A century of glorious gowns

A century of glorious gowns

June 11, 2016

Layan Damanhouri
Saudi Gazette

THE history of wedding gowns in Italy reveals a significant amount about the nation’s social, economic and political life in the past century. This was displayed at an exhibition curated by Rossella Alessandrucci at the Italian Consulate this week in the presence of Consul General Elisabetta Martini and many local guests.

According to Alessandrucci, the style of wedding gowns tells a lot about the status of women.

“At the turn of the 20th century, Europeans enjoyed a generally happy and prosperous life. World War I was a shock for Europe. One of the major changes was that women started to work,” she said, pointing to photographs of brides in the early 1900’s wearing shorter dresses and knee-length skirts. A busy work life marked a change in women’s fashion, giving way to increased independence.

The exhibit presents photographs of weddings starting from 1890 to the present-day Italy, revealing the transformation of fashion that represents historical events and change throughout the century. A display further shows old photographs, wedding gowns, bridal accessories and memorabilia, such as original telegrams, wedding invitations and souvenirs.

Fascism and World War II greatly influenced Italy’s traditional society where it was expected of women to marry young and bear children. Increased marriages and group weddings peaked in the 1930’s with government subsidies to encourage bigger families. The political motive behind the policy aimed to enlarge Italy’s manpower and army to feed the fascist regime. During World War II, marriage came down drastically and weddings were austere due to solemn times and scarcity of materials and supplies. Couples married in normal dress with no special frills, except a bouquet of flowers to symbolize the wedding.

Post-war Europe brought back noticeable happiness and love with economic and political conditions began turning around. Aligning with the United States during the Cold War led to American influence in style and trends while the Italian tradition was still maintained.

Fashion became more feminist and independent during wartime where women were forced to work. When veterans returned to normal life they became jobless and faced competition from female labor, causing changes in social life once again. “Women were pressured to return to the role of a homemaker,” explains Alessandrucci.

The struggle between tradition and modernity is seen through Italian women’s choice of traditional white dress and short veil during the 1950s.
More colorful and radical fashion trends marked the progressive era of the 1960s and 1970s where feminism and rebellious flare of the youth was globally apparent. Ironically, however, the institution of marriage remains an important pillar of social life in a country where tradition and religion reigned. Thirty-three is the average age of an Italian bride today whereas in the past, couples married much younger.

Alessandrucci presented designer gowns made by renowned Italian fashion designers, signifying the booming fashion houses that marked feminine and luxurious trends of the 1980s. Over the years, civil marriages were common, taking the place of matrimonial unions in a religious setting. Weddings today are no longer the rites of passage that once were. However, Italians enjoy the wedding rituals in exciting and limitless options, says Alessandrucci.

“The wedding industry is one way to promote our country,” says Consul General Elisabetta Martini. Many rising entrepreneurs offer innovative and original ideas to create a unique wedding in Italy. Weddings have turned to a job-creating industry inviting foreigners to get the Italian wedding experience.

She adds, “Now a lot of Saudis go to Rome to get married. It’s also a way to promote tourism.”

June 11, 2016