Throughout the Ages: The Worst Wedding and Prom Dress Trends of All Time

As they say, there is nothing quite so constant in life as change. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of fashion. From the styles we wear to the palettes we pick, fashion is always in flux, and it’s not always on an inexorable climb towards refinement.

Here are our picks for some of the worst formal fashion trends of all time.


No discussion of terrible fashion trends would be complete without first discussing the once ubiquitous torture device known as the corset.

Edwardian S Shaped Corset

An Edwardian “S” shaped corset clearly manipulated the female torso into an an unnatural shape.

For centuries, corsets were the undergarment of choice, though whether this was really the preference of actual women or what society simply expected of them seems murky. As the 20th century drew to a close, so too was the Victorian era, and with it, the era of the corset. For far too long, corsets had crushed women’s torsos into an unnatural hourglass shape, starting from girlhood on up. It was even common for pregnant women to wear corsets, much to the detriment of their unborn children.

Despite the fact that corsets were known to cause spine misalignment, deform the ribs and severely harm internal organs as they shifted them into unnatural positions, the corset would remain the undergarment of choice until it was replaced by the bustier, and later the brassiere.

The Bustle

Dinner Dress Bustle 1884–86 The Metropolitan Museum of Art,

In the Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion (2010) the bustle is defined as:

“Until the early 1860’s, the crinoline cage retained its domed shape, growing in circumference and inspiring many satirical cartoons. After this time, it started to flatten in front, and, from the late 1860’s, bustle structures were used to hold skirts out at the back. The early 1870’s saw the more general use of tournures (bustles). They were created using a wide variety of materials such as metal, cane, or whalebone hoops or woven horsehair flounces. Bustles disappeared after two to three years, only to return to fashion in a more exaggerated form from the early 1880’s. They then grew in size to large horizontal protrusions. Some, such as the chimney bustle, were designed to collapse as the wearer sat down. All bustles required women to sit sideways on chairs, and they also caused a wobble effect when walking.”

Edwardian Hats

As corsets faded from fashion, hats for women became big – both figuratively and literally. A relic of the early 20th century, Edwardian hats were enormous feathered monstrosities that sometimes featured taxidermied birds and entire birds’ nests.

Edwardian Hat Birds Nest

Shoulder Pads

Although shoulder pads are most commonly associated with the 1980’s and 90s, these squared off monstrosities date back to the 1930’s, when designer Elsa Schiaparelli introduced them to women’s fashion.

Daisy Fellowes Wearing Schiaparelli 1933

Daisy Fellowes wearing an Elsa Schiaparelli design featuring shoulder pads in 1933.

White Gloves

1950's White Gloves

Although white gloves were elegant, they were far from practical and interfered with everyday activities like eating finger foods at luncheons.

If you’re not a butler and if you’re not performing a medical procedure or going to the opera, there is essentially no excuse for white gloves. Yet in the 1960’s, they were everywhere. With every outfit. For no apparent reason. 

High-low dresses

As fun as high-low dresses were for about a year, since then they’ve been relegated to the “what were we thinking” category. As soon as the novelty wore off, it becomes clear that these skirts really don’t make sense. Fashion doesn’t always have to make sense, but these skirts border on bipolar territory.

Ugly High-Low Dress

1980’s and 90’s Wedding Dresses

Nothing screams 80’s and 90’s wedding dresses like terrible headdresses and weirdly sheer or cut out areas of the gown. Don’t believe us? Take a look at these two blasts from the past.

1980's Wedding Headdress

All of all the terrible trends covered in this post, we’re happy to see the back of this one the most!

Terrible 1980's Wedding Dress

The bow. The inexplicable back cut out. The fringe beading. The puffed sleeves. Why, oh, why dear 80s?

Did we miss any cringeworthy trends from the past? Be sure to mention your favorite unfashionable trend in the comments section below!