A 1940s vintage wedding: austerity optional

A glance at the listings for the History Channel demonstrates Britain’s enduring interest in the 1940s. Our fascination with the decade springs partly from the sheer horror of the Second World War and the institutional changes that took place, including the creation of the National Health Service. We are equally interested in the spirit of the era: cheerfulness in the face of the blitz; keeping calm and carrying on; and dealing with rationing by clever improvisation.

A 1940s vintage wedding

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It is perhaps inevitable that weddings with the 1940s as their central inspiration are increasing in popularity. Here we discuss the characteristics of a classic 40s wedding.


The 1940s were, of course, years of great austerity. Food and clothing were scarce and strictly rationed. This was the backdrop to the period’s ‘make do and mend’ weddings. Brides would often wear their everyday attire, proud to make this minor sacrifice as their contribution to the war effort. Others would improvise and fashion their wedding gowns from old items of clothing and even such household items as net curtains.

Brides who are adopting the 1940s as their vintage wedding theme will find inspiration in the sharp, angular suits of the period and in relatively simple lace dresses; however, they may find sourcing a genuine dress from the decade difficult. It is a good idea to review more vintage wedding ideas at Style and the Bride or another wedding blog.

Wedding parties

Food would have been simple and eked out ingeniously; for example, wedding cakes was coloured with gravy browning and sweetened with grated carrots. As a recent series of The Great British Menu based on wartime food showed, however, it is possible for caterers to update the cuisine of the era to appeal to today’s more sophisticated palates.

Refreshments aside, the party itself is likely to have been a subdued affair. As a war issue of Vogue said: “Weddings nowadays hang not on the bride’s whim, but the decision of the groom’s commanding officer. He names the day when he grants that unexpected furlough. … The schedule may run something like this: engagement announced on Monday, invitations sent out by telegraph on Wednesday, the last handful of rice and rose petals flung on Saturday.”

Decorations would − by necessity − have been sparse, with some strategically-placed union jacks to buoy war-time morale and perhaps some fresh flowers.

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