How different is a wedding today from one held in 1917?

Weddings are one of those customs where people constantly ask themselves: to change, or not to change? As cultural battlegrounds of tradition & progress, it’s fun to look at how they’ve shifted and stayed the same over the years. Women’s fashion, post-banquet confections, popular ceremony venues – weddings today may not look exactly like the ones held 100 years ago, but they’ve still managed to keep many of the same conventions! Here’s a look at some of them, and how (or if) they’ve changed since 1917.

#1. Wedding Fashion

Fashion is fluid, and this becomes even more clear when looking at old wedding photos. Everyone wants to look great on their wedding day, but “looking great” is relative — haven’t you ever looked back at an old photo of yourself and wondered why you used to dress like that? Something that was popular even 10 years ago may seem out-of-date now, let alone 100 years back (remember when high school boys were all about bleaching their tips? Justin Timberlake does).

One article of fashion that was more in vogue for early 1900’s weddings than today is the hat — just check out this bridal fashion show from 1921! In 2017, brides are more interested in floral crowns that bring a bit of natural flair to their ensemble; leaving big, flashy chapeaus at home until the Kentucky Derby rolls around. While you may see women in the crowd wearing a nice sun hat to keep cool during a hot summer wedding, you’re not likely to see such an accessory on the head of a bride. Veils, however, have remained fashionable.

Another noticeable trend for brides today is to show a bit of skin on their wedding day. In the past, they typically kept things conservative by wearing floor-length wedding dresses that covered most of the body. Now, shorter styles are perfectly acceptable and even growing in popularity. Many brides want to emphasize fashionable items like shoes & necklaces, or even something more personal like their tattoos — things that would be hidden by a long, traditional gown. The dress may still be the center stage of bridal fashion, but it is now a shared stage.

And while a great variety of wedding dress styles, colors & lengths are considered acceptable in 2017, the classic white bridal gown is still standard for most brides-to-be. Popularized worldwide by the 1840 royal marriage of England’s Queen Victoria to Prince Albert, this fashion statement has blazed forward into the present with no sign of stopping. Despite the diversity of wedding dress styles today, shades other than white or off-white definitely stand out. Gwen Stefani’s pink-dipped wedding gown even made headlines as a bold fashion statement (and it was still half white).


Photo by Elizabeth Adams Photography

#2. Wedding Cakes

Most people envision a three-tiered, white-frosting-draped confection when they hear the words “wedding cake.” Why does this image pop into our minds? Simple: just as the white wedding dress was popularized by British royalty, so too was the tiered cake we think of today. Got more money? Make your cake bigger, and add more layers. If you’re the Queen of England, why not have a 300lbs cake that dwarfs a full-grown man?

The aesthetic, imposing cake, covered in hardly-edible fondant is thankfully beginning to diminish in popularity. In its wake, flavor is becoming the flavor of the day. Why hoist up a fondant-draped behemoth for guests to ogle at when it’s hardly more edible than the chairs they’re sitting in? Desserts should be tasty, and bakers have gotten creative with their wedding cake designs to make ones that look novel and taste exceptional. Check out this naked cake from New York City’s famous Magnolia Bakery if you don’t believe me!

Not to mention, wedding cakes are shrinking too! More & more couples are choosing to have an assortment of smaller cakes instead of a single grand one — giving guests more ways to satisfy their sweet tooth. Some people are even going with macaron towers as a fresh alternative to the traditional tiered cake, to the delight of macaron lovers everywhere (including me!). Variety is the spice of life, and there are more interesting wedding cake designs now than ever before.

Want to wash that cake down with some champagne or an adult beverage? Although alcohol is now a common fixture at weddings throughout the West, in 1917 the American Prohibition Movement was growing in popularity; becoming official on January 17th, 1920. Six months later, women finally received the right to vote in the US (followed by women in England later that decade). Sometimes it’s hard to wrap our minds around, but a lot has happened in the past 100 years.

#3. Wedding Venues

Commercial aviation was just getting off the ground in 1917. Unsurprisingly, not many people were flying to Hawaii for destination weddings back then (actually, none were — the first commercial flight to Hawaii occurred in 1935). More than fashion & more than cakes, wedding venues have seen a transformation over the past 100 years, and this has largely been driven by advances in transportation. While the chapel is still a common location for traditional ceremonies, you can now get married in more places than ever. In 2016, 24% of couples tying the knot did so at a destination wedding, which is a pretty incredible statistic.

Wedding ceremonies in 1917 were usually held in a church, although many were put off due to America entering the First World War that year. They were traditionally held on weekdays instead of the weekend (Saturday was deemed unlucky), and they often took place during daylight hours with a small group of family & friends rather than a big crowd of people. Receptions, rather than the lavish parties we think of today, were optional, and only held by couples with the means to host them at a dance or banquet hall.

So where are people getting married and having receptions nowadays? The answer: wherever they want. Research & industry trends tell us that people are moving out of the church, with only 26% of 2016 couples getting married at a religious institution (it was 41% in 2009). There’s also been a noticeable increase in beach weddings, barn & countryside ceremonies, and even weddings held at historic locations over the past decade. Couples increasingly care more about finding a venue that reflects their personality or even their notions of romance, and the numbers support this idea.


If someone from 1917 stepped into the future and attended a wedding today, they would recognize some things and be blown away by others. They would probably think, “there’s the groom, there’s the bride, that’s an interesting cake… but who are all these people? Why is everyone drinking alcohol? What kind of music is this?” They might also wonder how they ended up on the beach and why everyone was partying so late into the evening. I like to think though, that they’d probably enjoy it.


Sophie Darling is a wedding expert and community manager at Sophie is known in the industry as a professional who knows how to create the perfect wedding day without breaking the bank. When she’s not blogging about weddings & pinning wedding-inspo, she enjoys meeting her girlfriends over margaritas to discuss nonsense and unfulfilled romances.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *