding of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson on 3 June 1937 at the Château de Candé, (3) Carole Lombard in No More Orchids (1932), (4) Example of a wedding hat in the 1930s, (5) Examples of wedding dress of the 1930s, (6) Actress Jane Hamilton wearing a round halo hat with veil on her wedding day and (7) Another example of a wedding hat.

Feel free to get in touch if you have a question or want to talk about how I can help you plan your wedding by visiting leaholiviaweddings.com or email leah@leaholiviaweddings.com.

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