The Extensive Guide to Wedding Dress Silhouettes

Before you hit the bridal salons, it is a good idea to do a bit of homework and read up about the basics of wedding dress design. There are so many options once you are in the salon, so don’t waste precious time trying on dresses that are unlikely to be the One. Your weddings theme, venue, season and type of ceremony will all indicate which dress is your Perfect Match.

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You will be a better shopper if you can give the consultant an idea of what shapes you are most interested to try,  because girl – there are many! The bridal gown jungle is wast and pretty overwhelming, but with this guide you should be able to navigate better towards your goal: the perfect dress for your unique occasion.

The bridal consultant will of course be able to guide you on this – but if you have done your homework, you are likely to find your dream dress sooner rather than later as you will have a better understanding of which dress category suits your criteria. Sometimes it is hard to put a finger on what is right and what isn’t about a dress, but knowing the lingo and the terms, you’ll be able to crack the “code”of wedding dress design.

Remember though- always arrive to the salon with an open mind, because you can only tell which is the One once you are wearing the dress. The Bridal consultant knows her stuff and might be able to find you something which you never guessed could work. A flexible mindset will open possibilities that might lead you to a dress which is even better than what you had imagined!

An overview of the most common dress silhouettes:

1. A-line

The classic wedding gown! Fitted to the waist, then flows down into a A shape skirt – hence the name. There are probably at least 100.000 A-line dresses to choose from, and this silhouette works for every body shape and every kind of theme and wedding venue.

With the huge variety of designs, the A-line dress is also perfect for any destination and season of the year. You can easily change the dress with a train such as sweep, court or a cathedral train, depending on the venue and your personal preference.

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2. Slim A-line

There is also dresses which are Slim A-lines – it means that the dress flares less and hangs closer to the body – the A is narrower and the profile of the dress slimmer. As the skirt is narrower, it can work well for bohemian weddings, making it a popular choice for low-key and eloping weddings – and would suit an outdoors venue well such as beach, woodlands, garden, mountain or barns.

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3. Modified A-line

There is also such a thing as a Modified A-line, which is fitted to the top part of your hips, and then continues down into an A skirt. A modified Aline is sometimes coincides with being a Dropped waistline, but the two doesn’t necessarily have to be the same. (We will talk more about waistlines next week).

Find it hard to tell the difference from slim A-line and modified?
Slim= normal Aline waist, with less flared  skirt. The skirt covers less floor area.
Modified= the fabric is fitted lower than the waist. The fabric is fitted around the hips, and then flares like a standard A-line skirt.

Slim A-lines and modified A-line are -just as their big sister – suitable at any wedding destination, theme and venue. With the range of sleeve options, necklines and fabrics on offer, you can never go wrong when choosing an A-line wedding dress.

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Some A-line beauties we love that you can shop right now:

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Dresses via BHLDN

4. Drop waist silhouette

There is Drop waist silhouette, and there is Dropped waistline. They should invent two different names, I know! Any dress silhouette could have a dropped waistline – it just indicates where the fabric is cut, there will be a seam across the body. Look at the picture in the top right corner – this is a dropped waist line (the silhouette is in fact Sheath)
A Drop waist silhouette looks like an A-line (or a Ball gown), but it is fitted and expands from the  hip area as opposed to at the waist. As if you are about to “drop” the skirt – ha!
This is a very flattering shape for most women, and you can enjoy both the body hugging silhouette and the drama of a big skirt.

Drop waist silhouette is perfect for a traditional church wedding, or any wedding that calls for impact. Combine with  a strapless sweetheart neckline and gorgeous lace and/ or tulle layers, you will have a Bridal look that stands the test of time.

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5. Empire silhouette:

Just as with Drop waist and drop waist silhouette, there is Empire waist, and there is Empire silhouette. Any dress silhouette could have an Empire waist, but Empire silhouette can only be one thing: it is essentially an A-line dress silhouette, but the top of the “A” starts already under the bust, as opposed to at the natural waist. This makes the dress extremely comfortable and easy to wear, but it also has a tendency to hide the Bride away, and that is  pity if you ask me.
The dress expands and is flowy around the waist, hips and legs, giving it a girly, playful and care free look. It can be more or less flared, sometimes fairly skimmed against the body like a Sheath, and sometimes flared out more like an A-line.

This shape is great for Beach, Boho, Rustic and weddings in hot climates, and is definitely the most comfortable shape for expecting Brides. Plus size Brides may also find that this silhouette helps to create a waist.

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6. Sheath:

A  graceful and feminine dress style. The bodice is fitted (although a Grecian or Bohemian style dress might be loosely draped) to the waist like an A-line, and then drapes simply straight down to the floor. It fits semi-closely around the body, but does not flare – just as fabric would hang naturally if it wasn’t pulled together tight. In a Sheath, you’ll feel comfortable and effortlessly Bridal. The fabric doesn’t restrict you in you like a fit and flare, nor does it cover your shape like an A-line.

Due to its unstructured and natural silhouette, a Sheath dress is great for Boho, Beach, Destination, Simple, Elopements and any outdoors weddings. The dress is low-key which means your natural womanly beauty will not be over-powered – it will enhance and complement your figure. If you want to make a bigger impact for the ceremony, combine the Sheath with a long train – in which case the dress might get a slight Mermaid look. If you don’t like trains but would like some  drama either way – simply choose a long veil.

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If you are looking for a Sheath gown, we recommend these gorgeous creations:

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Shop here

7. Ball gown

A little girl’s fantasy dream dress. A dress silhouette usually only worn on galas or by royals, this is a great choice for any Bride who  wishes to live her inner Cinderella. The dress is fitted usually to the waist (a ball gown could also have a s.k dropped waistline, in which case it would fall into the category Drop waist silhouette, see above) and the skirt will like an A-line flare out wide, but a ball gown has a much fuller skirt, usually propped up by a underskirt with a hoop and/ or crinoline. You can imagine that there would be a huge ball under the skirt.

Indie Brides – don’t be afraid of the ball gown! The princess skirt is not only reserved for girly-girls at a ball room wedding – it can make a cool  statement even in your industrial or art museum venue. It is rare to get an opportunity to wear such a silhouette so why not at your wedding?

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Find your dream ball gown at the BHLDN store

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(PS. prices are really affordable too)

8. Fit and flare & Trumpet

The two names are almost the same dress, the difference is mainly the size of the skirt and the way it flares. They both fit the body snugly until below the hips or mid-thigh, and then expands. The fit and flare flares more widely (like a ballgown would do) where the Trumpet has a more gradual flare, so the skirt covers less floor. The skirt would be more like an A-line or Slim A-line. But different sources say different things, and in either the two dresses are more or less the same. The silhouette is glamorous and flattering and great to enhance the feminine shape. Choose Fit and flare if you want more drama.

You could wear this dress silhouette on most occasions, but due to the tight fit it might be better suited for an indoors or semi indoors event, as opposed to outdoors. But I have heard of a Bride in a mermaid dress that rode out of her ceremony on a donkey at her destination wedding in Santorini. The moral of the story – anything is possible!


At a quick glance one might think that a Trumpet looks the same as a Sheath or a modified A-line. Yes – it has similarities in the size of the skirt, but a Trumpet is fitted all the way to  below the buttocks or mid thigh. The skirt flares gradually out and covers about the same amount of floor as an A-line or Slim A-line. If you were to put the Bride sideways, you could imagine the dress shape similar to that of a trumpet. As described in the previous section, the Trumpet is very similar to the F&F style, only a softer flare and less dramatic skirt.

Due to its form fitted elegance and timeless design, a Trumpet is a perfect dress both for modern and vintage themes. It suits any venue where classy glamour and understated luxe is a priority. If you as a Bride would like to look  sexy but still feel sophisticated and comfortable, then the alluring Trumpet silhouette might be for you.

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Fit and Flare:

Fit and Flare is Trumpets dramatic twin. If  Trumpet is understated, F&F can be described as more theatrical. She is fitted to below the buttocks or mid-thigh just like Trumpet, but then she flares out in a large pouf. Imagine an A-line or Ball gown skirt which has been pulled down below the buttocks – there you have your Fit and Flare.  If we are talking in mathematical terms, the fit and flare skirt would flare out at a ratio of about 5:1, whereas the Trumpet around 2:1 or 3:1. I.e the flare is more expansive – the Trumpets flare is gradual, so in a fit and flare you are more likely to find that the skirt has a steeper angle to its flare profile is sharper, as opposed to the Trumpet where the flare is curved.

BUT I must add that in the world of wedding dresses, the difference can be very subtle, and in many Bridal salons there is no defined difference between the two – it depends on where you go and who you ask.

Being an utterly glamourous dress silhouette, it is great choice for a Bride who wants to be a show stopper. As movement is not as restricted as in a full Mermaid dress, the Fit and flare can still (quite) comfortably be worn for outdoors weddings. As it it only fitted to mid-thigh at the most, you have plenty of mobility to dance. Due to its opulent nature, it suits a Bride who desires a lavish and exciting look. In terms of venue, it can be worn at any kind of environment, but the most befitting would probably be an Estate home, a hotel, vineyard, golf or country club or similar – somewhere semi-luxurious and romantic.

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9. Mermaid

Prior to this guide, you might not have realized that there is a difference between Trumpet, Fit and Flare and Mermaid. In some opinions, the difference vague, and i have seen many misleading guides online.
The Mermaid silhouette is the most fitted of all fitted wedding dress silhouettes. In many dress guides online or in shops, Mermaid is the umbrella name for any fitted dress. In this guide, I have been particular about it and divided into the 3 categories Trumpet, F&F and Mermaid – but in some places you will actually hear the term Mermaid used for all 3, and sometimes even for Sheath! It is totally confusing isn’t it – but after reading this I hope you feel more informed.

I think it is important to specify this difference though – because they are different and will suit different venues and body shapes – they are not all the same!

The difference with the Mermaid is fitted all the way down to the knees or just above or below, making this an utterly seductive and glamorous dress. Although also somewhat hard to walk, sit and dance in. Also known as Fishtail, the Mermaid will be skimmed against your body and legs all the way down you the knees and expand from that point (whereas a Trumpet/ fit and flare is fitted to mid thighs). This makes the Mermaid the perfect choice if you want to show off your womanly curves.

You can of course wear the Mermaid anywhere – but you might find that it suits an urban/ indoors wedding destination better than a rustic one. You will be quite restricted in movement so if you are planning to dance a lot (or ride donkeys) – see if you  can find a dress with a stretchy fabric such as stretch lace, stretch satin or jersey knit. The Mermaid silhouette is alluring and flattering, but can also be slightly unforgiving.

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Perhaps you will find your fitted dress dream at the BHLDN online store:

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These are all gorgeous dresses in their own way with so much to love. The dress is not all about the silhouette though – they all come in a multitude of different combinations of sleeves, necklines, waist lines, fabrics and details, all contributing to the its final design and appeal.

Which one is for YOU?

Stay tuned in – next weeks Dress Shopping Guide post will be all about body shapes, how to dress for confidence and which dress silhouette is best for your unique being!

A guide to wedding dress silhouettes | By Sheer Ever After weddings |

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