America may lack royals, but we have wealthy society families in spades. We're talking monikers like the Vanderbilts, the Astors, the Kennedys, and so on. And when members of these families tied the knot, major $$$ was spent. Of course, the gowns were to die for. Society brides > royal brides, any day of the week. (JK, we love you Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle.) Relive the most expensive and historical gowns to date, ahead.
Drew Barrymore comes from a long line of Hollywood stars and this is her grandfather, acclaimed actor John Barrymore, with her grandmother, his third wife Dolores Costello, in 1928. Some of Barrymore's most well-known films include Grand Hotel (1932), Twentieth Century (1934) and Midnight (1939), which have been inducted into the National Film Registry. Dolores was a well-known silent film actress in her own right when the two were married; she was his co-star in The Sea Beast.
According to her New York Times obituary, Barrymore said of Costello: “I have just seen the most beautiful woman in the world. I shall not rest or eat until I have seen her again.” The two spent their honeymoon on his yacht, visiting Panama, the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador. They hunted alligators and mammoth lizards and explored wild regions of Central America before returning to Hollywood and moving into a hilltop mansion in Beverly Hills.
Jacqueline Bouvier married John F. Kennedy on September 12, 1953 in Newport, Rhode Island. Her gorgeous wedding gown was created by African-American fashion designer Ann Lowe—who didn't receive credit for the dress until much later in life—and is now on display at the Kennedy Library in Boston. The dress consisted of 50 yards of fabric made out of ivory-colored silk taffeta and Jackie wore a lace wedding veil that belonged to her grandmother. She also wore a single strand pearl necklace, which was a family heirloom, and a diamond pin from her parents and a diamond bracelet from her groom.
Talitha Pol, an actress and dancer, was married to John Paul Getty Jr. from 1966 until her death in 1971. His father, Jean Paul Getty, founded the Getty Oil company and was in the '50s, one of the richest Americans.
On their wedding day, December 10, 1966, Talitha wore a creamy velvet mink-trimmed hooded minidress. The dancer later became a style icon thanks to her boho fashion sensibility—Pol was the muse for Chloe’s 2002 spring collection—and her lavish yet tragic life (she died of a heroin overdose at 31) is well documented on screen in the FX show Trust.
Jonathan Tisch and Laura Steinberg married in 1988 at the Central Synagogue in NYC. Their wedding made the pages of The New York Times, obviously, though the couple later divorced. Jonathan's wealth can be traced back to his family's empire of hotels, which now all fall under the Loews Corporation. The American conglomerate has diversified its portfolio to include insurance, oil drilling, and pipeline transport.
Laura wore an off-white taffeta dress that was delicately embroidered in gold and had a seven-foot train. Her tulle veil was held in place by a diamond and pearl tiara. Meanwhile, her matron of honor and bridesmaids all wore dresses by Arnold Scaasi. As reported by The New York Times, "The families declined a request by Life magazine to document what was being called the wedding of the 80s." More than 500 guests attended the wedding, including the likes of Barbara Walters and Helen Gurley Brown.
Heiress Cornelia Venderbilt's 1924 wedding to British diplomat John Cecil was the party of the century, and took place at the family's famous Biltmore estate in Asheville. A whopping 2,500 people attended the reception.
“The bride was lovely in a gown of white satin, very straight, with long sleeves,” wrote the Asheville Citizen. “Her bridal veil of tulle and lace, which she wore over her face when entering the church, was four yards long. It was caught with orange blossoms from Florida...Her bridal bouquet was of orchids and lilies of the valley, made in Asheville by the Middlemount Gardens. Each of her satin slippers was ornamented with a single orange blossom.”
Gloria Vanderbilt (a.k.a. Anderson Cooper's mother) married her first husband Pat DiCicco in 1941, when she was just 17 (and yep, she wore an iconic set of Vanderbilt pearls, because as the saying goes, "All Vanderbilt Women Have Pearls"). They divorced just four years later. (She next married Leopold Stokowski, then Sidney Lumet—more on that in the next slide—and finally, Wyatt Cooper, Anderson's father.)
Couple of fun facts: The train on Gloria's dress was 30-feet long, and that little cake topper is wearing a replica of her outfit.
Gloria Vanderbilt's third husband was director Sidney Lumet. They married in 1956 and divorced in 1963, so the relationship was admittedly pretty short-lived. Even so, Gloria looked absolutely stunning on her wedding day, wearing a beige gown rather than the traditional white, which was made out of French linen that dates from 1830. Note: This time, she ditched the pearls.
In what was called Atlanta's wedding of the year, Catherine Wood Campbell married Randolph Apperson Hearst in 1938. Catherine was the only daughter of Morton Campbell, a wealthy telephone company executive while Randolph was the son of William Randolph Hearst, a media mogul (full disclosure: Marie Claire is a subsidiary of The Hearst Corporation). The wedding had nine bridesmaids and 15 groomsmen. The bride wore a white satin gown and tulle veil. The couple went on to have five daughters: Catherine, Virginia, Patty, Anne, and Vicki.
Patty, the daughter of Catherine and Randolph, married Bernard Shaw in 1979. The two tied the knot in an Episcopal ceremony at a naval base in San Francisco Bay. Patty wore an off-the-shoulder white gown and wedding veil. According to Patty, her parents gave the couple "a Sears vacuum cleaner as a wedding present" because "they thought [the marriage] wouldn’t last." But, the two remained married until 2013—when Bernard passed away from cancer—and had two daughters: Gillian and Lydia.
William Waldorf Astor married socialite Sarah Norton in 1945. Despite getting divorced in 1953, the pair had a whirlwind romance and apparently got engaged just a few days after they met. Not much is publicly known about Sarah's dress, but we can all agree that her starburst tiara is fit for royalty (or, alternatively, a basic who's super into weddings *waves hi*).
(Side note: This wedding took place in London, but the Astors are a cross-continental fixture, as anyone who's walked into New York's Waldorf Astoria knows.)
American hotelier Conrad Hilton's son Nicky Hilton married Elizabeth Taylor when she was just 18 in a ceremony in Beverly Hills.
MGM organized the fabulous event, and Elizabeth's dress was designed by famed costume maker Helen Rose. Her team of 15 people took an entire three months to create the gown out of satin and seed pearls, and the train is a whopping 15 yards. FYI, the couple divorced just eight months later.
Abby, daughter of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Abigail Green Aldrich, married banker David Milton in 1925. The wedding was a *huge* news-making affair, with 1,200 guests at the reception in NYC. And you'll love this: The bride broke with tradition and insisted that the word "obey" be removed from her marriage vows. Pretty cool.
John D. Rockefeller III married prominent philanthropist Blanchette Hooker in 1932 when she was in her early 20s. The pair had their *extremely* fancy reception at the Colony Club on Park Avenue. Her dress is a surprisingly modern silhouette given the era, no?
Almost ten years later in Bedford, NY, in 1940, his brother David Rockefeller (later the former chairman of the Chase Manhattan Bank and the Metropolitan Museum of Art) married Margaret McGrath and she wore a very similar gown—with slightly puffier sleeves. This, following a proposal made with a 5.6 carat rectangular step-cut diamond ring.
Random aside that has literally nothing to do with the Rockefellers: Bedford is where Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds currently live.
This 1940 wedding was a HUGE deal—in fact, a hilariously old-time-y video about it can be found on YouTube.
Henry Ford II and Anne McDonnell were married in Long Island, and the church was swarming with hundreds of uninvited guests hoping for a glimpse of the bride and groom. Anne's dress is ever-so lovely, with sheer cap sleeves and a giant skirt.
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