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Bridesmaid Dress Trends Over Time; From Frou-Frou to Fantastic

Have you looked at photos of a wedding from the 1980’s and wondered what on earth were they thinking? It was fashion.

5 minutes to read

Every period in history can be dated by its fashion. Those puffy sleeves and a bright pink dress that your Mum wore to her sister’s wedding make it a 1980’s extravaganza, while a cloche hat that your grandmother wore was probably in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Take what you will from the past, and infuse it into your wedding; but maybe give those frills from the 1980’s a miss.

The 17th Century bridesmaids dresses

These weddings were all about ’go big, or go home’. Dresses were elaborate and extravagant, if they could be afforded. Think massive skirts, bustles, tight corsets, and silk fabrics. There would always be hats—ladies never went out without a hat—and probably a fine dusting of lead powder on their faces.

The 18th Century bridesmaids dresses

Queen Victoria got married, and famously decked out her bridesmaids in white dresses, which spawned a decades long trend. Of course these dresses were ridiculously impractical; when water was drawn from a street well and drycleaners didn’t exist, a white dress was a wear-once kinda option. But, if you had buckets of money and a few ladies-in-waiting to manage your wardrobe for you, why not?

For those who decided white wasn’t a good idea, colourful dresses became the go-to. And, due to the expense of these gowns, they were literally shortened and used again; the beginning of the myth that bridesmaids will wear their dress again.

The popular colours were grey, violet, and lilac- soft, elegant colours.

1920’s bridesmaids dresses

The dropped waist, straight bodices and hats and head wraps we recognise from the 1920’s and 1930’s were reflected in bridesmaid dresses. Post-war austerity gave way to lush fabrics like velvet.

“Wedding portrait by Poulsen Studios (c.1920s)” by pellethepoet is licensed under CC BY 2.0


Endlessly stylish, even now. If you want a 1920’s influence for your wedding, keep an eye out for bridesmaid dresses with a dropped waist, that’s figure skimming, and nice mid-calf skirt length is perfect (with those adorable buckled heels).

1930’s bridesmaid dresses

As those flapper styles went out of fashion, Little Bo Peep dresses with full skirts, tiny waistlines, and cute bonnets were the go-to. Frills and flounces were in fashion. It seems like after periods of shortages and simplicity, fashion goes totally the opposite afterwards, almost celebrating the ease of obtaining fabrics and the return of wealth.

1940’s bridesmaid dresses

The aftermath of the great depression meant some serious budget-trimming. Dresses lost their frills and took on a glamour from simplicity. Also, skirt-and-jacket sets rather than dresses were eminently wearable again.

As the world economy recovered, dresses with frills returned, and gorgeous feminine silhouettes were encouraged.

1950’s bridesmaids dresses

Full skirts, sweetheart necklines, cap sleeves, and colour all feature heavily. Tulle and tea-length skirts were a thing, along with gloves and daring heels.

If you want a 1950’s flair for your wedding, tea length full skirts, those cure capped sleeves, gloves, sweet pastel colours and a trim waistline will all contribute to the look.

1960’s bridesmaid dresses

Modern lines, shorter skirts, and sleeveless dresses took off in popularity. Colours really started to take centre stage, with bright pinks, greens and blues becoming the fashion. Hats were still in style, with cute pillbox styles or netted fascinators being common.

1970’s bridesmaid dresses

The boho chic look was born, with hippies everywhere adding tudor sleeves, flower crowns, and flowing dresses. This 1970’s look is simple to replicate, keep gown lines simple and loose, and pair flowing maxi gowns with wavy, loose hair and a free spirit. While wild patterns and browns and oranges were the go-to, almost any colours work now.

To offset this, the overly-fussy tiered fluffy gowns with matching broad-brimmed hats became popular, although probably not with the bridesmaids themselves.

1980’s bridesmaid dresses

Puffy sleeves. Taffeta. Wild colours. Pink. This is the look we love to be horrified by, with touches of the lace and silk that Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and other fashion icons wore at the time. Inspired by Princess Diana’s wedding, those frills and flounces were big and bold. While we’ve consigned most 1980’s style to the past, frills can look amazing and feminine.

“The Wedding Of Prince Charles & Princess Diana, Sovereign Series Royal Wedding 1981, No. 37 The Bride & Groom, Bridesmaids, Pages, Published By Prescott-Pickup & Co. Ltd, Made In England” by France1978 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

“Angela Vencill(1990) and bridesmaids in 1992-Jennifer York Reeves, Angela Hall, Cecelia Clouse Thompson and Melinda Michael Warthman.” by Northridge Alumni Bear Facts is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

1990’s bridesmaid dresses

Simple dresses, minimalistic in style, often in crushed velvet in navy or deep reds seemed to dominate the 1990’s. Gloves made a comeback too, although hats had now disappeared from fashion. We bid adieu to puffy sleeves and lace and welcomed sleek, slimming gowns

“Cousin Misi’s wedding (Circa 1998)” by *fotu is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

2000’s bridesmaid dresses

Strapless gowns were in style, in a big way. Then, empire line gowns and beading. Then tiny spaghetti straps. No Doubt, Jennifer Aniston, chokers, satin, grunge looks and ‘The Rachel Cut’ all dominated the 1990’s. Another swing in fashion, from the huge ‘looks’ of the 1980’s to the more simple times of the 1990’s.

“Bride and Bridesmaids” by anthrovik is licensed under CC BY 2.0

2020 bridesmaid styles and beyond

There are no rules any more. Mix and match, colours galore, a huge range of styles to choose from, and it’s up to the bride and her bridesmaids to make choices. There is a push towards easy-to-wear styles in chiffon, as it’s a forgiving, gentle fabric. There’s more personalisation than ever before, with a huge range of colours, and some brides even opting for the classic little black dress for their bridal party.

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