Longing for the simpler days of a bygone era? Did you swoon to The Notebook? Feel your heart strings twang to the tune of Pearl Harbor? Then a 1940’s theme wedding might be for you! Close your eyes: how do you imagine your special day?
Is it saying “I do” at a 1940’s airport hangar decked with WWII aircraft and swaying memorabilia, patriotic banners and swags fluttering in the breeze? Or do you see yourself following in soldiers’ footsteps aboard a historic WWII battleship? Or kicking up your heels to the strains of big band at the VFW?
Or picture this. You’ve posted antique-white invites to your event held at a Hamptons or bed-and-breakfast setting. The men are lounging in white or tan seersucker jackets. An antique silver pen snuggles up to a leather-bound journal inscribed with “Our Story,” waiting for signatures.
The truth is, you can’t go wrong with any of these. So, limit your vintage crush to just a few touches, or make the leap with a full-out period theme. Either way, it’s simply timeless.
Being wartime, the 1940s was marked by rationed resources. Deployed soldiers needed food and supplies, which meant domestic extravagance ranged from “faux pas” to “forget it.” So, many a bride sought simplicity.
In fact, many brides planned their weddings in the brief window before her groom left for duty … sometimes in the space of a few days! As a result, most affairs were understated. Unfussy home weddings became the rage, being easy to plan and finance (perfect for today’s casual style!).
With fabric in short supply, a simple, reusable dress or two-piece tailored suit replaced the extravagant, wear-once wedding gown. Peep-toe heels and bold lips completed the look. Of course, 1940’s women considered gloves a fashion staple, which ranged from wrist-length “shorties” (informal) to elbow/opera length (dressy). The motto of the day: the shorter the sleeve, the longer the glove.
Occasionally, an affluent bride would don a flowing confection with a sweetheart neckline. Choosing from an array of coiffed, rolled, or long-waved hairstyles, she’d tuck traditional stephanotis or waxed blossoms into her perfectly-styled mane, waiting to spy her handsome groom in uniform.
It wouldn’t be until the post-war period that abundant fabrics and haute bridal fashion would return, along with men in double-breasted jackets (in pinstripes or the traditional black).
Getting Your 1940’s On
Are you a bride who hearts that 1940’s bridal style? If you’re the petite type, scour the web for vintage attire, and browse local thrift shops (vintage threads tend to run small). Or, if you know someone skilled at dressmaking, design your own custom look: a one-of-a-kind gown and a 1940’s theme bride make an unbeatable pair. If you want to keep it subtle, consider adding today’s retro-tinged birdcage veil or even a period hat in place of the more typical elbow or cathedral-length veils.
As for color, tradition eventually painted most weddings with shades of white and ivory, but in the 1940’s, brights stepped forward. Rich, vibrant shades mixed it up with bridal pastels. Many of today’s bolder weddings are actually taking their cue from the past.
Vintage wedding florals were often easily-sourced blooms like carnations, chrysanthemums and calla lilies. Simple ribbons puddling to the floor served as aisle decor. Bouquet styles ranged from dainty nosegays — old-fashioned blooms clipped from the garden — to the more luxurious, oversized cascade style.
And of course, something old, new, borrowed, and blue, with a sixpence in her shoe was an honored tradition — one going just as strong today, whether it’s tucking a heirloom brooch or a cherished pendant into your bouquet.
Your parents and grandparents’ albums tell the story: a 1940’s wedding reception was usually far simpler than today’s passed hors d’oeuvres and plated meals. Most brides and grooms celebrated with cake and punch.
Interestingly enough, this “retro” reception is making a comeback as brides look to simplify, but stay elegant. Happily, the cake and punch reception suits all budgets and themes, from a casual afternoon wedding to a swanky late-night party.
You won’t be surprised to know that rationing in the 40’s caused many brides to bypass the ultra-elaborate cake. The alternative? A “dummy cake” that hid a home-baked sponge cake beneath. (Sound familiar?) And far from today’s chocolate chambourd or guava tour-de-forces, 1940’s cake flavors tended to basic white and yellow, with an occasional fruit or spice.
Even today, some receptions pivot on home-style lunch or dinner buffets lovingly prepared by family and friends. This type of hospitality — boasting an abundance of foods, usually enough for guests to grab a plate for the road! — is something you see more often in the south.
A 1940’s style wedding offers both an elegant look backward, and a clever road ahead for brides who get that sometimes less is more.
So imagine your guests mingling over champagne, canapes and wedding cake, watching rounds of croquet and badminton play out on the lawn. Picture them strolling to tables covered in linen or lace, and tucking into a fresh spread of tea sandwiches and cookies, scones and fruit, chocolates and coffee — not to mention a row of glass jars filled with colorful iced teas and lemonades.
The photos: so sweet. The focus: on you, the couple, not that garish five-layer wedding cake. What could be more perfect?
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