dress detective / fashion, craft, vintage, design / grace kelly / marilyn monroe / mysterydesigner / wedding fashions / weddings

Bells, gloves and princesses…the weddings and the women who influenced bridal fashions of the 50’s

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Helen Rose’s dress for Grace Kelly’s wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco

The 1950’s, had not just one ‘look’, but the silhouettes from this period are instantly recognisable, think big skirts and tulle petticoats.

Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly, two of Hollywood’s biggest stars, were both married in the 1950’s. Grace Kelly’s dress and wedding was the stuff of fairytales. Not quite Cinderella, her magnificent dress reflected the importance of the occasion, Hollywood royalty marries a prince. Marilyn was to marry twice in this decade and in both civil ceremonies she chose garments appropriate to the occasion and the place.

Grace’s dress was designed by Helen Rose a Hollywood costumier. The silhouette was a bell shaped skirt and closely fitting bodice. Marilyn wore figure hugging suits to her civil ceremonies and a romantic dress, swathing her famous body, for her wedding lunch to Arthur Miller. Both women’s weddings were featured in The Australian Women’s Weekly, an important publication that gave Australian women access to the most famous women in the world’s wedding style.

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Grace Kelly’s bell-skirted dress is a progression of the style popularised as Dior’s ‘new look’, typically, a full skirt and tight fitting bodice with a narrow waist. Of course there were infinite variations on this silhouette and a perusal of vintage wedding photos shows the inventiveness of dressmakers around the world  they adaptations they made to this look.

Wedding dresses are often more conservative than their fashion counterparts, there are conventions to be upheld after all! In the 1950’s wedding dresses for church weddings demanded sleeves, a modest décolletage and a head covering of some sort. This could be a veil or a pillbox hat with a bird-cage veil.  Helen Rose put a Juliet style cap on Grace’s petite head with cathedral length veil trimmed with lace. Perfect for a grand church wedding.

Marilyn’s weddings were less conventional. For a start she was married twice in civil ceremonies and chose to wear a suit on both occasions (there were a few years separating these events). On the cover of The Australian Women’s Weekly we see a colorised version of the dress that she wore at her wedding to Arthur Miller. But if you look at the photos by Milton Greene, one below, Marilyn’s dress looks nothing like the one that is on the cover of the magazine. Another mystery? I love her dress designed by Norman Norrell and John Moore. It is deceptively simple. Chiffon is draped around the bodice with matching ruched sleeves. A contrasting band of twisted satin wraps around the midriff. The skirt is pencil shaped and tight. She wears a simple short veil attached to a yarmulke like cap. This is a great example of a figure hugging wedding dress style.

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Wedding photos by Milton Greene

I would love to know what inspired Madeline Newport the designer of my ‘mystery dress’. Maybe somewhere out there her sketch book and swatch book survive? Maybe there are other sorts of records I could look up. I’m heading to Sydney to find out. I’ll keep you posted!

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