Happy new year, classic movie fans! It’s been a while since I’ve been around my blog, but The Wedding Bells Blogathon, hosted by the fabulous Annette of Hometowns to Hollywood, was just too perfect to resist! As those of you who follow me on social media may know, I got engaged myself this month, so the concept of taking a closer look at classic movie weddings is especially thrilling for me. The only weddings that excite me as much as my own are the ones I’ve seen on the silver screen, after all! While many other participants have chosen to review one particular film that features a wedding, I knew that I could never limit myself quite that much, so I’ve decided to take a broader approach and rank most eye-catching part of the ceremony: the bride’s gown! While I’ve chosen my own wedding dress already, it’s still the perfect opportunity to peruse not only cinematic weddings, but also fashion through the decades and its cultural significance onscreen.
But before I reveal my top five, here are some worthy honorable mentions, in no particular order:
Cover Girl (1944)
I think Rita Hayworth wins the trophy for number of wedding dresses worn in a single film. You may not recall even if you’ve seen this divine musical before, but she wears a total of three gowns! The first and most famous is the dress which she wears on the Vanity Fair cover once she’s chosen as the magazine’s “Golden Wedding Girl”:
Of course this part of the film is iconic and magnificent, especially the amazing glimpse of the 1940s hair and makeup process as she prepares for her photo shoot, but I don’t think this shade lets Rita’s flaming tresses shine, and I’ve never really been a fan of non-white gowns. In addition to this dress, Rita also wears two more towards the end of the film: this Victorian-era number, which is seen in a flashback as we see her character Rusty’s grandmother walk down the aisle:
And this more modern dress, which is still off-white but much more becoming on Rita compared to the other two:
All three have their merits for sure, and this last blush-colored gown would have landed on my top five for sure if it weren’t for one small, yet horrible detail: a mint corset right smack in the middle.
The corset detail absolutely ruins the dress for me, but there are things that I love about all three gowns, not to mention how much I truly adore this film, so it had to get a mention from me!
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
I had the help of my sister in making this list. We both love classic movies and wedding dresses, and about halfway through the conversation I mentioned this film. She said something along the lines of, “I didn’t even mention it myself because I thought it was a given,” but there are a few minor points that I have to take off of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell’s outfits that unfortunately prevent it from my top five. For starters, the whole idea of two brides wearing the exact same dress has always been a little tacky to me, especially because in this case, what’s good for one isn’t necessarily good for the other.
While they both look absolutely lovely, I think Jane looks a bit overdone in this gown compared to what I imagine her character Dorothy might actually want to wear to her wedding. I see her as the casual, elopement type of bride, and I see Lorelei as the type of girl who wants all eyes on her on her big day. Also, the bouquets are so… ribbony, more like a prom corsage than a part of a wedding ensemble.
The backs of these gowns are gorgeous, though!
Funny Girl (1968)
Let’s face it: this dress should hardly count. Barbra Streisand wears it not to the wedding of real-life stage icon Fanny Brice, but in a comedic bit during Brice’s premiere with the Ziegfeld Follies that lasts only a few moments.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s beautiful, especially with Streisand as the model, and Irene Sharaff’s costumes for this film easily rank among the best ever put onscreen, but it’s because of that that I’m holding this one to a higher standard. I would have died and gone to heaven if they had actually shown Brice’s wedding in the movie and put Barbra in a period-accurate 1920s dress. I’m not ranking this one on my official top five because there are dresses that I like better, but I’m also not including it out of spite for what could have been.
The Girl Can’t Help It (1956)
This gown worn by Jayne Mansfield at the end of The Girl Can’t Help It (1956) is the honorable mention that would probably be the most likely to make my top five. There isn’t anything that I can point out that I dislike about this dress, but at the same time, there’s nothing spectacular about it, either. Jayne herself was larger than life, and I would have loved to see her wedding attire reflect her attention-grabbing looks and personality.
Fun fact, though: Jayne actually wore this dress again at her own offscreen wedding to Mickey Hargitay, though she did change her hair and accessories around a bit from the film:
Marie Antoinette (1938)
This is another dress that I think is simply radiant on its own, but lacks compared to what could have been. I realize that the gown that Norma Shearer wears in her portrayal of Marie Antoinette is actually strikingly similar to the Queen of France’s own wedding dress, but while the costumes created by the legendary Adrian neared perfection, this is not the most gorgeous dress of the film.
In fact, I wouldn’t even say that this is the prettiest white dress of the film. I think this feathered one takes the cake, though it could do with a little more sparkle:
Now, without further ado, here’s my real top five!
5. Thrill of a Romance (1945)
Okay, I have to admit it: this dress isn’t all that phenomenal, likely even less fantastic than some of my honorable mentions.
However, if there was an Academy Award for accessorizing, Esther Williams certainly would have won it as Cynthia in Thrill of a Romance (1945). The picture essentially starts with her wedding to a man that she doesn’t passionately love, and we soon see Van Johnson steal her heart instead (doesn’t he always?), but this first wedding is worth it just so we can see THIS VEIL!
The pearls, the roses, the scalloped lace veil, the scooped neckline! There are just too many divine details to discuss! If I were getting married in the mid-1940s, this is the exact kind of style that I would want to emulate, at least from the bust up. Esther wearing all of these perfect pieces together paired with her stunning smile, makeup, and hairdo made this impossible not to put on my list.
4. White Zombie (1932)
Step aside, Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935)! Madge Bellamy’s look in White Zombie (1932) wins my prize for the best wedding outift in a horror feature. The 1930s is my favorite decade not only in cinema, but also in fashion, and Madge Bellamy’s veil and gown combination in this picture perfectly explains why. Once again, the real beauty is in the details, and once again, the veil is my favorite part. This beaded cap veil with a mile-long train simply exudes splendor and elegance. It highlights Madge’s bob haircut perfectly. Just look at that beadwork!
The rest of the outfit is just as captivating, though there isn’t as much high-quality evidence of that. Still, the detailed beads on the bodice itself, the plunging scoop neckline, and the satin partial sleeves and train make this dress so unique, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before or since. I also adore her cascading bouquet!
Madge in particular should also be pointed out as a crucial part of this wedding ensemble. Her innocent doe-eyed features just scream both “bride” and “horror movie victim”. I’m sure it was terribly difficult for her to pull off both, but before I even saw this film, I recognized her instantly from this wedding scene and her brilliant facial expressions. To me, she’s just synonymous with what I imagine a bride to be, and she deserves so much more praise for that.
3. It Happened One Night (1934)
Here’s another gorgeous 1930s dress, and while I think Madge Bellamy is positively exquisite in her gown, I ranked my birthday twin Claudette Colbert higher on my list because this dress more closely resembles something I might wear. I’ve seen this film praised for its genius dialogue and performances, but I think audiences should take a closer look at this romantic comedy for its striking costumes, especially Claudette’s one-of-a-kind slimming satin dress which she wears to walk down the aisle. Here’s an amazing behind-the-scenes photograph of Claudette showing off her look:
There are so many things to love about this dress. I’m definitely a fan of floor-length satin, and while I don’t think I could ever pull this off, Claudette does so effortlessly, entertaining her guests and (solemnly) drinking to her upcoming matrimony in this versatile look. I’m especially a fan of the flounced sleeves and the gorgeous neckline adorned with white blossoms. Are they Gardenias? Roses? Camellias? No matter what kind of blooms they are, they really make this look.
And you should all know by now that I’m a sucker for a cathedral-length veil, once again maybe not for myself, but it definitely makes a dramatic statement on the big screen:
2. Funny Face (1955)
Can I have two number-ones? Pretty please? Honestly, I’m so torn between this and my top pick, because Audrey Hepburn making this fluffy tea-length Givenchy dress her own is nothing short of perfection.
I could go on and on about this gown, about everything from the full chiffon-topped skirt to the pinched waist to the boat neckline (which somehow is so flattering on Audrey). It’s paired with sensibly low but still adorable shoes, short satin gloves, a draped veil topped with a cute bow, and an understated bunch of baby’s breath that really lets the dress and the rest of the attire speak for itself. If we’re talking about what I’d wear to my own wedding, this just leaps with inspiration. I’m already taking notes so I can copy this for my reception ensemble! Luckily this is the most photographed gown on the list, and there are plenty of stunning shots for us all to marvel at, including this behind-the-scenes one of Audrey and Hubert de Givenchy. Her expression is priceless!
I have no more words other than extraordinary. This look and Audrey wearing it are just too beautiful for this world.
1. Light in the Piazza (1962)
Even as I write this, I’m still torn about which bride should take the top spot, but while Audrey was simply s’wonderful and s’marvelous in her wedding dress from Funny Face (1957), I always like to root for an underdog, and there’s so much to adore about Yvette Mimieux’s wedding look featured in Light in the Piazza (1962). Let me start off by saying that this is such a heartfelt and beautiful movie in the first place that doesn’t get nearly as much recognition as it deserves. Yvette in particular just sparkles and lights up the screen, and the ending in which her character Clara, a young woman with a mental disability, weds the Italian boy who she falls in love with on vacation, is so satisfying. Sure, we learn throughout the film that there are reasons why these two might not make it long-term, but I’m still glad we got to see this breathtaking dress:
Once again, there’s so much to adore here. I particularly love the pattern of this lace overlay. You get the best of both worlds with the satin and the lace, and the volume and length of this veil are perfect.
This might normally seem like a run-of-the-mill Grace Kelly-esque gown with the sheer long lace sleeves and yards of material. I do think it’s definitely a product of its time, but I still want to bottle it and take it home with me. There are two really unique features about this look in my opinion: the inner and outer beauty of Yvette Mimieux as the bride (Why didn’t she get an Oscar nomination for this?), and this really distinctive and special detail at the front of the veil: one perfect teardrop pearl, right at her crown. It’s very reminiscent of Kim Kardashian’s wedding look. Did she steal it from Yvette? I’ll say so.