These original vintage wedding photos are mostly from my
family from 1939 to 1948. They show how some people in 1940's Great Britain
still managed to have a white wedding in the face of rationing. Later as
rationing seemed never ending, women chose to spend their coupons
on garments that would be more useful after the wedding day. Men often
married in their service uniform and women frequently dressed in similar style
suits with a military air. These photos are compared to one unknown
These photographs should not be downloaded or used without
permission from Fashion-era.com.
Lorraine and Evan married in November 1939 in South Wales, just 2 months after the start of World War II. Lorraine's dress cost one guinea from Etams and was made of white satin.
Her hip-length scalloped veil was a Cornelli and ribbon embroidered net square, the size of a large headscarf. It was later used in christening ceremonies.
didn't need clothing coupons to buy the wedding dress as the CC41
coupons restrictions were not introduced until June
1941. Her veil is interesting since in the 1930s
veil fashions could also be short styles. Further down this page,
just a few years later, note how the same style of veil has become a bit
With the start of war so close, it meant that the church
wedding was arranged on the basis of the Church being available that day. The couple had courted for some years and
were already engaged, so they made a decision to get married sooner rather
The Second World War was at the forefront of everyone's thoughts. This wedding was held after an armistice
remembrance ceremony on the actual Armistice date, November 11, in
1939, that was a Saturday. Whilst this did give a sombre outlook to the day
in the face of war, people were probably delighted to celebrate the
optimism of marriage against the destruction of war. Lorraine had
lost two uncles in the Battle of the Somme in the Great War, and her grandfather had died
of despair and grief at the loss of two of his many sons. There
were few at the wedding who had not been touched by the First World War.
'Seize the day' became a phrase for a generation.
Because of the Armistice service, Lorraine told me the
church was full of flowers for the occasion. After the wedding, family and friends enjoyed a
celebration meal at the parental house. This seems to have
consisted of home cooked ham with salads and trifle. In the evening a crowd went to
the local pub for a few drinks and a sing song. There was no fancy honeymoon as money was short,
hence Lorraine's delight at the unexpected abundant floral decorations
in the church.
After the wedding they simply got on with their lives.
The bridesmaids wore purple velvet
dresses and matching muffs. Deft with a needle, Lorraine made the bridesmaid's headdresses herself. Interestingly, the photograph was taken in a studio one week after the wedding ceremony
when they realised it would be nice to have a formal record of the event.
Lorraine's fashion style of wedding dress above has a modest short V shape
neckline with the bust and waistline
emphasised by soft shoulder gathers. You can also see gathers tapering to a fitted waist panel.
The satin dress also had tiny covered buttons. Lorraine wore white gloves, which would have been considered good form for a church wedding.
Lorraine's wedding dress had Gibson sleeves like the drawing, and they
are shown more clearly in the old photograph of her sister right.
By 1939/40 excess sleeve head fullness
seen in the early thirties had waned.
So these sleeves were a refined Gibson style,
a fashion style sleeve named after Gibson Girls and which is a narrow leg of mutton sleeve
shape, but with much reduced sleeve head fullness. The lower part of the
sleeve narrows, but often has a shirred look. You can see the sleeve
shape in this photo of sister Florrie wearing the same dress and veil.
It is clear this style of dress was fashionable for the fashion-era from
Lorraine told me the sleeves
to her wedding gown had wrist point features. They were point sleeves, often a
design element used
when a dress also has a V-neckline. Many brides then and now have
worn full length wedding sleeves which might be finished with a wrist
point. The point sleeve draws attention to the hands, elongating the
hand and brings focus to the wedding ring.
Pointed bridal sleeves
are sometime extra long and kept taut in a V-point shape by means of a
loop, which slips onto the middle finger. Sometimes the sleeves
are made of sheer fabrics or lace fabrics which often finish with the
scallop of the lace.
- Florence, Lorraine's sister in 1942 with her new husband
Tom, a seaman.
Lorraine's sister wore the altered wedding dress and the exact same veil a few years later in 1942, remember this was a time when rationing had begun to dig in.
"Make do and mend" was a philosophy
to be taken
The dress was worn for a third time by another bride and
then later Lorraine made the dress into much
needed new petticoats and underwear.
As with many weddings of servicemen this wedding took
place a day later than expected. Tom took longer to get home and Florrie
was not even sure he would arrive for the event! There had
been several dates set which never materialised because Tom's shore leave was
After a whip around among relatives for offerings of rations, a
chocolate coated cake had been made. But Tom was a few weeks past
his first arrival date and the family were worried the inside of the
cake might be past its best once cut, or worse mouldy!
Even when Tom did arrive he was still a day
late and the wedding took place on a Sunday.
Neither of us knows who the people are in this British
wedding, but Patrick wrote to me :-
'The photo is of a British Army wedding, I THINK a tanker,
c.1941-3. The beret appears to be black (meaning a member of an armoured
unit), but I don't recognize the collar dogs. He is wearing P37
When attempting to date old photographs elements like
service uniforms, or youthful hairstyles can provide clues that can help
I think Patrick is correct about the time frame.
When clothes are in short supply the one thing a woman can do to make
herself look different, is vary her hairstyle. Thus to keep morale high
women were bombarded with new ideas to make their hair look different.
a close look at Florrie's hair again in this picture alongside the unknown
bride. Both have unusual rolls of hair, which almost look like rollers
have been carefully removed and the roll shape maintained. The brides could have achieved this style by holding the locks of hair
in place with a flat Kirby hair grip.
Several factors lead me to estimate this vintage
photograph as being 1943. Note the slightly later neckline on the
unknown bride's dress. This is the first stage of a scallop/ sweetheart
variation. Observe the embroidery similarity and increased length of her veil
compared to Lorraine's hip length
veil above. Note the smaller hat
styles the female guests wear, and it's not hard to deduce the
most likely timeframe is 1943/44. Since Patrick also mentioned
1943, this is the date I have given to the photo.
Phyllis and John married in 1947. Phyllis's
wedding dress follows similar lines
of the Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress and has a sweetheart neckline
and "A" line skirt and tiara with long net veil.
The dress pattern shown far right is from 1947 and clearly shows the
defined sweetheart neckline with an almost scallop like quality.
In these pictures there appear to be 2 sets of
bridesmaids. I am endeavouring to find out if they were different dresses
for reasons of economy or reuse of previously worn dresses. However the
guests do appear to be affluent enough to afford fur jackets.
John and Violet also married in 1947 and below them is a picture of one
of the adult bridesmaids. Click the thumbnail and you will see that none
of the dresses actually match fully apart from those of the children.
The dress below has a padded hem. None of the others do.
This was "make do and mend" at its height
as rationing continued well after the war.
The enlarged picture will also reveal close
up detail of the female guest on the left wearing a large Gainsborough
style hat and wide supported shoulders on a par with those seen in the
power dressed 1980s. See this
1947 wedding in detail
Children were made very welcome at weddings
in the 1940s as any celebration was inclusive rather than exclusive.
Sylvia, Lorraine's younger sister as the Matron of Honour, 1947.
the bridesmaid above right, wore a smart new coat to her civil wedding ceremony in 1942
fashionable hat. She was 17 at the time of the wedding - life was too
short to wait around planning the event.
Her edge to edge coat strictly follows
Utility clothing rules, but manages to be very smart in a classic simple
way. You could wear this item today it's so classic in cut.
Alan and Elgiva met after the war. They were married in St. Hilary Church in
Elgiva chose an exceptionally fashionable,
longer length, French beige, fine wool crepe, "New Look" dress and matching
jacket from the exclusive Madame shop of Potter Gilmore in St. Mary
Like Sylvia's outfit above, this is still
amazingly classic, and in the right circumstances could be worn today.
Elgiva and Alan celebrated their Diamond Wedding anniversary of 60 years
happy marriage in June 2008.
No page on 1940's wedding
dresses would be complete without a picture of the young Princess Elizabeth
who later became Her Majesty The Queen, with Prince Philip on their wedding day in 1947.
Read more about 1940s
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