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Detail illustration of a group of women wearing varying styles of wedding fashion.
"For Spring Brides and Bridesmaids," The Salt Lake Herald (Salt Lake City, UT), April 20, 1902.

Women’s Wedding Fashion: 1900-1910

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The Edwardian era bride was expected to be the image of modesty. High necklines, long gloves, and ruffled petticoats were prominent to achieve head to toe coverage. While the fashionable silhouette shifted from the idealized S-shape of a Gibson Girl to a more A-line shape over time, satin, ruffles, and lace reigned supreme throughout the decade. Here’s a look at the women’s wedding fashions and trends in America at the beginning of the 20th century.

An illustration from a newspaper depicting six women wearing various wedding dress and and fashion.
“A Bunch of June Brides,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), May 24, 1902.

By the turn of the century, industrial growth had transformed American society and the country’s economy was booming from manufacturing. Many Americans considered this period to be the “age of optimism” with the rapid development of new technologies, like electricity, telephones, sewing machines, motorcars, and aeroplanes. The country had great pride and confidence in itself. During this period, American society, customs, and fashion were heavily influenced by the traditions of Europe. The Victorian era (approximately 1837-1901) ended with Queen Victoria’s death and she was succeeded by Edward VII, which led to the Edwardian era (approximately 1901-1914). Formality between the sexes permeated society and there were clear roles for men and women.

Fashions of the day favored a mature woman with a tiny waist, full bosom, and ample curves. At the start of the decade, the structured silhouette of the Gibson Girl was popular and it was the idealized look of Edwardian era style. This fashionable silhouette was achieved by the S-shaped corset which thrust the bosom forward and the hips back. Dresses were distinctively long with flowing skirts that draped smartly over the hips, with fullness in the back and a ruffle or small train at the bottom. Bodices typically had a high neckline, full and blousy in front (usually with ruffles or lace), and a waistline that dropped forward at the front. Sleeves tended to be full (puff sleeves) accented with lace ruffles and ending somewhere between the elbow and wrist. 

A photograph from a newspaper of a woman dressed in a ruffled dress will large horizontal stripes and a large hat with flowers.
The style of a mature Edwardian woman. The San Francisco Call (San Francisco, CA). August 10, 1902.

Modesty was the theme for the Edwardian bride and the aim was to be covered entirely from the neck down. Bridal dresses were typically made from chiffon over satin, cotton, or silk. Sheer fabrics embellished with lace or embroidery were used for lighter, yet chaste, bodices. Despite their blousy look, bodices often had bone linings and skirts tended to have several petticoats with ruffles at the bottom to create the fashionable shape

A detail from a newspaper featuring a photograph of a women wearing a long wedding gown with puffed sleeves. She has a veil upon her head and she is holding a bouquet of flowers.
A bridal gown with high neckline and puff sleeves. The San Francisco Call (San Francisco, CA), June 7, 1903.

Brides, especially those in the upper classes, typically had a bridal trousseau—a collection of possessions, such as clothing, accessories, and linens, that a bride put together to prepare for her wedding day and for marriage. The trousseau was a symbol of status; a full and rich trousseau signified a family’s financial status, a woman’s skill in domestic arts, virginity, and leaving home. For the Edwardian bride, a trousseau may have consisted of new outfits to see her through her wedding, honeymoon, and newlywed days, such as the wedding dress, bridal shoes, a wedding morning robe, traveling gown and hat, and a negligee. Other traditional items could include handkerchiefs, jewelry, family heirlooms, and bedding.

Detail of a newspaper page featuring a collage of photographs of women dresses in various wedding fashions. The headline reads: Trousseau.
“The Autumn Bride and her Trousseau,” Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, CA), October 4, 1908.

At the start of the century, the ready-to-wear industry was in its early days. Most bridal dresses at the time were hand sewn, either by the woman herself, a female family member, or by a paid dressmaker. By mid-decade, department stores in major cities began advertising the ready-made “lingerie dress” made of thin, lightweight fabrics with high neck and full sleeves, decorated in embroidery and lace. 

An advertisement from a newspaper featuring four women wearing various styles of long lingerie dresses. All four women have their hair pulled up in curls. The headline reads: Beautiful New Lingerie Dresses for Women Priced the Lowest you Have Ever Know.
An advertisement for lingerie dresses. The Evening World (New York, NY), March 30, 1909.

The lingerie dress in white became a popular economical wedding dress choice for brides in the middle and lower classes. It was also suitable for the bridesmaids to wear a lingerie dress, oftentimes with the addition of satin sash around the waist and a brooch at the collar. There was also the two-piece lingerie dress which allowed a new bride to mix and match the bodice and skirts to attend the many parties and events that followed the wedding. Most brides of the time wore their wedding dress to formal affairs after they were married. 

A photograph from a newspaper featuring a woman standing facing left. She is wearing a white long dress with dark elbow length gloves and a hat with flowers upon her head. She is holding several long stemmed flowers.
A lingerie dress in white. Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, CA), July 14, 1907.

A proper Edwardian lady wore a hat and gloves anytime she went outside the home and her wedding was no exception. Wedding gloves were short or long depending on the length of sleeve with the idea that the bride’s arms were to be completely covered. Some bride’s chose to wear fingerless gloves to make it easier to put on the wedding band. Hat styles at the time were large and fastened atop a woman’s upswept hair, often trimmed with chiffon, tulle, and soft feathers. Hats were sometimes decorated with silk flowers or a full bouquet. Bridal headpiece fashion was influenced by the current styles and were artistically arranged

A collage image of two head-and-shoulders photographs of women from two separate newspapers, slightly looking left, wearing ornate headpieces. The woman left is wearing a large hat ornately decorated with ruffles and flowers. The woman right is wearing an ornate bridal veil decorated in tulle and flowers in the front.
Example of how bridal headpieces (right) mirrored hat styles (left) of the time. Left: Omaha Daily Bee (Omaha, NE), May 17, 1903. Right: Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, CA), October 13, 1907.

Around 1907, the corset shape changed as did the fashionable silhouette. Skirts became plainer and less full, taking on an A-line shape. The bosom and hips were no longer emphasized. Necklines remained high and sleeves stayed full, but bodices were no longer blousy. Hemlines also rose about 1-2 inches. In the later part of the decade, brides leaned more towards simple dresses with little decoration. Bodices and skirts were still embroidered, but mostly at the waistline and along the bottom. Full sleeves tended to be gathered at the elbow and ended with a wide lace ruffle. Gloves continued to be popular, with many brides choosing to wear elbow-length fingerless gloves. 

An illustration from a newspaper of a young woman wearing a long wedding dress and veil.
A more A-line wedding dress with less embellishments. The Pensacola Journal (Pensacola, FL), June 12, 1907.

Simplicity extended to the headpiece, which was often made of tightly ruffled veil mesh and small white flowers, likely orange blossoms (a bridal accessory popularized by Queen Victoria at her wedding in 1840). Brides typically carried simple bouquets mostly made of greenery and a few flowers, pulled together with a wide white satin ribbon hanging down. For shoes, brides tended to choose white satin slippers, usually adorned with embroidered rosettes.  

A portrait photograph from a newspaper of a woman wearing a long veil on her head decorated in flowers at the top.
A bridal veil. The San Francisco Call (San Francisco, CA), December 11, 1904.
Detail of a photograph from a newspaper of a pair of satin slippers decorate with rosettes.
Satin slippers adorned with rosettes. Omaha Daily Bee (Omaha, NE), November 18, 1906.

By the end of the decade, bridal fashion took on a stiffer look. The blousy style gave way to a fit that was closer to a bride’s body, with gowns decorated with satin panels with lace overlays edged in lace. Satin collars lined with a lace ruffle were worn high, almost up to the ears, and sleeves were moderately full. Skirts tended to be a thin fabric covered with a satin slip with white embroidery down the center front and around the band at the bottom. Headpieces began to look more like tiaras decorated in pearls or flowers, with one to two lengths of veil, some that dragged on the floor. Bouquets generally featured white roses and white lilies of the valley. Although dress style became more streamline in appearance, dresses could still be ornately decorated with satin ribbon rosettes or silk tassels. Bodices were still embroidered and silk fringe decorated skirts and the bands of tighter sleeves. 

A photograph from a newspaper of a woman wearing a flowing floor-length wedding dress and a long veil that is decorated with flower at the top. She stands slightly right and is holdings a bouquet of flowers.
A wedding dress at the end of the decade. The Caucasian (Shreveport, LA), May 8, 1910.

Here is a side-by-side view of women’s wedding dress fashion over the course of the decade, 1900 to 1910:

A collage image from separate newspapers of six women figures wearing various styles of wedding fashion.
Dress images from left to right: The Topeka State Journal (Topeka, KS), June 30, 1900; The St. Louis Republic (St. Louis, MO), May 26, 1901; The Kalispell Bee (Kalispell, MT), April 23, 1902; The Sun (New York, NY), May 24, 1903; Evening Star (Washington, DC), September 17, 1904; The Caucasian (Shreveport, LA), February 26, 1905.
A collage image from separate newspapers of five women figures wearing various styles of wedding fashion.
Dress images from left to right: Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, CA), December 30, 1906; The News-Democrat (Providence, RI), October 21, 1907; Evening Star (Washington, DC), September 6, 1908; The Sun (New York, NY), May 16, 1909; The San Francisco Call (San Francisco, CA), May 15, 1910.

Throughout the decade, newspapers advertised wedding fashion by season. Click on the links below to view examples:

The Winter Bride (1902)–The Spring Bride (1909)–The Summer Bride (1907)–The Fall Bride (1906)

Search Strategies:

When searching historical newspapers from 1900-1910 for women’s wedding fashion, you will want to use language that would have been used at the time to get the most results. Here are some search terms that may help you get started:

bridal costume
bridal fashion
bridal gown
bridal trousseau
bride
corset
dress
fashion
frocks
gown
lingerie dress
marriage
petticoat
wedding costume
wedding dress
wedding gown

You can also search the Society pages of newspapers that tended to publish marriage announcements and provided details about specific weddings, such as descriptions of the bride’s trousseau, the wedding party, the ceremony and decorations, as well as profiles of the intended couple and their upcoming plans. The Society pages regularly featured photographs and illustrations of brides-to-be and brides, and at times featured them in their various wedding fashions.

 

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Comments

  1. I have a 1902 wedding dress picture of my Grandmother and on her dress were live lilies of the valley. Her father was a florist!

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