Wedding Belles

A century of bridal dress in Vogue

By Condé Nast Archive

By Laird Borrelli-Persson

Audrey Marnay in a Jean Paul Gaultier Wedding Dress, Vogue (1999-03-01) by Arthur ElgortCondé Nast Archive

Weddings are festive occasions that now, happily—and legally, in the USA—include same-sex couples. Though these celebrations—rehearsal dinner, ceremony, reception—have changed very little over time, a lavish, OTT element is increasingly common, at least among celebrities and royals. (When Kim Kardashian and Kanye West married in 2014, the bride had multiple outfit changes, Lana Del Rey performed, and the venue was a 16th-century fortress in Florence, Italy. It was, after all, called the “wedding of the century.”)

Lisa Fonssagrives in a Wedding Dress and Veil, Vogue (1940-10-01) by John RawlingsCondé Nast Archive

Bridal fashions have definitely not remained static (despite designers frequent evocation of Grace Kelly’s dreamy gown). In the 2010s the world was introduced to at least two new types of brides. One of these, is, like Lady Godiva, little bothered by modesty. The sexy bride is hot and she knows it. This women likes a gown that clings to her curves. Its embellishments-often as elaborately wrought as those of a Faberge egg—are strategically placed, like fig leaves once were, upon ethereal, and generally semi sheer,  materials.

Ines de la Fressange's Wedding, Vogue (1990-09-01) by Guy MarineauCondé Nast Archive

The “alternative” bride, in contrast, might opt for a wedding suit, or decide to scan ready-to-wear racks for a dress that wasn’t designed for wedding, but is aisle-ready just the same.

Model in Bridal Tatiana, Vogue (1957-07-01) by Irving PennCondé Nast Archive

These are new developments in the bridal space; nothing of the kind is to be found in back issues of Vogue, which once devoted issues to all things nuptial.

Wedding Portrait of Maria del Carmen Martinez-Bordiu, Vogue (1972-05-01) by Raymundo de LarrainCondé Nast Archive

In addition to illustrating the latest bridal fashions, the magazine also reported on the weddings of the upper crust, royalty, and celebrities.

Dina Mori in Bridal Headdress, Vogue (1956-07-01) by Irving PennCondé Nast Archive

There’s often a fairytale aspect to a wedding--the idea of the “princess bride” is still very much alive--and some of the most romantic bridal fashion in the magazine was shot in the 1920s and 1930s in black and white.

Natica Nast in a Wedding Veil, Vogue (1920-01-15) by Adolph de MeyerCondé Nast Archive

An example of this is  “Spring Wedding-Bells in Harmonies of Tulle and Lace and Dainty Orange Blossoms,” a story photographed by Baron De Meyer for the January 15, 1920 issue, which has an interesting backstory, related in Caroline Seebohm’s biography of Condé Nast.

Model in Jacques Griffe Wedding Dress, Vogue (1955-06-01) by Karen RadkaiCondé Nast Archive

The publisher’s elegant and creative first wife, née Clarisse Onativia Coudert, was involved with shoot and, writes Seebohm,  “used her fifteen-year-old daughter [Natica] to model wedding veils, arguing that no professional model looked innocent enough to create the right virginal effect.”

Shown seated and in profile, the slender teen in what Vogue described as her “veil arrangement from Thurn [an upscale importer and designer house based in New York]” and the “wedding flowers...tied in a bouquet her great-grandmother might have carried,” indeed looked angelic.

A lot of this had to do with the worldly De Meyer’s incredible talent for lighting, which was especially effective with the tulle headdress. The dress added to the effect as well.

Model Wearing a Herman Patrick Tappé Wedding Dress, Vogue (1940-06-01) by Horst P. HorstCondé Nast Archive

This confection was created by an the American designer Herman Patrick Tappé, who, Seebohm reports, was miffed that he had to make his green-ribbon-trimmed teen-sized. All’s well that ends well, however. “America’s sweetheart” Mary Pickford saw this dress in the magazine and purchased it to wear to her  wedding to heartthrob Douglas Fairbanks and was photographed in it, by De-Meyer, for the magazine. Now that’s an encore!

Bride Bedecked with Orange Blossoms, Vogue (1941-04-01) by Horst P. HorstCondé Nast Archive

Of course every bride want to shine on her special day, and in her own way, be that modest or maximalist. Examples of both follow.

Model Wearing a Wedding Dress, Vogue (1940-04-01) by Toni FrissellCondé Nast Archive

Naomi Campbell on Isaac Mizrahi Runway, Vogue (1990-01-01) by Guy MarineauCondé Nast Archive

Caroline Seiber in her Chanel Wedding Dress, Vogue, Robert Fairer, 2013-09-01, From the collection of: Condé Nast Archive
Pat Cleveland in a White Evening Pajama, Vogue, Irving Penn, 1972-09-01, From the collection of: Condé Nast Archive
Astronaut Wedding, Vogue, Arthur Elgort, 1998-11-01, From the collection of: Condé Nast Archive
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