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Above: Nylon Chiffon Gown with Queen Anne Neckline


The 1970s BACK    NEXT 21st Century

Reagan wins 1980 election
March 30, 1981 Reagan survives assassination attempt
1981 IBM introduces its first PC
1981 Sandra Day O'Connor appointed to Supreme Court
1983 Regan's Strategic Defense initiative, Star Wars
Regan wins 1984 re-election
1986 Space Shuttle explodes
Nancy Reagan spends a million to redecorate
1987 Wall Street Greed, the Michael Milkin Story
1988 The Iran-contra scandal
Bush wins 1988 election, the first President to publicly scorn broccoli
"Read my Lips"
1988 Gorbachev declares the Cold War over
1989 The Savings and Loan Scandal



Brooke Shields



The Reagan 80s marked a period reminiscent of the roaring twenties; a sort of no-holds barred opportunity for people to push outside of the box.  With the onset of mergers and acquisitions during the boom period, Women entered into the corporate arena in unprecedented numbers as they had in the 1920's, albeit with the same unenthusiastic welcome from their male counterparts. 

The need for women to fuse themselves into a predominantly male corporate arena  meant that clothing designers cut and boxed traditional business attire with generous shoulder proportions.  "Power dressing," at least  for designer Claude Montana, meant a fuller, square cut shoulder pad that gave a reverse triangle shape to the female form, somewhat similar to a Man's physique.  Off the rack designers then fought back with the dreaded yet professional "perky bow" at the throat to feminize the square shoulder.

As in the 1920s, clothing styles were mannish but nothing similar to the boyish appearance of the flapper.  This was the Yuppie of the 80s, in good company with the Punk, Retro and New Wave Schools which all shared hard angles.


Wedding fashion, however, remained soft and flowing at the start of the decade, perhaps keeping the natural curves of the female form sacred. 

The late 1970s infusion of Victorian revival; kick started the decade with the softly romantic Eve of Milady gowns in diaphanous chiffon Most of the early 1980s gowns were without structural support in the form of petticoats and skirts fell freely around the feet. Sheer fabrics facilitated the romantic styles, embellished with embroidered organza and three dimensional venetian laces.

Victorian revival gowns popularized high necklines, some of which opened up into Queen Anne keyholes.  Laura Ashley opened up the neckline to a squared English country look with peau de soie lined in muslin and screen printed cotton, and Bridallure invested in country charm with matching gloves and picture hats, but the attention was short lived.  By mid-decade the wedding gown soon turned to sparkle and glitz.

Mid Eighties wedding design suffered multi-national growing pains as it gained a most affordable manufacturing.  The new, sparkling sequined and pearl beaded satin acetate gowns enabled the profitability of American manufacturers who maintained factories Internationally yet sold their gowns to U.S. clientele. The result was a wedding gown that became incredibly detailed, requiring hours of hand sewing by an obviously underpaid overseas labor force. 

Pearl beaded cut-work sleeves and cathedral length cut-work window trains were hand sewn with sparkling sequins.  Embroidered organza embellished hemlines with silky rayon thread and hand sewn beadwork sparkled dramatically.

By the end of the decade, body hugging glamour was in and ads featured a highly sexualized and supremely sexy Vegas showgirl sheath, photographed to perfection in the various bridal magazines.

The successful TV drama, Dynasty added fire to the passion as it showcased spectacular gowns by American fashion designers such as  Nolan Miller who created a glitzy medium for material girls. Sequins and beadwork was the trend, sparkle was the new wave.

Wedding gowns were not free from the bombastic styles of the girly glamour, and sleeves began to grow into massive leg o' muttons that were as huge as the bride's head.  Eventually through the decade, the shoulder pad softened into a rounded, rather than squared silhouette, but was still dramatically enhanced, sometimes with an open keyhole back that closed with pearl strands and lengthy drop dangles.

photos CORBIS/Bettmann


Although she was to later publicly admit that perhaps her Emmanuel gown was a bit above the top, Princess Diana's choice for her 1981 marriage to Prince Charles was to portend the times.  The sleeve on her ivory silk taffeta gown was as large as her head, a style that had first been memorable in the year 1896.



Smithsonian link to a Burbidge design for Priscilla of Boston, circa 1982


Above: Two Views of a Joytime Gown, worn by actress Jenilee Harrison as Cindy Snow in the 1981 episode of the sitcom Three's Company, called "Here comes the Bride."

At Far Left: Priscilla's Country Elegance gown from 1982, showing no hint of any shoulder pad or excess.  A simple length of ribbon down the back from the hairpiece accentuates the woven pattern in the organdy of the gown.  

For some bride's, the decade was supremely feminine and some designers held back and simplified, allowing for a return to unstructured, easy glamour.  This was the second birth of the "informal" gown amidst the excess.

Priscilla of Boston remained steadfast in their "made in USA" standards during the 80s and perhaps may have suffered profits at this time, but within the next two decades appeared to rebound with success as American tastes reverted back to Priscilla standards.



Zurc Acetate Satin gown from 1988

Fashion in the eighties was about being conspicuous and ostentatious, with the end result becoming almost theatrical.  Nonetheless, the effect is still so beautiful, as shown in this Zurc gown from 1988.  Note the pearl drops at her sleeve.  Her satin acetate gown had the stiffness needed to pleat and fold into petals and hip skirt.

The gloves shown are Irish Crochet, made in China.

1980s accessories coordinate for an unforgettable look.

As in the 1920s, the focus of the late 1980s went to the headpiece in grand style.  For eighties rock n' roll brides, the pouf veil effectively complimented the crimped big hair that was every heavy metal rock and roller's dream.

Sequined hakus and pearl drop headbands accented the forehead and new flashy metallic tulles made their debut with names like "glamour dust" and "meteorite."  Hair was teased and backcombed, and earrings were simple pearl posts or short drops.

 Above: A large fad for the late 1980s was the creation of wreath style headbands, shaped like leaves in a spray. The widow's peak headband was made from wire and buckram, covered with  fabric and embellished with sequins. Pearl drops added detail.



"Ornament is crime."
 Adolf Loos

1990 Mandela is freed from prison
1990 Operation Desert Shield
1991 Operation Desert Storm
1991 Persian Gulf War ends
William Jefferson Clinton wins the 1992 election
1993  The House passes the North American Free Trade Agreement
1994  Congress approves the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
1995  World Summit for Social Development spotlights need for Women's education
1996  Clinton re-elected
1997  The Princess leaves us in Paris
1998  Titanic wins 11 Oscars, reportedly the most expensive film made
1999 Clinton acquitted of perjury and obstruction of justice

Perhaps the single most noteworthy reflection made about fashion in the 90's is that on the surface American culture appeared to reject the notion of designer created images while somehow still managing to shop at The GAP.  

Some argue that designers have less control over the image of society than they did in the past, but there is no denying that in the 1990s one wedding gown designer will be mentioned as having great influence, and that is Vera Wang.

Yet, if there is a central theme peeking out from the pages of the nineties bridal magazines, it was the maxim attributed to Mies van der Rohe that "less is more."  Wang's interpretation of the ball gown as a stripped down bodice similar to that of a one piece bathing suit and full skirt of tulle offered 90's brides an alternative to the over excess of the 80s. Her dresses were inspiring to some and lacking to others who simply stated, "less is a bore." 

Although Vera is hardly to blame for it, perhaps one of the problems with simple dressing is that it was fairly easy to copy. While a sleeveless bathing suit bodice looks refreshing in the beginning of its cycle, after 5000 brides, it looks conformist, leading to speculation that the brides who contributed to the trend were followers, not leaders.  Fashion designers such as the duo of Badgley Mischka, offered to pick up the slack and provided 90's brides with a stunning assortment of intricately hand beaded gowns that were wearable art.  Not to be outdone, the one Wang design that cannot be denied as a 90's hit was her remake of the apron dress.  An obvious Mainbocher influence from the fifties, it looked remarkably familiar as a "Givenchy styled Hepburn" on the rakishly thin actresses of present day.  

What could be next?

Perhaps a re-visit to an Edythe Vincent creation, circa 1963?

The 1970s BACK    NEXT 21st Century



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