By Tiffany Rider - Senior Writer
August 28, 2012 - Despite a multitude of options for wedding attire today, the iconic styles in the history of bridal wear remain in nearly every bridal magazine and catalog.
Bridal wear today is a nearly $2 billion business annually. When thinking specifically of wedding dresses, the first thing that often comes to mind is the color white.
Jennie Ma, fashion and beauty editor for The Knot Magazine, attributed the trend of the white wedding dress to 1840 when Queen Victoria married her first cousin Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg wearing a snowy gown that inspired brides the world over.
“Before Queen Victoria made this popular, wedding dresses were a really fancy, beautiful dress,” Ma said. “It’s kind of interesting that she wore white and that it remains the biggest trend. I would say that 99 percent of the time brides wear white on their wedding days.”
Fast-forward to the early 20th Century, specifically the late 1910s and 1920s – the era in which fashion icon CoCo Chanel designed the first dress to appear above the knee. This was a time when wedding gowns transitioned from a daywear look to eveningwear. The popular style of headwear was the cloche hat, which many brides wore with veils attached on their wedding day.
The industrial revolution allowed women to buy a new dress for their wedding day, and white remained the color of choice. The term “bridal gown” was coined in the 1930s. Cap veils, which are fitted tightly to the head and cover some or the entire forehead, were popular during this era, as were birdcage veils, which clip into the bride’s hair and onto a fitted cap.
During The Great Depression and the World Wars, many brides could not afford their dream dress. They instead bought a wedding bonnet, which was traditionally white with a long veil attached on the back. Or they simply wore their Sunday best to their nuptials. Still others borrowed or rented pre-owned dresses. Those who could afford it wore dresses with a boat neck or sweetheart neckline and long cloth sleeves.
A revival of the voluminous white gown came in 1956 with the wedding of actress Grace Kelly to Prince Rainier of Monaco. Ordinary brides across the globe admired her full-skirted gown – a stunning taffeta, tulle and antique lace number with lace sleeves and a long veil.
The strapless gown, worn by 73 percent of brides today according to a survey by TheKnot.com, rose to popularity by the 1980s.
“There are a couple of reasons why,” Ma said. “Women were becoming more liberated in the 1980s, so they didn’t want to wear the conservative necklines or the spaghetti straps. This also happened when weddings were less associated with religious ceremonies. . . . During the 1980s, brides and grooms were actually contributing to the cost of their wedding, which allowed them to have a greater say in what they wore.”
Another reason is the ease of alterations.
Ma described the strapless gown, a staple in every bridal catalog today, as classic, elegant and sexy.
Huy Diep has been manager at Once In A Lifetime bridal shop in Long Beach since it opened in 1989. She said different brides go for different styles based on their personality.
“Sometimes brides want a fuller gown, but others want to show off their figure and go for the mermaid style,” Diep added.
Most of the dresses Diep sells in her shop are strapless and form fitting.
“There aren’t many long-sleeved, high neck dresses that cover, but designers do carry some for brides that are getting married at a temple or church so they can cover up,” she said. “The strapless dresses can come with a jacket to wear at the church, and afterward they can open it up.”
Ma said she has recently seen brides going back to the lace long sleeves and higher necklines, citing Kate Middleton’s wedding gown as part of that trend. She has also seen designers bring back higher necklines that are Victorian-esque but with a more form-fitting shape. Middleton’s gown, donned during her marriage to Prince William of Wales in 2011, is widely compared to Grace Kelly’s dress.
White remains the most popular wedding gown color in Western culture, including off-white colors of eggshell, ecru and ivory.
“In recent trends, we’re seeing airier, frostier dresses,” Ma said. “Back a couple of decades ago dresses were more embellished and ornate. Now we’re seeing women going for the opposite, with simple, streamlined, barely embellished gowns.”
The blusher veil, which was traditionally for first-time brides, remains a popular choice today. This particular veil hangs just below the face, as opposed to longer veils that reach hip length.
No matter what current trends dictate, wedding etiquette does come into play when choosing wedding attire. Anna Post, great-great granddaughter of etiquette guru Emily Post, is an author and modern etiquette expert with the Emily Post Institute in Vermont. She shared with the Business Journal that while brides worry about what they should and shouldn’t do, etiquette for the time is a reflection of what society decides on bridal wear.
“Etiquette is the follower rather than the influencer,” Post explained. “It’s sort of a reflection of what’s okay. Etiquette is, in a way, a keeper of what’s traditional. . . .You see colored wedding dresses now, but some of them draw the line at black. . . Really, I love that women today have the option to pick whatever they want. They can go with tradition, they can go with something that is sleeveless, they can go with pants. Anything that says I’m getting married today; me – this unique person.”
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