As a Sydney bridal store that sees hundreds of brides every year, we know a thing or two about wedding gowns.
A wedding gown fits very different to any other piece of garment you may have tried on in the past. Even an evening gown fits and feels very different to a bridal gown. For most recently engaged brides looking for their dream dress, we understand that the process can be overwhelming.
We’re here to help – let’s kick things off with dress silhouettes; what they are, how each differ, and empowering you with the knowledge so that you can walk into your first bridal dress fitting with confidence.
What Are Dress Silhouettes?
In fashion, the term silhouette refers to the overall shape of a piece of garment. Every fashion designer starts from a base silhouette in mind and make stylistic modifications to the neckline, sleeves, inner construction, train, and skirt.
It is the most basic thing of a design such that at first glance, you can deduce the outline of the dress.
As you begin shopping around for your dream dress for your special day, you will come across terms such as mermaid, empire, trumpet, sheath, trapeze, and many more. There are rough guidelines on what silhouettes are better for certain body shapes but to be honest, our bodies and preferences are all different.
As professional stylists who consult and help brides find their best-fitting dress for their wedding day, our job is to know what style will suit a particular body shape within a matter of seconds.
Whilst all our bodies are different, bridal shop stylists often have a mental picture of which silhouettes are more flattering for their customers. Therefore, don’t feel the need to memorise different silhouettes, but rather, enjoy the experience as you try on different gowns.
What Body Shape Am I?
We come in all shapes and sizes.
Most women know what looks good on them. But if you are shopping for a wedding dress online, we recommend that you know the terminology and their implications. Since you won’t be able to try on dresses before you buy them, knowing what to look for will definitely be helpful.
Here are a few common body types:
1. Inverted triangle – hips narrower than your shoulders.
Most brides with this body shape want a wedding dress that draws attention away from their shoulders. Sweetheart necklines and v-necks work great in achieving this.
2. Rectangle – less waist definition with torso and upper body being around the same width as your hips.
Most brides with this broad body shape wants a dress that adds curves and volume. In order to achieve this, you will want to try on dresses that split up the body and draw the eye upwards and downwards.
3. Pear – your torso and upper body is typically smaller than your hips and waist.
Most brides with this broad body shape will want to draw attention to their upper body (e.g., choose a gown with detail around the neckline) and de-emphasise their bottom half. An A-line gown usually cannot go wrong. Similarly, empire and ball gown cuts are equally suitable.
For those of you who wish to flaunt your bottom assets, choose a gown that is more fitted around your hips and ask about split-sizing and alterations.
4. Apple – less defined waist, average to large busts, fullness around the middle, nice pair of pins and rounder shoulders.
Most brides with this broad body shape will want to give definition to their waist so avoid sheath dresses or trumpet and mermaid styles with exaggerated flares.
Consider a corset bodice to create the perception of a smaller frame whilst adding curvature. Ask your bridal consultant for a modified A-line gown with a cinch waist and see how you feel.
5. Hourglass – bust and hip with similar measurements with a waist that is smaller.
Most brides in this category want a wedding dress that flatters their curves (whether it is showing them off or downplay those same curves). For the latter, a ball gown or dress with an a-line skirt will help achieve this. Similarly, consider a more modest neckline such as a scoop rather than a sweetheart.
If, however, your goal is to show off your curves, a trumpet, mermaid or fit & flare style wedding dress is the way to go.
Wedding Dress Styles
A lot of has changed in wedding dresses.
According to Insider, ball gowns were all the rage in the 1950s. It was also in the 50s that strapless wedding gowns became popular. And as we approached modern day times, wedding dresses got slimmer and slimmer.
Typically speaking, there are six main wedding dress silhouettes:
1. A-line Silhouette (also known as Fit & Flare)
French couture designer Christian Dior was the first to use this term in his 1955 spring collection. However, it was Dior’s successor, Yves Saint Laurent, with his 1958 spring collection that featured dresses that flared from a fitted shoulder line.
A-line wedding dresses refer to a gown that is fitted above and around the hips but flare gently to the hem, giving a streamlined and slimming look.
A trapeze silhouette is a more exaggerated version of the A-line. Where the A-line silhouette is fitted through the waist, trapeze dresses are not fitted anywhere.
This cut suits most body shapes as it draws your eyes upwards and emphasises your waist. For petite women, a-line dresses gives the illusion of a little bit of extra height and for curvier women, it will draw focus to your waist whilst drawing attention away from your hips.
Depending on where you shop, Fit & Flare is another name for the A-line silhouette although in North America, Fit & Flare may refer to Trumpet and Mermaid style dresses.
2. Mermaid Silhouette (also known as Fishtail)
The fluted hem and fitted bodice is the mermaid’s distinctive feature. That is, the style of the dress fits closely to the body through the torso and hips, then fishtails out in a flare to the floor. This is why it is also referred to as the fishtail silhouette.
The flared skirt adds an illusion of additional curves.
Due to the fitted nature through the bodice and down through the hips and to about mid or lower calf, walking in a mermaid wedding dress will be difficult.
Mermaid dresses are often strapless although there is no universal rule on this silhouette’s details around the neckline.
If you have a classic hourglass figure, the mermaid silhouette is one to accentuate your chest and butt.
The mermaid looks best on tall brides (e.g., Taylor Swift, Kendall Jenner, Amy Adams, and Sofia Vergara).
3. Trumpet Silhouette
Consider the trumpet dress as a variation of the mermaid where it flairs just below the hip instead of below the knee. Similar to mermaid wedding dresses, trumpet is body-hugging at all the right places.
4. Sheath Silhouette (also known as Column)
A sheath wedding dress skims the body and falls straight to the floor below the hips. Also referred to as a column dress, it is a slim-fitting gown with a straight narrow shape. It is a sleek and modern choice. Add lace, beading or keep it minimalist. You can add drama by incorporating a cathedral length veil.
5. Ball Gown Silhouette (also known as Princess)
The ball gown has a fitted bodice and a wide and full skirt. Considered as one of the most classic styles, the wide and full skirt is often achieved using layers of tulle.
If you are considering a ball gown wedding dress, you are in the company of Princess Diana, Jacki O, and Grace Kelly.
6. Empire Silhouette
An empire silhouette is created by wearing a high-waisted dress, gathered near or just under the bust with a long, loose skirt, which skims the body.
There Is More To Wedding Dresses Than Their Silhouette
The magic of wedding dresses is that no two designers think alike. They may both have a particular silhouette in mind but there are countless personalisations they can make.
Wedding dresses differ in waistlines (empire accent, dropped, fitted, basque), necklines (sweetheart, boat, halter neck, v-neck, square), sleeves (strapless, long sleeves, cap sleeves, off-the-shoulder, one-shoulder), hemline length (ballerina, floor, mini, tea), and even in the shade of white (stark white, ivory, natural white, champagne, light gold, alabaster).
As you can see, the possibilities are endless and this is why going into a bridal store for a personalised fitting is crucial. To make matters even more complicated, different designers and manufacturers will use the same terms differently.
Reading the specs is one thing but seeing it on your body is an entirely different experience!
Mermaid Vs Trumpet
At first glance, mermaid gowns and trumpet gowns look identical. But as the name implies, there are differences between the two silhouettes.
The key difference between mermaid and trumpet wedding gowns is where the flare begins. For the trumpet, this is mid-thigh. Whereas for mermaid styles, it flares at or below the knee. In terms of mobility, you will find that walking and dancing in a trumpet style dress on your wedding day to be easier than in a mermaid wedding dress.
Another difference between the two cuts is the size of the flare. Mermaid dresses have a more dramatic fishtail while the flare of trumpet gowns are more gradual.
Fit & Flare vs Mermaid (For North American Readers)
Australian and British bridal shops commonly interchange fit & flare with A-line. However, for North American readers, fit & flare refers to an entirely different style. In fact, fit-and-flare can refer to mermaid and trumpet silhouettes. For the purpose of this question, the following applies for non-Australian and non-UK audience.
Similar to the difference between mermaid and trumpet styles, fit and flare dresses gently flare out above the knee (whereas mermaid is below the knee and trumpet is mid-thigh).
Some Additional Wedding Dress Shopping Hacks
Every woman has a unique set of features and we all judge ourselves (overly) harshly.
An experienced fitting stylist will be able to recommend a number of dresses best suited to your body shape. We can usually tell within first seeing you what styles to avoid.
Nevertheless, we have prepared answers to a number of commonly asked questions so that you may feel more confident when in telling a bridal store what features you want to try. If you’re considering purchasing your wedding dress online without a prior fitting, this section will be particularly useful.
Q: I Want A Longer-Looking Torso, How Can I Achieve This?
Look for a dress that is fitted at the bodice and opens up gradually to a full skirt. This will help draw out your figure in an elegant manner.
Consider looking at Trumpet styles with a dropped waist bodice.
Q: What Wedding Dress Will De-Emphasise My Bust?
For starters, avoid empire or cinched waists as these will accentuate larger breasts.
Try, instead, a v-neck or high neck wedding dress with a keyhole yoke.
In terms of dress shape, ask your bridal shop stylist for a fitted bodice or a straight skirt.
Q: What Wedding Dress Will Make Me Look Taller?
A gown with a high neckline will help you achieve a taller look.
You may also want to try on short sleeved or sleeveless dresses with long gloves to elongate your appearance.
Q: What Wedding Dress Will De-Emphasise My Height?
For tall brides, a dropped waist (like the basque style) can help.
Avoid column/sheath silhouettes as these can add the perception of a couple of vertical inches (which is the exact opposite of what you want).
Beyond the dress itself, hats or dramatic veiling are other options to consider.
Q: What Wedding Dress Will Make Me Appear More Slender?
Larger sized brides will look beautiful in A-line dresses.
The main thing you want to avoid is body-hugging designs that flare from the knees or above.
The choice of fabric can also help you appear more slender. Choose a light fabric such as chiffon and silk over bulky fabrics such as velvet and satin.
Q: What Wedding Dress Will Slim My Hips?
Choose a dress that will draw attention to your upper body and waist. For example, consider choosing a dress that has bodice detail such as beading or lace.
A princess ball gown or a flared skirt is another tried and tested way to go.
Q; Do You have Any Advice For Petite Brides?
For most petite ladies, the goal is to find a wedding dress that reduces or removes a shortening effect on the overall appearance.
A lot of advice on the Internet suggests that petite brides avoid ball gown dresses. The truth is that you will never know until you try it on.
When it comes to finding your dream dress, you are in control and you are free to choose whatever style, cut and features that will make you feel your best.
Q: Do You Have Any Advice For Pear-Shaped Brides?
Most brides with pear-shaped bodies prefer their upper half. Therefore, a strapless ball gown wedding dress will cover your bottom half whilst drawing attention to your upper body.
To go one step further, try on a princess gown that has an off-the-shoulder neckline.
Summing Things Up
We’ve covered quite a bit of detail here and it is our hope that you walk away more empowered and confident than confused and overwhelmed.
Choosing your wedding dress is a big decision and a significant one and we want to make the experience a positive one.
Bring someone you trust along to your first bridal fitting; someone who isn’t afraid to tell you how it is. At the same time, bring someone who will not force their opinion on you.
We always tell our brides to try our recommendations with an open mind. Quite often, brides will come in with a certain idea, try something completely different, and realise that what counts is how they feel when they see themselves in the mirror.
Don’t be afraid to ask your bridal consultant questions as they are there to help you find your perfect dress. They may have an opinion on what looks best in their eyes but ultimately, trust your instincts girlfriend.
You’ve got this!