Women who want a unique look to their bridal attire might want to consider 1940s vintage wedding dresses. Both classic, practical dresses and elegant dresses from that era are available at resale, consignment, and vintage shops.
1940s Era: Simple to Stylish
Women's fashions of the 1940s are divided in two parts: during the war and after the war. Wartime rations called for simple designs and borrowed dresses, while the New Look ushered in a stylish and feminine approach to style, especially with the boom in weddings after the troops returned home.
Simple War Era Wedding Dresses
The fashions for weddings during the first half of the 1940s were limited by war rationing. Both food and clothing were rationed across the UK and U.S. For this reason, many brides in the early 1940s of modest means ended up wearing practical dresses. Utility clothing in Great Britain was typical civilian wear, so women often borrowed dresses from others or wore their best dress. They would "mend or make do" with whatever was available. Suit styles were popular both in the U.S. and overseas.
Stylish Dresses and New Look
Despite the hardships, some WWII brides were wealthy enough to get a dress that was more elegant. Other brides may have borrowed or purchased a used wedding dress for their wedding day, altering and mending them in order to make them work. These dresses may have had the following design elements:
- Gibson or mutton sleeves
- Long sleeves with a point at the end, especially combined with a high v-neck collar
- Netting at the neckline
- Emphasis on waist, often with a "v" shape
- Slight "sweetheart" shaping high on the neckline, near the collarbone
- Made of rayon, though sometimes silk
- White, ivory, off-white, or beige color
In 1947, after the end of WWII, Christian Dior debuted a line of clothing called Corolle, which was called the New Look by Life Magazine. The line took advantage of the more readily available fabrics and brought attention to the form of a woman's body, with tighter waists and full skirts. The more feminine and stylish fashion stayed popular from the late 1940s and is evident in many 1950s wedding dresses.
Find 1940s Vintage Wedding Dresses
The first place to look for a vintage wedding dress is in a grandmother's bureau. Older female relatives may have saved their wedding dress, especially if it was a more glamorous design. Also check consignment shops, vintage and antique clothing stores, and online auctions. The following retailers offer vintage wedding dresses online:
- Sherry's Antiques and Collectibles
- Vintage Vixen Clothing Company
- Davenport & Co.
- A Vintage Wedding
Choosing authentic 1940s vintage wedding dresses does pose some problems. Some may not have had proper wedding dress preservation techniques used on them, making them too delicate to wear. Yellowing, fading and stains are also common problems with dresses from decades past. Sizing information is often different from today's generous cuts, so get accurate measurements or try on the gown if possible. Be sure to investigate any dress thoroughly before purchasing.
Sewing a wedding gown using a wedding dress pattern is another way to obtain a vintage 1940s style dress. Using new materials, pick out a pattern that will compliment a 1940s themed wedding and make the dress personally or hire someone else to make it. Patterns can be found online at stores like So Vintage Patterns.
Additional 1940s Wedding Dress Resources
A wedding that plays on the zeitgeist of the 1940s calls for a themed wedding dress that captures the essence of the decade. Military couples might embrace the war-era utilitarian look, with the groom wearing his uniform and the bride in a similar suited dress. Brides can also choose to wear a more classic wedding dress that features styling elements from the 1940s.
To help decide upon a 1940s dress, visit the following websites for more information on fashion and weddings:
- Miss-Vintage.com: Miss-Vintage offers fashion articles pulled directly from 1940s publications. Available in pdf format, they range from bridal advertisements to articles about fashion frugality, often with sketches and photographs.
- We Heart Vintage: See photos of wedding gowns and read a short history of 1940s wedding dresses.
Bridal gowns in the 1940s were a reflection of the war. From modest wedding dresses that were simply the best suit in her closet to more elegant dresses made of cheaper fabrics like rayon, the 1940s bride still wanted to look beautiful on her wedding day.