Your Essential Guide to Wedding Dress Silhouettes

It is a good idea to know the basics of wedding dress design before hitting the bridal shops. This way you’ll avoid spending too much time on dresses that are unlikely to be right for you and your wedding. The bridal gown horizon is vast, but with this guide you can easier navigate towards your goal: your dream dress!

At your appointment, give the bridal consultant an idea of what shapes you are most interested in trying in order to narrow down your options. As well as personal preference, consider what is appropriate for your weddings intended vibe, the venue, season and ceremony style.
Your consultant can guide on the right silhouette for your body and dream wedding – but if you have done the homework, the process of elimination will be effortless.

Sometimes it is hard to put a finger on what is right and what isn’t about a dress, but knowing some lingo and factors, you’ll be able to crack the “code” of wedding dress design. Knowing which neckline is right for you also plays a role, so make sure you also read up on that!

Despite of the above, always keep an open mind when you go shopping, because you’ll only tell which is The Dress when you are wearing it! The Bridal consultant could introduce a gown which you never guessed would work, or perhaps you saw something unexpected that just ticks all the boxes.
A flexible mindset will keep possibilities open and potentially lead you to a dress which is perhaps even better than imagined!

Quick links

A-line
Slim A-line
Modified A-line
Drop waist silhouette
Empire silhouette
Sheath
Ball gown
Trumpet and Fit&Flare
Mermaid

Summary

A complete overview of the most common wedding dress silhouettes

A-line

An Aline gown is fitted only at the waist then expands into a A shaped skirt. This is the most classic silhouette, and as it one of the most common styles, there will be many, many options to choose from.
The A-line is so popular because it is timeless, elegant, versatile, comfortable, suits every body shape and every kind of wedding. In other words, it could easily seem like the holy-grail dress for any bride.

With the huge variety of designs, the A-line dress is perfect for any destination and season of the year. Depending on your preferences and your wedding, you can change up the dress with a longer or no train, adding ruffles or tiers, a leg slit, or using color and texture to add more interest.

It is hard to go wrong when choosing an A-line, and the options for personalization are infinite with the range of sleeves, necklines, laces, colors, embellishments and fabrics on offer.
No matter which shape or personality you have, an A-line is a style guaranteed to fit well.

image courtesy of jenny yoo

image via tara lauren | berta

image via jenny yoo

image credits: allure bridals| etsy

Slim A-line

As there is such an array of A-lines, they have branched out into subcategories, which may or may not be that clear what is different about them. This is why we are here to clarify!

Some gowns are known as Slim A-lines – meaning the skirt flares less and the fabric hangs closer to the body. This gives the skirt a visually narrower profile. Still only fitted at the waist, the skirt is less dramatic, and thus works well for informal weddings – making it especially cohesive with low-key, modern and eloping weddings.
Being an easy-to-wear and lightweight silhouette, it suits outdoors and casual venues well.

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images courtesy of jj house | alison webb

image via grace loves lace

image via jenny packham | jane hill

Modified A-line


The Modified A-line sports an A-skirt, but the difference is that the skirt clinches the lower tummy between the belly button to the top part of your hip bones. However, it doesn’t mean the skirt is tight – just closer to the skin but not in a particularly restricting way, only hugging the top section of your hips but not below. The style wouldn’t have pleats or gathers at waist level but only smooth, flat fabric.
Although the flare is not so relevant, if a modified slim Aline happens to have a narrow skirt, it is likely to be defined as a Sheath silhouette. (More about Sheath further down).

A modified Aline sometimes coincides with being a Dropped waistline, but the two are not at all times the same: drop waist indicates where bodice ends and skirt begins = where the horizontal “waist” of the dress is drawn, but the Modified Aline simply refers to where it is fitted against your skin and where the flare begins = the silhouette.

The modified A-line gown is great if you desire an unfussy, comfortable and lightly fitted dress that shows a balanced amount of curves.

Re-cap:
Slim Aline= normal Aline waist, with less flared  skirt.
Modified Aline= fitted below the waist until the top of your hip, flaring like a standard A-line skirt.

Slim and modified A-lines, just like their big Aline sister, are definitely suitable for any season, theme and venue.
With all A-line variations there are, you’ll find options whether you want to be classic, understated or subtly sexy. There is an A-line variety for every kind of body frame and wedding style, and you’ll be guaranteed to be comfortable.

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images courtesy of bride to be couture | demetrios

image via moonlight bridal

image via justin alexander | anna campbell

Drop waist silhouette

There is Dropped waistline, and then there’s also Drop waist silhouette.

Any dress could have a dropped waistline, independent of its silhouette. Dropped waistline indicates where the fabric for the bodice and skirt are cut and stitched, where there will be a seam or a lace work transition across the body. This could be seen on any kind of dress, from mermaid to ball gown.

A Drop waist silhouette is an A-line or a Ball gown form fitted to same level as the pubic bone and flares from that point. Although not so popular at the moment, it is a flattering shape for most women in which you can enjoy both the body hugging silhouette and the drama of a big skirt.

Noteworthy is that it might be hard to detect the difference between Modified Aline and Drop waist silhouette. The crucial difference that the modified Aline has a freer fit, thus not exposing much of the hip shape. The relaxed fit of the Modified subsides at the lower belly, whereas the Drop waist is fitted more snugly down to the widest part of your hips.

Drop waist silhouette is ideal for a traditional wedding, or any wedding that calls for impact in a conservative way. With this silhouette, you’ll have the best of both worlds: a full skirt as well a dress highlighting your feminine shape, but not the full contour of the hips. It is great for Plus size and Apple shape brides, as it creates soft curves in a forgiving way. The skirt will not be skimming the entirety of the buttocks, only the upper section.
Combine with dramatic sleeves, a statement tiara an eye-catching neckline for a modern take on classic, or stick to tried and tested styling for a timeless look.

image courtesy of rosa clara

image via sophia tolli | casablanca

image via mon cheri

image via essence designs | justin alexander

Empire silhouette


Any dress silhouette could have an Empire waist, but Empire silhouette can only be one thing: an Ballgown/ A-line/ slim Aline with a flare that begins closer to the bust as opposed to at the actual waist. This gives the appearance of a higher waistline, a shorter torso and a slimmer waist if you have a large tummy.
The dress is loosely fitted around the waist, hips and legs, giving it a playful and care free look. The casual fit makes the dress extremely comfortable to wear, but also has a tendency to hide the Bride, and sometimes giving a juvenile impression.

This silhouette is great for informal and outdoors weddings weddings in hot climates, and is definitely the most suitable dress for pregnant Brides. Plus size Brides may also find that this shape helps to create a waist and draw attention upwards, but busty brides might find it makes the bust seem enlarged.

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image courtesy of davids bridal | etsy

image via marina design

image credits: watters | pronovias

Sheath

The Sheath is a understated yet alluring contemporary dress style. The skirt could either have a skimming fit over the hips or be fitted at the waist only, but what signifies the silhouette is that it doesn’t flare, it naturally falls downwards in a straight line.
It can often hug the body, but never expands. It drapes as fabric would if it wasn’t manipulated.

Theres a gray area between Modified A-line and Sheath sometimes. In case of uncertainty, take a look at the flare: if the skirt flares it is a Modified Aline, if it has a straight and more narrow profile it is a Sheath. The Sheath also sometimes slightly hugs the buttocks, but never the legs.

In a Sheath, you’ll feel comfortable and effortless. The fabric won’t restrict like a Mermaid, nor does it cover your shape like an A-line. The dress is low-key which means your natural shape will not be over-powered by dramatic skirts. It follows your body’s contours, which may not be advantageous for all brides, but this silhouette is ultimately great for showing your figure without exaggerating it.

If you want impact, choose a long train – in which case the dress might get a slight Mermaid or Trumpet appearance but without being fitted snugly. If you don’t like trains but would like some drama either way, choose a long veil or a cape. Other ways to make the Sheath dress into a fashion statement, choose bold lace, color, appliqué, texture, sleeves, leg slits and accessories to bring out extra bridal couture factor.


Due to its care-free and natural silhouette, a Sheath dress is great for Simple and informal weddings, the non-bridal bride and the perfect base for an alternative bridal look. The Sheath silhouette lends itself to bohemian, beach, destination, elopements, edgy, modern and understated weddings.

image courtesy of anna campbell

images via maggie sottero | lian rokman

image via tali and marianna

image credits: bride to be couture | louvienne

Ball gown

The ball gown is the epitome of a classic wedding gown and likely to be a young girl’s fantasy dress. This is a definite choice for any Bride who wishes to unleash her Cinderella ambitions.
The skirt is fitted at the waist and immediately flares wide to a full and much poufier profile than any other skirt. The ball gown occasionally features a dropped waist, but the expansive profile is nonetheless the same.
To achieve volume, the skirt is propped up by a hoop, horsehair stiffening or a built in crinoline. Sometimes you’d use layers and layers of stiff tulle to “ball” up the skirt from underneath, but this can get quite cumbersome and hot.
A ball gown can be as easy as any other dress to wear if light weight fabrics such as soft tulle and organza are chosen. The effect can be enhanced with tiers, handkerchief hems and ruffles.

Untraditional brides don’t have to be afraid of the ball gown. The full skirt is not only reserved for classic weddings; it can make the right statement even in an warehouse or art museum venue.
It is rare to get an opportunity to wear such a silhouette – so why not? At the very least, make sure to try one at your bridal appointment to make sure there isn’t a hidden princess who’s bursting to be expressed…

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image courtesy of | eva lendel | milla nova

image via alex veil on etsy

image credits: hayley paige | galia lahav

Trumpet & Fit and flare

These two are not the same silhouette, but it can be hard to establish the difference, why we have grouped them together here.
The essential difference is where the flare begins, and how gradual the flare is. As both factors are independent of each other, it can get a bit complicated… This is why you need us!
Both Trumpet and Fit and Flare fit the body snugly over the hips and buttocks with an increasingly expanding skirt.
The Trumpet flares higher on your leg, and this theoretically makes the profile of the silhouette more gradual and steady in the way the skirt flares.
The Fit & Flare flares at the middle of your thigh, making the expansion more sudden and thus giving the skirt a more dramatic effect.

BUT – be advised that different sources say different things, and in either case, the two dresses are more or less the same and the boundaries can be blurred – for example if you had a drastic flare higher on the leg, or a gradual flare lower down. In the world of fashion design, the difference can be stark or subtle, and in many Bridal salons there is no well defined difference between the two – it depends on where you go and who you ask.
Some say it is the size of the skirt (but there are no exact dimensions provided) others, like us, talk about the curve and the position of the flare.

We can therefore assume that if the skirt has a well defined point of expansion, a full skirt and begins somewhere on your upper leg, it is a fit and flare, and if it has a gradual, smooth curve and less dramatic skirt, also flaring somewhere on your upper leg, it is a Trumpet.
On some dresses its hard to see (and irrelevant) where on the legs the flare begins, why categorization feels redundant. But generally speaking, you can expect the Trumpets flare to start somewhere just under the buttocks, and Fit & flare somewhere on the thighs.

In any case, these silhouettes are both glamorous and flattering and a great dress to enhance the feminine shape. As it it only fitted to mid-thigh, you have mobility to dance and walk quite unrestrictedly. See it as a “user friendly” Mermaid, which is more forgiving and complimentary for brides with Pear and Square body shapes.

Due to their versatility both silhouette work for contemporary and classic weddings where the vibe has a hint of glamor and sophistication. If you as a Bride would like to look  sexy but still feel comfortable, then the alluring Trumpet or Fit & Flare silhouette could be for you. If you want a dress with a voluptuous flair, Fit & Flare will give you drama, and the Trumpet refined elegance.
In terms of body type, both Apple and Pear shape brides will find that the Trumpet and Fit and Flare are more complimenting than the Mermaid or Sheath silhouette.

image credit : tina valerdi

image courtesy of maison signore | muse bridal studio

image via rebecca ingram

image credits: maggie sottero | allure bridals

Mermaid

The Mermaid silhouette is the most body skimming of all wedding dress silhouettes. Also known as Fishtail, the Mermaid will be tightly fitted against your legs to the knees and expand from there, making this a seductive and glamorous dress. The Mermaid is the perfect choice if you want to show off your figure, although also somewhat hard to walk and dance in.

In many dress guides online or in bridal shops, Mermaid is the umbrella term for any fitted dress, also including Trumpet and F&F. The Mermaid will closely hug your legs to knee level, whereas a Trumpet/ F&F is fitted only at the thighs. In this article we have been particular and divided into three categories, but in many other places you might hear Mermaid being used to describe all of them. It is indeed confusing but after reading this you’ll be the expert and able to tell the difference!

Being an utterly glamorous dress silhouette, Mermaid is great choice for a Bride who wants to be a show stopper. Due to its form fitting and dramatic nature it will suit the Bride who desires a jaw-dropping and exciting entrance, and as it will definitely draw attention to her hips, waist and bust, it is a requirement that she is unafraid to show her curves.

In terms of venue, it could be worn at any kind of environment when you are not required to walk around too much. You could wear this dress silhouette on many formal or less formal venues, but due to the restricted fit you might find that it suits an urban/ indoors wedding better – perhaps an enclosed, quite opulent and impressive venue to complement the dramatic spirit of the gown.
(But we have heard of a Bride in a mermaid dress that rode out of her ceremony on a donkey at her Italian destination wedding, so as you can hear – anything is possible!)

In case you are planning to dance a lot (or ride donkeys), find a Mermaid dress with a stretchy fabric such as stretch lace, silk cady, stretch duchess satin or crepe with some spandex.
The Mermaid silhouette is alluring and flattering, but can also be slightly unforgiving. Its not necessarily about body shape, but confidence is essential!

image courtesy of enzoani

images via pallas couture | berta

image via enzoni

image credits: pallas couture | atelier eme

Lastly…

These are ALL incredibly gorgeous dresses in their own way, each with so much to adore.
Although it is great to know what style works for your body type, please remember that your look isn’t only about the silhouette – wedding dresses come in a multitude of different designs and features: sleeves, necklines, waist lines, embellishments, accessories, laces and other added details which contribute to the its final design and appeal.
What this means is, that you should look at the whole picture when choosing your outfit – and not just the silhouette. And don’t be afraid of defying wedding stereotypes – this is your day and your dress!

The dress which is perfect for you is the one that speaks to you on the rack and makes you smile when you wear it. Our guidelines are meant to give you a great start-off point, but when you go shopping, let your heart and gut instinct guide you first and foremost!

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A guide to wedding dress silhouettes | By Sheer Ever After weddings | www.sheereverafter.com

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