June 25, 2021

The Evolution of Bridesmaid Dresses

5 min read

8th june 1910  bridesmaids at the drexal wedding  photo by w g phillipsphillipsgetty images

W. G. PhillipsGetty Images

One of the hot button topics of wedding planning is the bridesmaids dress. You know, the one you’re expected to shell out money on but more often than not despise? But just like the purpose and duties of bridesmaids have changed over the past few centuries—from dowry holders (seriously) to devoted best friends—so has the fashion. From the days of matching the bride’s gown to the ruffles that plagued the ’80s, see how bridesmaids dresses have changed.

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Ancient Rome

Many believe that the concept of a bridal party originated in Ancient Rome, where a wedding needed to have 10 witnesses for the marriage to be legal.

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15th Century

The tradition of the bridal party dressing exactly like the bride and groom began as a means for protecting them from evil spirits, as people believed this would confuse the spirits so they wouldn’t know which couple were the newlyweds.

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17th Century

Weddings during the 17th century were seen as a celebration where extravagance was expected. The bride would wear her best dress and certain colors were reserved for her big day, depending on her age and circumstance. Green was worn by teenage brides, brown for brides in their mid-20s, and black for older brides. Bridesmaids would follow suit.

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When Queen Victoria wore a white dress for her wedding to Prince Albert, she not only popularized the white wedding dress tradition that still exists today, but an all-white wedding party became customary. In fact, the Queen designed all twelve bridesmaids dresses herself, opting for simple white silk designs with tulle skirts and white roses.

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In the Victoria era, it was considered in vogue to have an all-white wedding—but there were a few ground rules. All bridesmaids had to be younger than the bride, unmarried, and their veils had to be shorter than the bride’s.

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In a Victorian wedding, the bride and bridesmaids typically wore coronets in their hair and the veil was attached to the top of the head. It was typical for the bride to wear orange blossoms, while bridesmaids usually wore roses or in-season flowers.

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The best thing about your Victorian bridesmaid dress? You could shorten it after the wedding and wear it again. We kid you not, this line has been going around since the 19th century and Victorian women really would repurpose their bridesmaid dresses for everyday wear.

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By the end of the 19th century, brides began experimenting with colorful bridesmaids dresses and the all-white wedding party slowly started to become less common. White, green and rose were the most popular colors in America, while gray, lilac, and violet were common in England.

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Sometimes a bridal party didn’t include any mature bridesmaids and was made up of all children. In this case, the junior bridesmaids and flower girls wore short white dresses, which usually included a ribbon sash.

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Although ’20s bridal style veered towards the modern silhouette (a.k.a. the drop waist dress), many brides still opted for tradition and dressed their bridesmaids in all white.

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Luxe fabrics of the era, such as velvet, were common for bridesmaids dresses. Here, the bridal party is seen in velvet long sleeve dresses, double stranded pearls, and a head wrap.

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Glamorous full skirts were all the rage in the ’30s, as were ruffles and full sleeves, which resulted in a Little Bo-Peep-inspired style that was all the rage.

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Despite the economic downturn of the Great Depression, bridal fashion in the ’30s was all about Hollywood glamour and escapism. Bridesmaids dresses were no exception and were usually made of satin fabric. Another key aspect? Mufflers, as seen on these two bridesmaids attending a London wedding.

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Most brides shied away from having their bridesmaids wearing white by the 1940s. Instead, high-waisted gowns with full, structured shoulders took over.

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Matching bridesmaids dresses remained popular during this time and off-the-shoulder, ruffled styles, like the ones pictured, were very common.

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Full skirt styles began popping up in bridal fashion by 1950. Sweetheart necks and cap sleeve gowns were some of the most popular styles you’d see walking down the aisle.

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Tulle, tulle, and more tulle was the look of the mid- to late ’50s. While hems on bridesmaids dresses became shorter during this time, but that didn’t mean they lost their wide brimmed look.

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The 1960s were all about the modern and shorter look. High neck collars and sleeveless dresses, like the ones seen on these bridesmaids, were popular styles of the moment.

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Bridesmaids in the late ’60s were told to think pink as the Pepto-Bismol hue gained popularity towards the end of the decade. Bonus points for a matching veil.

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A sure thing at any early ’70s wedding? Tudor sleeves. They rose to prominence thanks to Princess Anne’s 1973 wedding dress and made an appearance at many weddings at the time.

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Tiered ruffled gowns in a peach hue and with matching wide brimmed hats—we couldn’t describe a bridesmaid outfit better encompassing the mid-’70s if we tried.

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It wasn’t just Princess Diana’s wedding dress that impacted bridal fashion. Her choice of bridesmaid dresses sent brides around the globe into a flurry over puffy sleeves and taffeta for the remainder of the decade.

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Guess what’s back? Pink. Flower crowns also made a mark around this time, as seen on this bridesmaid, who’s lucky enough to be wearing both trends.

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Fashion in the ’90s was all about shifting toward minimalism. Toned down colors, like black, burgundy, and navy, started popping up more frequently, and simple silhouettes were chosen over busy designs.

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Lavender replaced pink as one of the most popular colors for bridesmaid dresses in the ’90s. Princess Theodora of Greece wore it to an English wedding, as seen on this beaded chiffon gown.

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By 2000, full length satin gowns were taking the lead as the most popular trend for bridesmaids. Brides also start choosing more than one color for their wedding party.

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Not only did Phoebe and Rachel look great as bridesmaids on Friends, but their sleeveless floral gowns are totally on trend for the moment.

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Strapless became more and more popular during the early 2000s—a trend that decided to stick around for a while.

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