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From Downton to Great Gatsby

This year sees the 100th Anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. Throughout the country and across the media there is a real interest in commemorating both the soldiers who fought and the women who worked in war-related work. But normal life went on: people still had to eat, babies were born and weddings took place.

We are all conscious of the beautiful Edwardian styles of Downton Abbey and the 1920s inspiration of The Great Gatsby. But what were weddings like between these two glamorous eras? These two styles both influence our vintage wedding themes of today. Of course, these are both fiction, but the rich and famous of the early 20th century influenced the wedding styles of ordinary people then, just as much as they do now.

At the turn of the century, Britain was booming.  Until Queen Victoria was married in white, wedding dresses were of much richer colours, but with royalty, choosing white for their wedding dresses everyone followed. Initially it was just the aristocracy who could afford this, but by Edwardian times the expanding middle-class wanted to show-off their wealth, and white became the colour of choice. Dresses would include Chantilly lace and the flowers would be simple with white and pink roses or white orchids favoured. If veils were worn they tended to be long, but Edwardian hats tended to be large and were often chosen instead of veils.

At the outbreak of war it all began to change. Dresses had already begun to be less restricted with less corseting. During the war more women were working, so looser fitting garments, including for wedding dresses, were becoming the norm. More households possessed a sewing machine and the simpler styles meant that less well-off households could make a special dress for the big day.

However, as the war wore on many weddings were arranged quickly, around the soldiers being called up or on leave. Consequently the bride would often wear a plain, tailored suit that could be re-worn and the whole ceremony was much simpler.

There was a campaign for young ladies to befriend soldiers by writing to them on the Front. These letters often led to marriage proposals and concern was expressed at the time about the number of weddings taking place when couples hadn’t met before the wedding day. But who could blame these ladies. After the War about 2 million young women never married; there were just not enough men to go round.

The 1920s were a time of trying to forget and so Roaring Twenties with its apparent frivolity emerged.  But for wedding dresses it was two Royal marriages, including that of Prince Albert (later to be George VI) and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (the Queen Mother) in 1923, that were the main influence. Her dress was romantic, in deep ivory chiffon moire, embroidered with pearls and a silver thread, it included a strip of Brussells lace, which was a family heirloom.  Elizabeth laid her bouquet at the Tomb of The Unknown Warrior on her way into the Abbey in memory of her brother Fergus. Ever since royal brides have laid their bouquets at the tomb, though after the wedding ceremony rather than before.

Lace and pearls is a recurring theme for 1920s vintage wedding themes, as are the later 1920s trends of pastels and shorter skirts.

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