Glamor and the Great Depression: Wedding Dresses of the 1930s

Evelyn Peters Kyle later wrote a history of early Pasadena.
Evelyn Peters Kyle later wrote a history of early Pasadena.

Evelyn Peters achieved this dreamy look with lots of affordable netting, in both the veil and dress.  Other brides wore the wedding dress their mother, grandmother or other relative had worn.  Such a dress had great sentimental value, and the price was right.

Julia Hills Whitney, 1991 and Jean Eastwood Collins, 1939.
Julia Hills Whitney, 1991 and Jean Eastwood Collins, 1939.

This classic 1890s dress has leg-of-mutton sleeves.  It was worn again in 1939. Around 1930, designers began to cut silk on the bias (on the diagonal, rather than along the horizontal and vertical threads in the woven cloth).  The bias cut gave a little stretch  and a beautiful drape, so dresses became slinky and hugged a woman’s curves.

Streamlined, architectural gowns

Women were interested in what celebrities were wearing.   Actress Jean Harlow is still famous for her dress in “Dinner at Eight.”  Wallis Simpson married the former king of Great Britain in a bias-cut gown of blue silk.

 Wilma Maguire married in a reproduction of a royal bride’s gown, Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, who married Prince George, Duke of Kent, in 1934.
Wilma Maguire's train attaches at shoulders and ends with a fishtail hem.
Wilma Maguire’s train attaches at the shoulders and ends with a fishtail hem.

Barbara Cheesewright, the daughter of a well-known interior designer, apparently loved color.  Her wedding gown is aqua in natural light (but mint green in the exhibit gallery, which has colored walls).  She chose the same color for her veil and headpiece, at left above.  Under the brim of  the headpiece, she placed delphiniums, which are often blue.  I am not sure they were blue flowers, but I like to picture them that way, complementing  her aqua dress. Barbara Cheesewright's wedding gown 004 (600x800)

Barbara Cheesewright's 1936 wedding gown
Barbara’s 1936 gown has a six-foot train.

There are three seams below the neck and three at the side, where there is usually a utilitarian dart. The three seams extend under the arm to the back. These dresses are on display at the Pasadena Museum of History until July 14.  To see more online, see the Women Writing the West blog: Barbara Cheesewright's wedding gown 001 (600x800)

Barbara Cheesewright's wedding gown 002 (600x800)

Anxiety and Change: The Jazz Age and Wedding Gowns of the 1920s

A global war with staggering loss of life. The very air became a battlefield, with airplanes, invented not long before, turned into death machines. An influenza epidemic killed 50 million worldwide.

Young American men returned from war, and women from military offices and civilian wartime industries.  They worried that another war or epidemic could end their lives, so many of them did not want to live the quiet, seemingly dull, lives of their Edwardian parents.

The young were hyped up from the war, accustomed to the anxiety of wartime.  Popular music and dances became more energetic. Clothing became relaxed.

This zeitgeist (spirit of the era) is shown well in the recent movie “The Great Gatsby.”

To add to the woes, Prohibition spread nationwide in 1920.

In the 1920s, the Jazz Age, women changed.
– They voted,
– Imitated boys and men by compressing their bust with undergarments and cutting their hair short,
– Wore makeup and smoked cigarettes openly, actions that had previously been associated with prostitutes,
– Wore short skirts to reveal their legs, which had not been done for thousands of years.

Imagine how the older generation felt about women’s behavior and appearance.  These two bridal gowns, worn before the 1920s, show rising hemlines.

The 1913 wedding dress on the right has a peekaboo effect.  The underskirt stops above the ankles.

The bridal gown on the left is later, during the war.  The skirt is short and a detachable train fastens at the shoulders.

1920s wedding gown.  Asymmetrical hem.
1920s wedding gown. Asymmetrical hem.

In the 1920s, women used undergarments to deemphasize their bust and hips, just the opposite effect of the old-fashioned corsets.  The goal was an androgynous figure, so dresses no longer nipped in at the waist, as shown in the gown at the right.

This gown has embroidered lace.  We think of the 1920s as the era of beaded dresses.

The Pasadena Museum of History, where over 40 antique and vintage bridal gowns are on display until July 14, has three gorgeous 1920s beaded bridal gowns.  One is  a pastel color.

Jazz-Age brides often wore elaborate headdresses or caps.  Here is a photo of Dorothea Underwood.  There are closeups of her dress at the end of this post.

Dorothea’s dress is sleeveless, but she wore gloves past the elbow, revealing her upper arms.  Although the dress is short, she wore a long train, which you can see near the toes of the little girl in the wedding party.  Dorothea’s bridal cap is attached to, or part of, a long, filmy veil.

The 1924 Sabin-Underwood Wedding Party
The 1924 Sabin-Underwood Wedding Party

Her silk gown has faux pearls, some of them clustered and surrounded by beads.

PMH wedding dresses 051 (600x800)

Her shoes are silk satin with faux orange blossoms.

PMH wedding dresses 028 (640x392)

PMH wedding dresses 027 (600x800)
Dorothea’s 1924 silk gown with dropped waist

Come back on Friday for wedding dresses of the 1930s.

Bridal Gowns of the Early 1900s

1906-09 wedding dress “Complex works of art,” curator Sheryl Peters said of wedding gowns dating from about 1906 to 1915.

In this, our first dress, the lace around this collar is the most delicate I have ever seen.  It looks as if it would dissolve if I breathe on it.

Silk cord runs just above it, at the top of the collar, and also below the lace.  It is looped.

That same silk cord is pulled through net elsewhere on this dress to make elaborate designs on the bodice, cuffs and the belt.

And around the hem.

Long gloves would have been worn with all of these dresses, extending under the sleeve.

Wedding dress and jacket (800x600)

This bridal gown was worn in 1910, with the jacket over it.

PMH wedding dresses 006 (600x800)

This silk gown was worn by bride Louvena Grace Dolson in 1911.  The long, narrow pleated portions, like the one running down the center of this dress, were made on a separate piece of silk.  That piece of silk was pleated and stitched, then cut into strips.  The seamstress then sewed lace trim all around each strip of pleated silk before she inserted them into this opulent creation.

PMH wedding dresses 008 (800x800)

This 1914 gown has faux orange blossoms.  Orange trees bear fruit and bloom at the same time, and so are a symbol of fertility.  This gown has a beautiful train that is pleated when viewed from the side.

PMH wedding dresses 018 (800x600)

When I give tours of  “I Do, I Do, Pasadena Ties the Knot, 1850-1950,” patrons ask which of the forty-two dresses is my favorite.  My favorite, pictured below, was worn in 1915 by Margaret Whitney Collins and almost fifty years later by Julia Collins Haselton.  I would have worn this dress if I’d had the chance.

Worn 1915 and 1964 (600x800)

Swags and big tassels of faux pearls.

Handle on train (800x600)

The train has a handle on it — you can see it at the top of this photo — so the bride could hold up the train at the reception while she walked.  And danced with her groom.

These and many other beautiful dresses are on display at the Pasadena Museum of History, only until July 14.  My next post will feature beaded wedding gowns from the 1920s, and the following post will highlight dresses from the 1930s in historical context.

Here’s information on seeing this exhibit in person: