Sixty Years of Wedding Bouquets

Summer in New Zealand also means wedding season, and who doesn’t love a good wedding? A chance to don your fanciest dress, celebrate your loved ones and kick up your heels. We all know that weddings can be a simple affair or as elaborate as the mind can imagine, but one feature that usually makes an appearance is the bridal bouquet.

I was browsing the ‘recently added’ section of Kura Heritage Collection Online one day and I stumbled across this stunning image which depicts a portrait of a bride and groom dating to the 1920s. They are standing side by side, the groom in his sharp black suit with his hands behind his back; his new bride to his left. There is confetti on the ground in front of them. The bride's dress is a long sleeve, ankle length satin gown with a subtle damask pattern throughout. She has paired it with an ankle-length Juliet cap veil and satin court shoes. To top it all off, she is adorned head to toe in flowers.
Image: Unknown. Unidentified Bride and Groom, date unknown, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 1066-9933.

She has two floral headpieces of orange blossom on either side of her veil, one small and the other trailing down toward her shoulder.  All these details are lovely; however, your eye is immediately drawn to the immense, spilling bouquet in her hands. The luscious bouquet is made up of blown open garden roses, wildflowers, fluffy carnations, soft and aptly named Maiden Hair fern, and delicate, trailing asparagus fern that practically falls to the ground. Bound with flows of satin ribbon, it is no wonder this image caught my eye amongst the thousands of other images from the Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections that are on Kura.

This got me thinking- and searching. I wanted to know if the general trend at this time was to have bouquets as elaborate as the one this unknown bride was carrying. When did they begin to change? What sort of flowers were people using? Did members of the bridal party carry other forms of floral arrangements? The changing fashions of weddings can be traced using photographs from our collection. There are general trends that can be observed, often influenced by other changes in fashion and society.

The 1900s saw Edwardian fashion trends also reflected in wedding styles. Large adorned hats, high collars, long sleeves and floor length dresses were all the rage. Wedding dresses were made from lighter fabrics and were adorned with lace collars, beading, satin ruffles and shoulder details. Brides would often wear a structured veil that was complimented by floral or lace appliques. It was common for all members of the bridal party to wear corsages on their lapel or shoulder as well. Bouquets were quite elaborate- trailing ivy, ferns, spray carnations and daisies were popular. The image below even shows a lace surround and satin ribbons at the base of the trailing bouquet. This bride has also opted to have her maids carry bouquets that have a more monotone colour scheme.

Image: C.P. Dawes. Ernie Dawes' Wedding, 1902, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 1572-780.

Image: Unknown. Ernest and Hilda's wedding, East Tamaki, ca 1900, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections,  Footprints 02074. 

The 1910s was a time of change for fashion, but not so much for bridal bouquets. In the first half of the decade dress necklines remained high and the shape of the dress was simple but often decorated with lace, braided appliques, frills and had sleeves that were inflated around the upper arm. The First World War changed women’s fashion permanently. The long-lasting trend of wearing a skirt and blouse flourished, and large hats were only reserved for special occasions. The first two images of the Williams wedding depict a country wedding- it appears that more practical materials such as linen and cotton were used, along with a slightly raised hem line and the seeming absence of a train. In contrast, Constance Bartrum’s dress is more elaborate, made from satin and has a small train. Wedding bouquets remained elaborate, flowing and large. Brides and bridesmaids continue to decorate hats and veils with floral headpieces. Asparagus fern, Maiden Hair fern, daisies, roses, sweet peas, clematis and other garden grown flowers were in fashion. Despite the changes in bridal dresses, the bouquets remain much the same as they had been in the decades previous.

Image: C.P. Dawes. Jean Allen and Wilfred Richard Williams, 04-12-1911, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 1572-1139.

Image: C.P. Dawes. Bridesmaids, 1911, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 1572-1138. 

Image: Sidney George Vaile. Wedding portrait of Constance Bartrum (nee Lorrie), Takapuna, possilbly 1912, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, NBA0005.

As far as fashion trends go, the 1920s saw arguably one of the greatest style changes. Post-WWI, women embraced shortening hem lines, looser fitting dresses and simpler trimmings. Juliet cap veils were still very popular and simply decorated hats were in favour.  Bouquets still maintained a sense of grandeur, with flowers such as lilies, roses, carnations and trailing greenery seeming to be most popular. The Bettany wedding in October 1924 was a particularly lush event. The bride and bridesmaids’ bouquets are large and threaded with ribbons, while the flower girls carry a wreath and a small spray. These wedding florals also include manuka, showing that New Zealand native flora was used in conjunction with more traditional English flowers.

Image: Unknown. Unidentified bride and groom, date unknown, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 1066-9934.

Image: Herman John Schmidt, Wedding portrait of Mr and Mrs Bettany, 1921, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 31-WP822.

Image: Walter Clegg. Wedding portrait, Newmarket, 1924, 15-10-1924, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, Footprints 03217. 

By the 1930s, floral fashions began to change. The sheath style (long stem flowers and greenery which is cradled in the crook of the arm) grew in popularity. More streamline feature flowers such as the calla lily and the magnolia were paired with simpler secondary flowers such as roses and Lily of the Valley. There was a trend toward the bridal bouquet being a different size and shape to the bridesmaids, as seen in the 1934 wedding of Cyril and Phyllis Nola. The bridesmaids carry a small, dark coloured posy whereas the bride carries a semi-cascading sheath bouquet. While trailing bouquets were still seen, the sheath was the first major shift toward a different style of bouquet. Brides were trending toward floor length gowns, often simply adorned with lace and satin and with a small train. We also notice the beginning of bridesmaids wearing matching dresses.

Image: Uknown. Wedding portrait of Winifred and Bertram Ireland, Saint Aidans Church, Remuera, 23-09-1939, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, B0764. 

Image: Unknown. Wedding party of Mr & Mrs Colin Farquharson, 1939, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, T1539. 

Image: Unknown. Wedding of Cyril Nola and Phyllis Sunde, 1934, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, DGHS-PA-1-4-012.

The turbulent circumstances of war time in the 1940s would certainly have impacted the way people were getting married and planning weddings. From the images in our collection, we can see a range of trends in both wedding and floral fashion. Brides seemed to prefer full length gowns, longer sleeves, and simple satin materials. Veils were no longer the Juliet cap-style and were now worn on the crown of the head in varying lengths. It is more difficult to find trends in flower fashions. One bride pictured holds a full, lush bouquet reminiscent of the 1920s; while another holds a small posy. One feature that has remained popular is the use of satin ribbons added to the bouquet.

Image: Unknown. Don and Mary Stott of Birkenhead outside the church on their wedding day, 1944, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collection, T7565. 

Image: Clifton Firth, Full length portrait of Mrs Sharpe as a bride, 8 Jan 1946, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 34-S441. 

Image: Clifton Firth. Full length portrait of Miss Joan Patterson as a bride, now Mrs Brooks, 9 Nov 1945, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 34-P246A. 

The mid-twentieth century saw a rise in popularity of the tea-length dress, the nylon petticoat and smaller wedding bouquets. While some bouquets were still fairly elaborate, they were more structured and linear. Popular flowers included chrysanthemums, roses, lilies, gladioli and carnations. Lush, flowing greenery had been replaced with minimal greenery and bouquets were quite flower dense.  They were sometimes embellished with a satin and lace horseshoe which was thought to bring good luck.

Image: Unknown. Wedding of Boze Vela and Nellie Letica, 12-06-1958, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, DGHS-PA-1-2-043. 

Image: Clifton Firth. Full length wedding portrait of bride and groom at the Seint-Mack wedding, 29-02-1956, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 34-S662.  

Image: Clifton Firth. Full length portrait of Tercel Mallinson wedding couple (?) at Auckland Domain wintergardens, October 1957, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 34-T323. 

By the 1960s, large bouquets had seemingly all but disappeared. Brides seemed to favour small, dense bouquets with minimal greenery and one or two flower types. Traditional flowers such as Maiden Hair ferns, carnations and lily of the valley were still favoured, but they were more subtle and toned down. The bouquets also had structured ribbon and lace flourishes too. We also see artificial flowers appear, perhaps as a cost effective and long-lasting alternative to fresh flowers.

Image: Rykenberg Photography. Wedding of Gordon Joseph Balle and Lani Mary Matthes, 09-09-1961, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 1269-L576-4. 

Image: Murray Freer. 'Local wedding', Otahuhu, 1964, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, Footprints 06627. 

Image: Belwood Studios. 'Married in Otahuhu', 1963, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, Footprints 06492. 

Bridal and floral fashions have certainly changed over the years. These images are just a selection of the thousands of wedding related images in our Heritage Collections. They speak to changing dress fashions, social trends, available materials and resources, economic influences and attitudes towards weddings. Wedding flowers are such a personal element of an already significant day, so it brings great joy to take a closer look at the infinite ways they can be presented.

About the author

Samantha Waru is the part of the Auckland Council Graduate Programme. Her role is with the Heritage, Research and Central team of Auckland Libraries and is based at Auckland Central Library. She is spending two years rotating around the various teams experiencing all that heritage and research has to offer within Auckland Libraries. She is also a trained florist and has a passion for wedding flowers which inspired this blog post.