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’s 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 in the look of the silhouette.
Always keep an open mind when you go shopping, as you’ll only know the the Dress when you are wearing it. The Bridal consultant could introduce a gown which you never imagined would work, or perhaps you saw something unexpected on a hanger that just ticks all the boxes.
A flexible mindset will keep more options open and potentially lead you to a dress which is even better than you thought was possible!
Drop waist silhouette
Trumpet and Fit&Flare
An Aline gown is fitted 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 options to choose from.
With the huge variety of designs, there is an A-line dress for any type of wedding and season of the year.
Depending on your preferences and your wedding, you can vary the dress with a longer or no train, adding ruffles or tiers, a leg slit, or using color and texture to add more interest.
The A-line is so popular because it is timeless, elegant, versatile, comfortable, suits every body shape and every occasion. In other words, it could easily seem like the holy-grail dress and a safe option.
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.
As there is such an array of A-lines, they have branched into subcategories, which may or may not be clear what the difference is. This is why we are here to clarify!
Some gowns are known as Slim A-lines – meaning the skirt flares less and the fabric appears to have less volume. This gives the skirt a visually “slimmer” profile.
As the skirt is less dramatic it works well for informal weddings, making it especially cohesive with low-key, bohemian, modern and eloping weddings.
Being an easy-to-wear and lightweight silhouette, it suits outdoors and casual venues well.
The Modified A-line sports an A-skirt, but the skirt clinches the lower tummy instead of being fitted at the waist only.
It doesn’t mean the skirt is tight, just closer to the skin but not restricting.
The style wouldn’t have volume at waist level – the fabric gently hugs your shape.
The level of flare is not relevant, however if the skirt seems slim all the way down it is not a Modified Aline but 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 non-fussy, comfortable and lightly fitted dress that shows a hint of curves.
- Aline: flares from the wide in a medium full skirt
- Slim Aline= flares from the waist, less flare, less full skirt
- Modified Aline= full skirt like an Aline, skims the belly and flares from the hip bones
Slim and modified A-lines, just like their big Aline sister, are suitable for any season, theme and venue.
With the A-line options available you’ll find a style 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.
A Drop waist silhouette is an A-line, Sheath or Ball gown fitted over the hips but not below. Although not so common at the moment, it is a flattering shape for most women in which you can enjoy both the body hugging silhouette and the effect of a flared skirt.
Noteworthy is that it might be hard to detect the difference between Modified Aline and Drop waist silhouette. The difference is that the modified Aline has a higher fit, and doesn’t hug all of the hips.
The relaxed fit of the Modified Aline subsides at the lower belly, whereas the Drop waist is fitted to the widest part of your hips. The skirt will not be skimming the entirety of the buttocks, only the upper section.
Drop waist silhouette is interestingly not at all times the same as a dropped waistline.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 – 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.
Drop waist silhouette is ideal for a traditional wedding, or any wedding that calls for impact in a conservative way. You’ll can have the best of both worlds: a full skirt, as well highlighting your feminine shape modestly. It is great for Plus size and Apple shape brides, as it creates soft curves in a forgiving way.
The empire silhouette, also known as Greek wedding dress in some descriptions, is the most modest silhouette. It is only fitted under the bust, and then casually drapes over the waist, hips and legs, giving it a playful and care-free look. The casual fit makes the dress extremely comfortable to wear, but it will hide you completely except for the bust area, and sometimes hinting a somewhat juvenile vibe.
Any dress silhouette could have an Empire waist, but Empire silhouette can only be one thing: an Ballgown/ A-line/ slim Aline or a Sheath 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 if you have a large tummy it will give you a slimmer waist.
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 an hourglass shape and draw attention upwards, but busty brides might find it makes the bust seem enlarged.
The Sheath is an understated yet alluring contemporary dress style. The skirt could have a skimming fit over the hips, or be fitted at the waist only, but what signifies the silhouette is that it naturally falls downwards with a flare.
It often hugs the body, but doesn’t expand outwards. It drapes as fabric would if it wasn’t bulked out.
In a Sheath, you’ll feel effortless. The fabric won’t restrict like a Mermaid, nor does it hanve bulk like an A-line. The dress is low-key which means your natural shape will not be over-powered. It skims your body’s contours, which may not feel advantageous for all brides, but this silhouette is ultimately great for showing your figure without the fuzz of a dramatic skirts.
The Sheath often hugs the buttocks and upper legs gently, but not further down the legs.
To add drama, choose a train, a long veil or a cape. Other ways to make the Sheath dress into a statement, choose bold lace, color, sleeves or why not a leg slit?
Due to its care-free and natural silhouette, a Sheath dress is great for Simple weddings and the perfect base for an alternative bridal look. The Sheath silhouette lends itself to bohemian, beach, destination, elopements, edgy, modern and understated weddings.
The ball gown is the epitome of a fairytale wedding gown and possibly was the dress you wanted to get married in as a young girl. This is the ultimate gown for unleashing your Cinderella ambitions.
The skirt is fitted at the waist and flares wide to a full and poufy profile, more expansive than any other skirt.
To achieve volume, the skirt is propped up by a hoop, horsehair stiffening or a built in crinoline. Sometimes layers of stiff tulle is used as bulk underneath, but this can get quite cumbersome and hot to wear.
A ball gown could 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 avoid 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 give it a try at the bridal salon at least? Who knows, maybe a hidden princess is bursting to be expressed!
Trumpet & Fit and flare – What is the difference?
These two are not exactly the same silhouette, yet they look very much alike. The difference can be hard to define, but we will try to explain here!
The essential difference is where the flare begins, which would then results in how wide the skirt seems to be (although bear in mind that the skirt volume depends mostly on what panel pattern has been used, and how many layers are beneath).
Both Trumpet and Fit and Flare fit the body snugly over the hips and buttocks with an expanding skirt.
- The Fit and Flare flares from the upper thighs. It is suggested this creates a wider-seeming skirt, but it depends on the panels of the dress.
- The Trumpet flares at the middle of your thigh, somewhere above the knee, making the profile of the silhouette seemingly more dramatic (providing there is a lot of volume in the skirt below).
Be advised that different sources say different things, and in either case, the two dresses are more or less the same and the variations can be extremely subtle. 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 fit and flare is an umbrella term for all fitted styles.
On some dresses its hard to see (and irrelevant) where on the legs the flare begins, why this categorization could be redundant. But know you know – the Trumpets flare begins on the upper thigh, and Fit & flare on the middle thigh.
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 at the most, you have mobility to dance and walk quite unrestricted. 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 glamour 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, Trumpet will give you drama, and the Fit and Flare refined yet relaxed 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.
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. It will definitely draw attention to your 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!
These are all gorgeous dresses in their own way, each with so much to adore.
Please remember that your look isn’t only about the silhouette – wedding dresses come in a multitude of different designs and features: sleeves, necklines, fabrics, accessories and other added details which contribute to its final design and appeal.
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. See this knowledge as you start-off point, and when you go shopping let your heart and gut instinct guide you first and foremost!