A Century of Weddings: The 1950s
A Century Of Weddings: The 1950s
The 1950s are considered an era of innocence, optimism, and change—as people settled into post-war prosperity, the desire to have a family and celebrate life was stronger than ever. Couples marked their weddings with extravagant affairs, punctuated by doo-wop music and dazzlingly detailed outfits. The world transformed with the invention of television, which ushered in a new era of personal style that didn’t conform to a single aesthetic. Let’s take a closer look at the wedding trends of the decade!
You're formally invited:
The wartime trend of hasty courtships and last-minute weddings faded in the 50s. War was over and it was time to celebrate! Weddings became lavish, formal affairs; couples held regal ceremonies in places of worship, usually followed by a reception in someone’s home or a fancy ballroom.
Takes the cake:
The trend in 50s wedding cakes? The more details and flavors, the better! When the end of the war brought the end of food rationing, couples took their cakes to new heights. Multi-tiered fruitcakes became popular, usually covered in white icing and finished with a (now iconic) bride and groom cake topper.
Up my (short) sleeve:
Frills, lace, and details, oh my! The wedding gowns of the 1950s were as detailed as the cakes, often featuring tiers of ruffles and lace paired with tulle and elaborate embellishments. Brides flocked to soft ballgown silhouettes with short sleeves that could be layered with boleros, jackets, or even detachable sleeves! Hemlines came up as full, tea-length skirts started trending. One of the most popular necklines was a sweetheart style with sheer lace or illusion tulle for extra modesty.
Blast from the past:
Heirloom accessories reigned supreme for brides, who would often wear a veil passed down from their mother or grandmother along with vintage jewelry, like a pearl necklace or brooch. When it came to veils, the bigger the better! Bursts of tulle matched the frothy gowns and were often topped with flowers or a birdcage.
Hair & Makeup
Coiffed & curled:
Cue “Beauty School Dropout” and pop in the curlers! Short, perfectly curled hairstyles were a signature style of the 50s, typically pulled back into a ponytail. In addition to this “poodle cut,” women also favored soft, shaggy pixies, sometimes accented with baby bangs. Hollywood’s leading ladies often sported long, soft curls, usually swept to one side.
Soft “bedroom eye” makeup and red lips dominated movie screens and trickled down into everyday fashion. Gone were the days of pencil-thin brows as the 1950s ushered in an era of arched, natural brows. Lipstick was an integral part of your makeup routine, with some cosmetic companies even releasing coordinating nail polish and lipstick lines. A chemist named Hazel Bishop also released the first long-lasting lipstick that was “kiss-proof!” Early versions of the modern mascara wand were introduced, making it easier than ever to incorporate makeup into your everyday style.
Rock & roll:
Turn up the jukebox and get ready to hand jive! Rock ‘n’ roll swept the nation as teens danced along to the sounds of Sam Cooke, James Brown, and Elvis Presley. Doo-wop and jazz were prominent genres as well, featuring singers like The Flamingos, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday.
The growing popularity of television gave Hollywood a new challenge as families flocked to their living room screens. Game shows and comedy exploded with iconic programs like The Price Is Right and What’s My Line?. For movie lovers, drive-in theaters were the ultimate date spot! Films like Rebel Without a Cause (1955) captured the darker side of the decade, while Disney classics like Cinderella (1950) and Sleeping Beauty (1959) continued to prosper.
Jackie Kennedy & JFK:
The future President and First Lady married in 1953, with the bride sporting an ivory silk gown covered in flowers and ruffles, plus an heirloom veil and jewelry. Designer Ann Lowe rushed to recreate the gown after the original was lost during a flood in her workshop shortly before the wedding. While she never received credit during her lifetime for the gown, Lowe’s design remains an iconic piece of bridal fashion.
Coretta Scott King & Martin Luther King, JR:
The civil rights leaders married in 1953 at Coretta’s mother’s home in Alabama. The bride wore an A-line gown with classic 50s details: a lace and tulle bodice, big tulle veil, and sheer, fingerless gloves. (Fun fact: Coretta changed her vows to remove the word “obey,” solidifying herself as an equal partner to her husband.)
Janet Leigh & Tony Curtis:
The Hollywood power couple married in 1951 in a surprisingly low-key ceremony where they used their real names (Bernard Schwartz and Jeanette Morrison Reames!). The bride wore a short-sleeved gingham shirtwaist dress topped off with an embellished bridal cap. While their marriage didn’t last, they had two daughters who followed in their acting footsteps!