02 August 2014

Marriage a la 1970

Inspired by the blog Melbourne - Our Home on the Bay, I decided to have another look at the clothes we wore at a friend's wedding in 1970 and then at our own wedding a few months later. But I need a historical context.

From gold silk and corset-constrained waistlines, to flowing white chiffon, a bride's dream wedding dress has changed dramatically since Queen Victoria. Colours changed, materials came and went, shapes reflected the decade of their owners. Only one element remained constant - except for singlet shaped flapper wedding dresses in the 1920s, most wedding dresses seemed to have long sleeves and a rather modest image.

1970 was the year in which bridal dressing became a business, with the debut of bridal magazines and famous bridal designers. The most famous bridal atelier of the day was Christos who created exquisite dresses, trimmed with hand-clipped lace and beaded pearls. Two other coveted wedding dress designer were John Burbidge, who designed gowns for Priscilla of Boston from 1968 on, and Jim Hjelm.

Joe and I got married in 1970 in the gardens.
We might have been Flower People during the year, 
but note the long sleeves and high neckline made from cotton pique.

1970 was a great time to be getting married since fashion was modernising faster than ever before. And if 1970 started the Me Decade, we would certainly expect an individualistic approach fashion. The inspiration came from all over - think about tailored Yves Saint Laurent pant suits, Grecian tunics and other ethnic styles, Mick and Bianca Jagger, and clothing inspired by disco dancing. When Princess Anne and Captain Mark Philips were married in 1973, UK brides were looking to King Arthur’s Camelot; romantic medieval princess features were incorporated into wedding dresses, including high necks and cascading sleeves. High waisted A-line empire styles were everywhere.

Examples can be seen in photos from Bride Magazine's spring edition in 1970. Long hair was definitely in style in this era., usually worn long and straight. The lace and the veil matched, and the veil was worn over the front of the shoulders so the lace framed the face. These dresses were long in length, had raised necklines and the sleeves were puffy and long. Looking back, it seems that the 1970 wedding dress loved lace and loose fitting fabrics, while designs were fluid, drape-able and covered a lot of skin.

Going to a famous wedding designer or shop would have been beyond the financial reach of most people I knew in 1970. So my friends and I looked at patterns and photos, and took them to our mothers' favourite dressmakers. I am still very grateful to Vintage Simplicity for all their patterns and instructions for dresses with sleeve and neckline interest. Examine the Vintage dress with princess seaming, a back zip,  two-piece long bell shaped sleeves and crochet type lace edging. An alternative pattern was for a stand-up collar with short sleeves gathered to sleeve bands and belt stitched in side front seams.

I was bridesmaid at a close friend's wedding in 1970
Note the short dresses worn by my grandmother (left) and my mother (centre)

Young women might have been hippies at university, but apparently they listened to their mothers when it came to modest wedding dresses. Perhaps 1970 was a pivotal point between the Old World that our mothers loved and the New World that our younger sisters would come to prefer.


Ann ODyne said...

Lovely, and appropriate.
'cotton pique' - can you imagine that today? Modern brides all in $5000 strapless cocktail/showgirl costumes and the person marrying them having to avert eyes from grand canyons of cleavage.
My 1973 high-necked white cotton Laura Ashley was $38 off the rack at Myer. The vicar was wearing something similar but with the added glamour of a gold scarfy thing.
Weddings these days are Major Theatrical Productions sadly. The logistics managed by girls and their mothers put our military to shame.

Hels said...


ha ha grand canyons of cleavage :) I have seen bridal programmes on tv and know EXACTLY what you mean.

Laura Ashley was my absolute favourite designer back then, soon after she first opened for business in 1968 (in London). Lovely memories.. thank you.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, I don't know much about weddings fashions, but you are adorable in these photos. You really carried that look well.

Hels said...


thank you :) What we need to know about symbolic outfits (like wedding dresses) is that they reflect the era in which they were created.

So in Australia by 1970 we had the Pill (1966), we had legal abortion (1969) and full aboriginal voting rights (1967). However married women were still banned from employers' superannuation, married women were not yet allowed to claim unemployment benefits and there was no vote for any citizen under 21 until 1973. What an era of rapid change!

Deb said...

My wedding was the same year. I loved my dress and knew I wanted to wear it again for evening dos. So it was dyed a colour after the honeymoon.

Dina said...

Nice to see you. A sweet picture.

Leon Sims said...

very pleased to have inspired this post Hels but Throwback Thursday was inspired by another Blogger and friend in the Loire - Walt. He said he was inspired by another Blogger so the wheels turn.
PS: you looked simply gorgeous BTW at your wedding.
While writing this I'm listening to Elton John from a live recording in 1970 - we grew up in a great time.

Hels said...


*high 5* I left my dress white.,but cut out the neck line and covered the top with blue thai silk.
No use spending good money on a dress that will be worn once and then neglected.

Hels said...


I cannot believe that was 43.5 years ago!!! You must be of a similar generation since I have seen your grandchildren running around your blog :)

Hels said...


thank you. The only thing more evocative of an era than wedding dresses is music. You have Elton John from a live recording in 1970. I have the 1973 debut album of Queen - we certainly did grow up in a great time!

Andrew said...

What a lovely post and photos. I think rather than look back at what fashions were like then, think back to how you felt wearing them.

Hels said...


there was a bit of ambivalence. On one hand the white flowy-ness felt utterly sexy and gorgeous. On the other hand, it felt slightly hypocritical to be poncing around in a veil etc when I was a fully paid up socialist.

At least the wedding was simple - no taxis, no wedding cake, no diamond ring, no meat and no professional photographers. Just music, heaps of food, wine, gardens and tons of family/friends

Dina said...

You're right. I married just a year before you.

Mandy Southgate said...

Oh, I love this! Thank you for sharing your wedding photo. My mum was married early summer 1972 and had long, straight black hair like you say but her dress was a high waisted, a-line mini dress, with wide long sleeves. I wonder if it was a South African thing that she opted forva mini?

Hels said...


we should always keep wedding photos - grandma's, mum's and everybody else. They are so funny :) but very informative too.

Every woman who was even slightly hippy wanted a high waisted a-line dress with wide long sleeves and a floppy hat. A mini dress was just a bit more daring.

To this day, 43.5 years later, I am still drawn to a-line dresses and floppy hats.