A Century of Weddings: The 1940s
A Century Of Weddings: The 1940s
The 1940s were a transformative decade defined by war, inventions, and iconic pop culture moments. Quick weddings followed by lively receptions became commonplace, and brides got crafty with their style due to rationing and short engagements. Pin-up girls and glamourous celebrities influenced hair and makeup trends, while women made strides in the workplace. Let’s take a closer look at the wedding trends of the decade!
During World War II, fast-paced weddings became the norm. Servicemen and women were at the mercy of their commanding officers and often would marry in quick ceremonies at city hall before shipping out to their posts. (In 1942, there were nearly 2 million weddings in the U.S. alone!) Vogue described the typical wartime wedding timeline as “engagement announcement on Monday, invitations sent out by telegraph on Wednesday, the last handful of rice and rose petals flung on Saturday.”
Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend:
While diamond engagement rings became a trending accessory, wedding bands for men also grew in popularity. Soldiers fighting overseas would wear them as a comforting reminder of their families back home.
Renting & Rationing:
Wartime rationing and financial struggles meant brides looked for wedding dress alternatives on their big day. U.K retailer Moss Bros. expanded their rental services from men’s suits to include bridal gowns. (It was also common for groups of friends to share one wedding dress!)
Dress The Part:
With most fabrics rationed, gowns were usually crafted from affordable materials like rayon. Other options included your best outfit (please note Ava Gardner’s charcoal skirt suit during her 1942 wedding!). Trends from the previous decade carried over as brides gravitated to modest details and feminine silhouettes. Padded hips, long sleeves, and basque waistlines reigned supreme in post-war gowns (some made from leftover silk parachutes!).
Since 40s gowns were often simple, more emphasis was put on accessories. Even in times of austerity, brides found ways to personalize their looks—some repurposed lace curtains for veils! Big, blooming bouquets were a sought-after finishing detail, along with chic pearl necklaces and other heirloom jewelry. Long sleeves were trending, so many brides paired a jacket or long gloves with a short-sleeved look when fabric was hard to find.
Hair & Makeup
Hair We Go:
The best way to describe hair in the 1940s? Volume, curls, and impeccable styling. Shorter, shoulder length styles ruled the beginning of the era, but Hollywood starlets inspired longer, bouffant hairstyles by decade’s end. Between victory rolls, tight curls, and pompadours, it was easy to find your signature look. (Fun fact: as more women entered the workforce, factories started to add in-house beauty salons, as hair was a hugely important part of personal style!)
Our lips are sealed:
Cosmetic shortages meant DIY makeup and more natural styling. Arched brows, neutral shadow, and mascara created a wholesome look compared to the dramatic trends of previous eras. The essential product for straight-from-the-40s style? Lipstick! Swiping on a vibrant and patriotic red lip was key for every makeup look.
With speedy ceremonies becoming the norm, it was all about the reception—lively dancing and big band music were essential for a memorable celebration. Swing dances were all the rage, with the jitterbug being the most popular!
The “Golden Age of Hollywood” continued with the rise of film noir. Films like Casablanca (1942) and Citizen Kane (1941) swept audiences into a world of crime, romance, and mystery. Family-friendly movies also gained popularity; people flocked to theaters to escape from the real world with Disney originals like Bambi (1940) and Fantasia (1940).
Maria Cole & Nat King Cole:
Jazz legends Nat King Cole and Maria Cole married in Harlem in 1948; the bride wore a blue off-the-shoulder satin gown and tiara, a dramatic look to match the drama of their 5-tier cake! They had 5 children (including singer Natalie Cole!) and were together for nearly 20 years—a love story that’s music to our ears.
Gloria Vanderbilt & Pat Dicicco:
The enigmatic socialite (and mom of Anderson Cooper!) married her first husband in 1941 wearing a satin gown with cap sleeves and a sweetheart neckline. Her natural makeup and a chic pearl necklace captured the essence of classic 40s style.