Women's Wedding Clothing from the 1940s

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Women's Wedding Clothing from the 1940s
Slightly puffed sleeves echo a Victorian look, but without using as much material. (George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)

World War II influenced bridal fashions of the 1940s far more than any celebrity or member of the royal family could have done. Weddings were often hurriedly planned to coincide with a soldier's leave time, and rationing made natural fibres, especially silk, difficult to obtain. With time and materials in short supply, brides of the 1940s relied on friends, family and their own ingenuity to wed in style.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle for Victory

Clothing rationing began in the United Kingdom in 1941, and in the United States in 1942. Rationing would include shoes in the United States in 1943. But rationing wasn't the only factor limiting use of fabric. Fabrics such as nylon were in scarce supply even for those who had enough coupons. Wedding gowns were exempt from rationing, but silk was needed for parachutes, and the commitment to the war effort that many brides felt prompted higher hemlines, shorter veils and wearing dresses borrowed from friends or bought second-hand. Some silk dresses that brides wore were even made from used parachutes.

Sleek Silouhettes

For brides with the means and time to buy a specially made gown, sweetheart necklines and Basque waists were fashionable. Gibson-style sleeves were popular, with a slight fullness at the top of the arm, tapering to shirring around the wrist and ending in a point. Ballroom skirts and large puffed sleeves would have used too much fabric. Silk was scarce, but rayon imitated silk very well, so rayon satin became the fabric of choice for wedding gowns. Trains were usually no longer than chapel length, extending just a few feet from the waistline. When the then-Princess Elizabeth married Prince Phillip in 1947, her cathedral length train was longer than non-royal brides of the 1940s, but was quite short compared to that of her daughter-in-law Diana's long train.

Bridal Headwear

Veils ranged from those that dusted the shoulder to nearly knee-length. Shorter veils were fashionable during the 1930s, and since some wedding attire was reused during wartime, the older veils continued to be worn into the late 1940s.

Hairstyles included elaborate curls and waves piled high on the head, for a feminine look that would not get in the way of the machinery in the factories where many women worked during World War II. To accommodate these hairstyles, veils were worn farther back on the head, toward the crown.

Bridal Attendants

Wedding gowns may have been exempt from rationing, but clothing for attendants was not. Attendants borrowed formal clothing or wore the same dress for more than one wedding, which resulted in mismatched bridesmaids gowns. When new gowns were purchased, the same V-shaped or sweetheart necklines that were fashionable on bridal gowns were also popular on attendants. It was also common to have flower girls and page boys during this period, sometimes more than one. Attire for the child attendants was usually borrowed or reused for another occasion.

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