The 1950s will be a decade forever linked to the advent of television, the American baby boom and the culture of the middle class suburb. This affected women in a profound way. The end of World War II created a nesting period that is unparalleled in the 20th century and weddings were the conduit. American society pushed ahead with an era of new conservatism and some say that if you weren’t married by the age of 27 years, well, good luck to you “old maid.”
Encouraged by the G.I. Bill, many newlyweds had moved out of the city and into affordable suburban housing. Women who had worked during the War saw their jobs eliminated once the men returned. 1946 magazine advertisements showed a model woman as a perky housewife who could manage a happy husband and home without complaint. Women were bombarded with images and articles of domesticity. One magazine even went so far as to suggest vacuuming while wearing spike heels and pearls, “just in case your Husband comes home.” Soon the culture of the middle class suburb exploded into a preferred lifestyle, enabling the baby boom and nearly eliminating women’s rights.
With the success of Dior’s “new look,” Paris couturiers resumed operation and once again became the center for international fashion trends. Now that the usage of fabric had no constraints, The full, full and fuller skirt of the “new look” continued to gain popularity. Rounded and soft shoulders, an almost pinched waist, a pointed bosom and spike heels were the hallmarks of 50’s Bridal wear. The hourglass effect was further emphasized with crinolines and hoop skirts. It was at this time that the metal zipper moved to the wearer’s back, making the zip up a two person chore.
Some say that after the success of the 1950 film, “Father of the Bride,” the costuming of Helen Rose epitomized the bridal look that American women craved, exemplified to perfection by the film’s star, Elizabeth Taylor. The Wedding gown she wore on screen became the most heavily copied gown of the post war era during the early 1950s. It seemed to borrow from all that was fashionable at the time, from a nipped waist with redingote style cutaway to a portrait yoke and illusion overlay of delicate lace with Peter Pan collar. The gown was chaste and virginal and yet overly consumed with detail; perhaps exactly what Helen Rose intended for the young Bride’s character.
Elizabeth collaborated with another fashion icon in her next film, 1951’s “A Place in the Sun.” The costuming of Edith Head managed to dress the gorgeous, sophisticated Angela Vickers to strapless, nipped waist perfection.
A revival of Elizabethan style of another kind permeated the fashion scene by 1953. The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June fascinated the American public. Wired, upstanding gothic style collars, as seen in the photo at left, were extremely popular as regal weddings enjoyed a fad. American designers combined the strapless gown from Edith Head’s iconic Angela and added a removable lace bolero that was made from thin and delicate Chantilly. Wedding gowns were still traditionally sleeved, and it was proper to cover the arms for Church ceremonies. The two-piece lace bolero jacket could be removed after the ceremony to show off a strapless bustline for the reception, if needed.
Lace, lace and then more lace was the cry of most American Brides in the 1950s.
We welcomed the appearance of lace, as it reflected an appreciation of moneyed European tradition. It also reflected an immense style change from the previous WWII decade, when lace manufacturing was halted during Hitler’s aggression. In the postwar era, French and Belgian lace made an appearance as the fabric of choice unlike any other wedding gown in history. As the postwar reconstruction of French towns known for their textile mills began to thrive, American Brides enthusiastically appreciated lace and its feminine appeal and demanded more more and more… Immense ball gowns of imported European lace, were constructed with 24 feet of Chantilly.
Designers further manipulated lace bodices by sculpting and plating net pleats at the neckline, cutting appliqué, scissoring and knifing pleats on the skirt and draping dramatic lace panels over net. Emphasis was on layered materials which added style and fullness without being too cumbersome or uncomfortable. Maurer Originals was a bridal wear company well known for their Chantilly lace, satin and net fifties gowns of this style. Designer Vene (as shown at upper left) made the most beautiful of these 1950s nipped waist lace gowns.
Skull cap headpieces became the standard for dressy day and into evening. Bridal wear designers used the skull cap in velvet and satin with a circle veil. The veil was gathered at its center, cut into a circle and folded at the cap. Often referred to as the “Madonna” veil because it resembled a Sunday service mantilla, it ranged in length from 18″ to 27,” coming to or just passing the shoulders. Soon designers such as Christian Dior upped the ante with sophisticated hand beaded and sequined Belgium caps as well as a couture line of satin cocktail hats with fine silk maline and Russian net.
The finishing touch that these unique pieces of millinery provided to an outfit created a huge demand for the pieces. The ready to wear suppliers fulfilled this need with the introduction of the more affordable Hong Kong beadwork, which surfaced on bags, hats, sweater twin sets and sheath gowns.
With the introduction of the jet age in 1958, Pan American Airlines opened the doors to the Orient and soon American women knew that Hong Kong was the place to shop. Japan also became known as a prolific creator of sequined and beaded pieces, made especially for La Regale. Although the country was no longer Occupied by the Allies after the war, the labels made note that the pieces were “made in Japan of American sequins.”
Gloves called “shorties” were worn with the tea length gowns, while opera length gloves held their place as usual for more formal events.
The strapless gown with sweetheart bodice remained the favored look for evening wear for most of the fifties. It was acceptable in either full skirt or figure hugging sheath. Wedding designers, still conservative at heart, adapted this strapless silhouette by covering the bride’s shoulders modestly with an opaque bodice or removable sheer lace jacket, so that the shoulders were covered appropriately for a solemn church ceremony. The gown above features the virginal yet popular 50’s look attributed to Mainbocher, of peter pan collar. He intended the dress to have the appearance of risqué sophistication. A row of buttons trimmed the bodice front yet the gown closure was made possible by a zipper in the back. Fabrics were floaty and ethereal with a preference for tissue silk organza.
In the late fifties, hemlines dropped and the full skirted wedding gown became heavy and more structured, with less movement. The undeniable influence of Grace Kelly’s style was a major factor in the changing taste for expensive full-bodied opaque fabrics. Designers appeased this wish by creating upscale ready to wear gowns in fabrics such as heavy silk taffeta, silk satin and rich duchesse satin all lined with a stiff paper like pellon.
Right you can order discount wedding dresses via some online stores directly from China to custom make your own 1950s-brides wedding dresses styles.