History of Fashion through Wedding Photos

Chuck Henry - September 14th, 2016

For at least the last 100 years, wedding dresses have followed fashion trends, meaning you can often tell when a wedding picture is from by looking at the bride’s dress. The author of this blog article has a great example – my parents have photos of their 3 daughters’ weddings in their dining room. The first is my sister who got married in 1993, and her attire includes large puffy sleeves and a detailed headpiece. The second is my sister who got married in 2000 – her picture shows her in a sleeveless, slim-cut sheath. Then there is my photo from 2006, where I’m wearing the very trendy (at the time) strapless dress with a full A-line shape.

And New York Heritage includes many wedding photos that provide a look at the trends of the time. I started by doing a search for “wedding” but that included results like letters and city directories that mentioned the word “wedding.” I needed to limit my search to wedding photos, so in the left sidebar I expanded the “type” limiter and selected “still image.” That’s better! From there, I could also look at different time periods by clicking on the various “date” limiters.

The earliest date I could find was 1894. Take a look at these two very different gowns:

The first picture, of Mr. and Mrs. Langdon Gibson (of Schenectady, NY), shows a white wedding dress, following in the trend started by Queen Victoria in 1840. But in the second picture, Annie T. Jackson (of Long Island, NY) shows that the color was not universal. Following the styles of the day, the dresses are long-sleeved and floor-length. And notice that neither wears a veil.

Let’s look at the 1920s:


In these photos of  Dorothy Martin (of Buffalo, NY, 1923), Laura Barton (of Buffalo, NY, 1920) and Ruth France (c. 1919-1920), we can see some changes in bridal gowns. The necks are a bit more open, and they reflect the Roaring Twenties style of straight lines and dropped waists. We can also see that veils are becoming standard wedding attire.

Onto the 1940s:



Not a lot of detail is shown in either of these photos, but the top photo of Millie Pititto (of Freeport, NY) in 1944 shows one of the trends of the time: a v-neck as well as a point sleeve. The second photo, of Ruth Crittendon Hardy (of Amherst, NY) in 1945, shows another trend, netting at the neckline. Both photos show dresses with some fullness, but not as much as later decades would have.

Lastly, a photo from 1961:

Since this was early in the decade, a few years before noticeable fashion revolutions, the styles of the time were still like those we associate with the 1950s.  Bride Cathy Southwick (of Roosevelt, NY) wears a close-fitting bodice and full skirt which may have been influenced by Grace Kelly’s trend-setting style at her 1956 wedding. And the gloves were standard attire at the time, not just for brides, but for any woman stepping outside her home.

This post has only scratched the surface of what’s available. Why don’t you take a look at my search results for wedding images and see what else you can find?