How Wedding Dresses Have Changed Over The Years

For a day that's supposed to set the tone for the rest of your life, a wedding requires a lot of work. There's the ring, the venue, the catering, the invites, the dress, and so much more. And if you can get through that last part without going a little crazy, well, we applaud you.

Shopping for the perfect wedding dress often takes months of cataloguing, budgeting, and fittings. But the most difficult part of picking one out is the fact that wedding-dress trends change as frequently as season-to-season. So how do you know what exactly to look for? French designer Christian Lacroix put it best: "A wedding dress, intended for an exceptional day, should in every case be exceptional. I like it to have several lives; classically grand for the religious ceremony, but lightened of its train or skirt for dancing. From the charming Arlésienne to the shepherdess in a fairy tale, with faille, piqué, taffeta, tulle, embroidery, lace, the repertoire is inexhaustible."

With engagements underway and wedding season fast approaching, we decided to give his words a little context with trends we already know (and love). Click through for a dose of different bridal wear throughout the decades, from the out-of-the-box to the overly minimalist.
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Photo: Mondadori/Getty Images.
1800s: When More Was More
Way back when, wedding dresses weren't emblematic of one's pre-marital purity — rather, they served as a symbol of wealth. In fact, during the 1800s, most gowns weren't even white; they were scarlet — and choosing a white, lacy number was seen as either a daring, stylistic choice, or meant you had lots of money. But when the official wedding photo of Queen Victoria and her husband was published, things changed. In the image, the queen was seen wearing a bustling white piece, which influenced the idea that colorless is the way to go. Who knew she was so ahead of her time?
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Photo: Paul O'Doye/Getty Images.
1920s: The Daisy Buchanan Era
The Great Gatsby, as a book, defined an era. So it's safe to say The Great Gatsby — as a style — defined its sartorial trends. Wedding dresses of the '20s featured ornate jewelry, formal flapper caps, embroidery from head to toe, and the highest hemlines the bridal market had ever seen. If you're having trouble picturing this, feel free to use Kris Jenner's 60th-birthday party as reference.
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Photo: Popperfoto/Getty Images.
1930s: A Post-Great Depression Slump
In this photo, dress designer Norman Hartnell fits actress Florence Desmond (who was set to marry aviator Charles Hughesdon) for a wedding gown at his Mayfair, London, salon. For the remaining 99.99% of women, though, a dress made from rayon (or a hand-me-down from their mother) was the most common (and practical) choice during this time period.
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Photo: Harold M. Lambert/Getty Images.
1940s: The Wartime Wedding Dress
According to Vogue in 1942, it was the groom's commanding officer who set the schedule for the wartime wedding: "He names the day when he grants that unexpected furlough. The 1942 schedule may run something like this: engagement announcement on Monday, invitations sent out by telegraph on Wednesday, the last handful of rice and rose petals flung on Saturday." Men wearing wedding rings also became a thing during this time; the ring served as a link between a husband and wife while they were apart.
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Photo: Chaloner Woods/Getty Images.
1950s: The Sweetheart Cut
Made popular by none other than Elizabeth Taylor, in Father of the Bride, the sweetheart cut gained popularity in the '50s and symbolized a need to move on from the previous, war-struck decade. This era signaled a departure from years of bubble sleeves and tulle, and brought with it an introduction to exposed arms and shoulders — a.k.a., it was time for things to get sexy.
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Photo: Keystone/Getty Images.
1960s: Larger-Than-Life Veils
Now, we're not saying brides had something to hide, but the '60s brought about veils so bouffant that it wasn't just their hair that was full of secrets. Also during the Atomic Age, metal-based crowns and jewelry signified a vision for the future: Weddings no longer had to adhere to tradition, but instead looked ahead, echoing the core reasons for getting married in the first place.
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Photo: Chaloner Woods/Getty Images.
1970s: Pre-Street Style Chokers
We hate to break it to you, but the chokers you're currently spotting on the likes of Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid aren't exactly a new thing; in fact, they actually date back to the 1800s. They were immensely popular during the '70s (especially when it came to bridal wear); just look at Italian singer, film producer, and actress Caterina Caselli as she marries Piero Sugar, son of the founder of record company Sugar Music, in Italy.
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Photo: Daniel Simon/Getty Images.
1980s: The Couture Wedding Dress
When model Inès de la Fressange walked the runway during the Chanel Haute Couture fall 1987 show in Paris, it wasn't so much a moment then as it is now. Wedding dresses going couture offered a chance to take an item of clothing that is already extravagant to the next level — something fashion does so well. Would you wear this on your wedding day? Probably not. But just remember: Karl Lagerfeld wants you to.
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Photo: NBC/Getty Images.
1990s: When Bridal Got Boring
While Zack Morris and Kelly Kapowski may not be representative of '90s-style weddings as a whole, a dress as simple as hers is exactly what brides sought in a post-poufy world. Minimalism was key when it came to finding a piece that was of the moment.
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Photo: Randy Brooke/Getty Images.
2010s: Go Nude Or Go Home
Nude dressing, a concept seemingly pioneered by Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian (whether you'd like to admit it or not), has slowly crept its way into the bridal market. Yep, somehow semi-sheer (or cutout) pieces have become a thing for nuptials. Everyone from Pronovias to Givenchy has shown a version of this barely-there style, so maybe it's time to embrace the trend. (At your own risk, of course.)
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