100 Years of Wedding Dresses: 1940s



The first half of the decade was dominated by the Second World War, which had a profound effect on the people and countries in Europe, Asia, the United States and more.


During the war, weddings would be dictated by the groom’s commanding officer so they would often be rushed and organised last minute. They were also not as formal as before and after the decade with most weddings consisting of a light meal and cake served after the church ceremony.


Clothing coupons were required to buy clothing during this time and these were rationed leaving little choice for the wartime bride.


Women would wear whatever they could get their hands on, whether it was their uniform if they were a servicewoman, their best suit or their mother’s repurposed wedding dress.


If they were able to afford to make or buy their wedding dress then they would often be similar to day dresses, trains were a waste of fabric and they would usually be plain without embroidery or beading.


Wartime meant that practicality was key during this era, so silhouettes tended to be fairly slim due to rationing of fabric. The choice of outfit also reflected the needs and restrictions of wartime women with skirts being short enough to ride a bike and jackets that could be buttoned high to the neck for warmth.


If gowns were worn, they generally had gathered sleeves and padded shoulders that echoed the military uniforms of the men but were made more feminine with corseted waists and padded hips that accentuated the hourglass figure.


Furnishing fabrics such as brocade were often used to make dresses and veils due to limited money and them being manufactured in the UK as imported materials were scarce. Silk and satin were unavailable and lace and tulle were rationed and very expensive.


Veils were simple and often attached to a favourite hat such as a pillbox pinned to the head. Jewellery would be limited and many brides opted to wear a single strand of white pearls.


Rationing also meant that make-up was minimal, with poorer brides often pinching cheeks and biting lips, but the more privileged bride like red lips, full eyeliner and arched eyebrows.

The most popular hairstyle was curled hair that fell in soft waves around the face or Victory Rolls.


Bouquets during the war were rare as much of the land was used to grow food. However, for the royals that married in this decade, they would choose bouquets consisting of lilies of the valley or orchids. Otherwise, flowers found in the back of the garden were commonly used such as roses.


After the war, austerity continued to affect wedding dresses with crepe and brocade remaining popular as lace was still hard to come by as it would need to be imported. After 1947 things started to change with skirts becoming fuller and more emphasis placed on the bust and waist as the 1950s approached.


First image is of American film star Carole Landis on her wedding day to Captain Thomas C. Wallace, of the U.S. Army Air Force Eighth Fighter Command.



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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Based in Somerset, UK and covering the rest of the South West, Leah Olivia Weddings provides wedding planning services to modern couples.

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