Pogey bait

The 10 most iconic wedding dresses ever

#10 is one of three iconic 50’s wedding dresses to feature on the list.  Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy wasn’t yet an international style icon when she married on September 12, 1953, but her stunning frock by dressmaker Anne Lowe is still a statement of class, taste, and timeless embellishment that references design details seen on wedding gowns of the 1860s-1880s, while still being iconically 1950s.

Jackie Kennedy's wedding dress

#9 is a wedding dress with a difference. Mia Farrow’s suit for her July 19, 1966 marriage to Frank Sinatra was clean, modern and fun, the epitome of 60s mod and the total antithesis of the 1950s ballgown wedding dresses.

Mia Farrow and Frank Sinatra cut the cake

At #8 is the daughter-in-law to #10’s style icon. All eyes were on Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy when she married on September 21 1996, and her strikingly simple and sexy bias cut Narcisco Rodriguez gown was a breath of fresh air after the poofy romance of 1980s wedding dresses.

Carolyn and John Jr

#7 is the only dress on the list that wasn’t actually worn for a wedding, but it is the dress that started the trend for tea length wedding dresses.  Audrey Hepburn’s wedding dress in 1957’s Funny Face marks the apex of her collaboration with Givenchy, and is the style for which she is most known.

Audrey Hepburn in Givenchy in Funny Face, 1957

Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face

#6 is a slight cheat.  It’s one of the earliest short wedding dresses, an innovation that scholars of Chanel and Poiret both claim wad developed by their favoured designer around 1925.

Wedding dress, Poiret, 1925, Metropolitan Museum of Art

#5 is a wedding dress almost as influential as Queen Victoria’s wedding dress, that worn by her daughter, Victoria, Princess Royal.  In 1857 she married Prince Frederick William of Prussia in the Chapel Royal in London.  Her mother’s dress gave us a tradition for white dresses, and myrtle.  Princess Victoria’s dress and wedding gave us the traditions of trained gowns and of matching bridesmaids, as well as Mendelssohn’s wedding march.

Victoria, Princess Royal (1840 - 1901), eldest daughter of Queen Victoria, marries Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia (1831 - 1888) in the Chapel of St. James Palace, London, 25th January 1858. The bride's parents, Queen Victoria (1819 - 1901) and Prince Albert (1819 - 1861) can be seen, centre, right. Engraving after a painting by Phillips (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Crown Princess Victoria in her wedding dress

Crown Princess Victoria on her wedding day

#4 on the list is another princess’s wedding dress: Grace Kelly’s sublimely modest and sublimely sumptuous 1956 dress worn for her marriage on April 19 and designed by a Hollywood costume designer, Helen Rose.

Grace Kelly's 1956 Helen Rose designed wedding dress

Princess Grace and Prince Rainier on their wedding day

At #3, the one that started it all (white, lace, veils, bridesmaids, etc), and which I will blog about tomorrow,  Queen Victoria’s Feb 10 1840 wedding dress:

Queen Victoria's wedding dress

Almost there, the #2 most iconic wedding dress ever, Wallis Simpson’s famous “Wallis blue” Mainboucher dress (the blue has faded because of dye instability) was sublimely chic, and sublimely proper:

Wedding dress worn by Wallis Simpson, Mainboucher, 1937, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Wallis Simpson and Edward VI on their wedding day

And finally, #1, the most iconic wedding dress ever, Diana’s 1981 romantic extravaganza by David and Elizabeth Emanuel worn on her July 29th wedding.  Like it or not, there is no denying how influential and memorable it was.

Diana's wedding dress, along with a flower girl dress

 

38 Comments

  1. Could you please post a link to your post about Queen Victoria’s wedding dress? I see a “What’s With All the Megs” and then a post about Kate and William’s wedding, but nothing about Queen Victoria.
    Could be a Blogger thing: last week I saw no new posts at all, then 4 of different dates on one day.
    On to important things. There’s just something about those dresses from the 50s that I really like. Audrey’s dress is especially appealing, but Grace Kelly looks the epitome of brides. Jackie’s dress- WOW. All that ruching should make it fussy, but it’s just elegant and beautiful.
    I’m not thrilled with Carolyn Besset’s dress. I thought at the time and still think that it looks like she just showed up at the church in her satin nightgown. She has the figure to pull that look off, though, and I bet she was very comfortable throughout the festivities. Nothing like lugging 35 pounds of dress around to make a bride cranky.

  2. I always hated the sleeves on Princess Di’s dress. I agree with the rest of your opinions here, though. Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy’s dress is a special favorite of mine.

    • My problem with Di’s dress is that it didn’t fit properly. If you look at photographs of her in it, it bunches oddly all around her middle. I can forgive a lot of things that aren’t to my taste, but a bad fit is inexcusable!

      • Adela says

        On the nose there. The fit was awful; she was drowning in that gown and to choose fabrics that hold the slightest wrinkle made her looked like crumpled tissue as soon as she stepped out of the carriage. The dress might have worked on someone who could fill it out as it were.
        Some of the design elements are very classic Romantic/Early Victorian but it look like it was thrown together by someone who while wanting those historical elements had no understanding of historical dresses; that the scaled down bridesmaid version works and looks fine says a lot.

        • EEWW! It’s awful. Waistline too high and really needing a deep V to make it balance, sleeves not only too big but cut in too far at the shoulder, bodice ill fitting, train so long it seemed out of proportion, and yup, made of silk that crumpled on sight. HATED IT. It didn’t live up to being seen from a distance either, which is a huge crime against designing for the conditions. Just realised how many elements it had in common with QV’s dress though, and how in that case they all worked.
          I hate the bridesmaids dresses too, they too seemed to be badly cut, with bodices too tight for girls just budding into womanhood, making them look like they had grown out of them. I will NEVER understand how the Emmanuels were allowed to get away with it and weren’t made to languish in the Tower of London on bread and water for this act of treason.
          It’s no use blaming ’80’s fashion either, I was there and cogent and we were all pretty underwhelmed by it. The only good thing to come of it is the nubmer of truly beautiful gowns designed using the elements but interpreting them in a much better proportioned, edited, intelligent way over the following years.

          • Telia says

            i agree. i recently read an article on the maker of her dress, and she was just twenty, with very little experience in dressmaking when she made the dress. while undeniably iconic, i really dont think it was the right choice.

  3. Elise says

    Well, for my part, I’ve always loved 1920s midieval-inspired fashion. and I always loved Caroline Basset’s dress. It’s so simple, and I loved the cut of it. I think what made it so fabulous was that so much time was taken with the cut: knock-off bias dresses look terrible, but she looked beautiful!

    Of course, my own wedding dress had tons and tons of piecing, so I’m not entirely smitten by the simple simple.

    I never noticed that Grace Kelly’s dress had a tummy pouf, and somehow, she still looked so…graceful!

      • I don’t know! The Met doesn’t make a note of it. I think that the Kyoto Costume institute holds the dress that they claim is the one that set off the whole short/long trend (it’s a Chanel), but I couldn’t find an image of it, and of course, they are going to claim that their dress was the most influential/iconic!

  4. The Funny Face dress – I love it. One of my favourites of all time and I don’t really tend to like white wedding dresses (or ‘wedding dresses’ in general). I think I particularly love that the veil has become a kind of hood and looks quite divine – and I’m definitely not into veils, but that is just divine.

    Crown Princess Victoria. Wow. That’s a lot of dress!!!! So much going on. And the bodice of Grace Kelly’s dress is lovely – though I’m slightly envious: it’s so annoying that clothes tend to look so much nicer and neater on small chests. *sigh*

      • Yes, good point!! Damn those medium-ers! If only we could combine forces of large and small and end up all being medium.

        • Elise says

          Can I tell you ladies something awful? I had the worst time finding underpinnings for my wedding dress! If only we could have joined forces–it would have made shopping so much easier!

  5. I won’t disagree that Diana’s dress is the most iconic, but it is definitely my least favorite of the 10. The Queen Victoria dress also has poofy sleeves and a large skirt, but I find the Victoria dress to be quite pretty where I find Diana’s dress to be sort of frumpy. I suppose it mostly has to do with fit and proportion.

    Also, I really like the Jackie, Audry, and Grace dresses. I would normally think the Jackie dress would have been too much, but it is so tastefully done in just the right proportions. The length on the Audry dress probably wouldn’t work on many people but it looks so great one her (although I am more partial to the red dress she wears in that movie…. such a wow moment). And normally I really don’t care for full length lace sleeves in a wedding dress, but the Grace Kelly dress looks so delicate and pretty. I like both of the Victoria dresses too. The other ones… I can see why they are iconic, and I think I appreciate them for the history and impact on style/fashion of the times, but they just don’t excite me in an oooo wow pretty dress-love sort of way.

  6. As a recent immigrant preparing for marriage, I literally had nothing better to do before my wedding than hand-sew silk and watch Funny Face on repeat- you can see the influence in my wedding dress…

    Would you say that the Cult of Bride is a recent construct, beginning with Victoria? Funny how so many of the things which we consider socially acceptable came from her… I ask because I noticed with two exceptions, your dresses of note are 20th cent… As it should be, of course, but I love how you pull out obscure clothes from shadowy times and tell us all about them. Not a criticism, just interested…

    • Steph! You need to post a picture of you in your wedding dress on your blog. I went and hunted for one and couldn’t find it. If it’s there, do post about it? 🙂

    • Well, I was going for iconic in this case, and iconic is a construct defined by the time you are in, so you can’t pull out obscure ones! I don’t know if cult of the bride so much began with Victoria, as that the other elements of the Victorian age enabled it: fast transport, ease of communication, quick transmission of images. All these enable the world to see and discuss notable weddings and brides, and remember and preserve them for later discussion. We only remember these dresses because there are images of them, and these images continue. There is also the time thing – the further we get from something, the less important it seems. And I could talk about conspicuous consumption, and globalisation, and quick changing fashion trends…and write a whole weeks worth of posts on this (or a whole book!)

  7. I love wedding dresses, especially when I made them a long time ago or didn’t have to make them at all, just not keen on any yet to be made on my horizon! 🙂 I love Grace Kelly’s and ahve made a couple of adaptations of it – modern brides generally don’t like the skirt shape but adore the bodice.
    Two dresses I utterly adore are Princess Margaret’s and Maria’s from The Sound of Music. Both so elegantly plain, with that fab big skirted 1950’s thang. I love 1950’s wedding dresses, I think they are the epitome of stoile!

    • Agreed on 1950s wedding dresses!!! They really knew how to do pretty, elegant, lovely, flattering … Well, they just knew how to do it all!

  8. Kay Morgan says

    I think you made a very good selection of the most iconic wedding dresses in western popular culture, congratulations. I am partial to Queen Victoria’s as it shows elements from both the fashion from the 1840s and the 1850s to great effect.

    Personally, I find that the most ageless royal wedding dress I’ve ever seen is Catherine The Great of Russias’s wedding gown:
    http://www.pbase.com/image/49272638
    http://www.gettyimages.es/detail/51900925/Hulton-Archive

    Keep up the fantastic posts! Cheers!

  9. Have you seen Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden’s wedding gown from last year?

    I died.

    It was beautiful.

    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-3kyUfDXZRBo/TVUV0G5pZZI/AAAAAAAAFP4/9cUK6YT4alY/s1600/Princess.Vic.Swe.jpg

    http://crownprincessvictoria.blogspot.com/2010/06/crown-princess-victoria-wedding-dress.html

    If I remember correctly, the tiara and matching jewelry were gifted to Empress Josephine by Napoleon and the lace veil was worn during a mid-19th century Swedish royal wedding. She looked so sophisticated and beautiful. I really think Kate is going to have a hard time comparing to Victoria…

    • I’m sorry. I do not like it :-S If it was a rate the dress I would give it a 3. The cut manages to make the fabric look cheap, the fit on the bust was awkward, the neckline roll is bulky, and her hair is too scraped back and severe. And the overall impression is of too much plain fabric – which can look very classic and simple if done right, but didn’t work for me in this case.

      Sorry! That is the nice thing about fashions though – we don’t all like the same thing, so we don’t all wear the same thing, and that’s what makes life interesting.

  10. #7 was the inspiration for my wedding dress. Only I fell down a staircase a couple of weeks before the wedding and sprained my foot so badly that I couldn’t wear heel, but had to but flat slippers. NOT becoming to that length of dress.

    If I ever re-marry I shall wear green. My Mum and grandmother did and both have/had long and happy marriages. I wore white and see where that got me. 😉

  11. Wedding fan says

    I can’t believe not one of Elizabeth Taylor’s wedding dresses were featured. She must have had at least one great dress, no?

  12. Finally, a place for my comments on poor Princess Diana’s wedding dress. I was among the millions watching back in the day, Diana was only a few months older than me. I simply could not believe it when she emerged in that ill-fitting, poofy, wrinkled get-up. All I could think was…OMG MARTHA WASHINGTON LIVES! And it looked like she’d possibly dug it out of her older (larger) sister’s closet. Diana was a pretty girl and grew into a beautiful woman with style, but the evolution took years. The frocks she wore when she was pregnant? The polka dots? Horrors. In contrast, Grace Kelly’s dress, the Hepburn dress, Jackie Kennedy’s dress, Simpson’s dress…fit, Fit, FIT! It’s ALL about the fit! Thankfully, Middleton clearly knows this as evidenced by her engagement dresses which are PERFECTLY fitted. I predict Kate’s dress will be close fitting, elegant, and lace, and I’m hopeful she will buck the by now tiresome trend of “strapless and an up-do”. (And she almost certainly will.) Seriously, it’s a beautiful look, but it is NOT best for EVERYBODY. I am SO sick of years of cookie-cutter American brides all: “strapless with an up-do”. Yawn. (Was JSimp responsible?) Sorry this comment is so long. Clearly I needed to vent.

    • You hate that “strapless with an updo” thing, too – and, might I add, no veil? Yuck. And no train either. Bring back sleeves, trains, and veils!

  13. Wow, Jackie’s dress is amazing. I would have worn that when I got married a few years ago with absolutely no changes!

    As for Princess Di’s dress, I’d say the biggest problem wasn’t actually with the dress (though it is not my style at all). In between the time the dress was commissioned and the actual wedding she developed Bulimia and dropped 4 dress sizes. It’s no wonder it didn’t fit right. She just kept losing weight and there was nothing much they could do about it. So the dress, though iconic, didn’t fit very well. (This was in the Wikipedia article about Princess Di’s dress). It had the same kind of lacework as Kate Middleton’s dress, but with a completley different end look. I think Kates dress will end up being on this type of list for the rest of eternity. It was amazingly beautiful, elegant and classy, fit for a queen.

    • I know that Diana dropped a LOT of weight in the lead up to her wedding, but I still maintain that a decent dressmaker should take these things into account and take the dress in properly!

  14. Anita says

    With a few alterations to Di’s dress I think she would have looked better. As for the sleeves, maybe those were the thing back in the late 70’s -80’s.

  15. Totally HATED Diana’s dress, on site. I couldn’t figure out for years why, then I realized…it looked like a nightgown. One of the worst I’ve ever seen. I read in the mid-1990s that even she cringed whenever she saw it later on.

  16. C in Texas says

    In reading your blog, I’ve truly seen just how much Princess Diana’s wedding dress was influenced by Queen Victoria’s wedding dress, especially those poofy sleeves with bows on top and gathering at the elbows before poofing out again below the elbow. Yikes.

    I’ve ALWAYS loved Jackie’s wedding dress…from the moment I first saw pictures of it. And Princess Grace’s dress was everything a royal wedding gown should be: breathtaking, classy, tasteful, elegant. Wow! Even Grace’s headpiece was outstanding! And she wore it all SO well!

    Since we’re on the subject, I am absolutely sick, fed up, and DONE with strapless wedding dresses! And I’ve felt that way for YEARS! Finding a dress with sleeves was nearly impossible. Thank you, Kate, for hopefully bringing back sleeves!

  17. Anika says

    I’m writing a paper on the history of a wedding dress and I want to use some of the information on your website. Could you email me a works cited list of the sources you used to find your information?

    • Hi Anika,

      This article is an opinion piece, not a research article, so (as a university professor myself) I would not find it an appropriate source to cite. Any article on this site which I would deem suitable already has a source list.

  18. Dubai Promoter says

    I adore Wallis Simpson’s dress. I’d like to wear similar one on my own wedding!

  19. Harriette says

    i really adore Princess Grace Wedding gown!! i want to wear that kind of dress in my wedding :))

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