A Guide to Different Wedding Dress Styles and What Could Suit Your Figure
Although the choice of wedding dresses is vast, there aren't that many basic shapes. For example, an A line dress could be covered in organza, beads or lace and become three different dresses but the basic shape remains exactly the same. It helps if you decide which one is your ideal shape first and then worry about the details such as beading, fabric etc. Try to be open minded and don't dismiss a shape before you've actually tried it on. Experienced sales assistants can tell you immediately whether a style will flatter you or not so use the appointment as a learning opportunity.
Basic Wedding Dress Shapes and Styles
1) Column, or straight cut
It looks like an evening dress but it is ivory or white. It's a shape a lot of brides are comfortable with because it's something they have worn before, it's practical, it doesn't have any underskirts and it's not too dressy if the wedding is quite informal.
The problem with this shape is that it can show lumps and bumps if it's made out of a thin, soft fabric. It's better to avoid this cut if you are pear shaped even if the fabric is quite thick and rigid. You don't have to be tall and thin to wear a column dress but you have to be proportioned.
The A-line cut could be quite a full skirt with lots of petticoats or almost a column dress which slightly flares out at the hem. It's probably the most popular shape since it flatters most figures and it disguises problem areas very effectively. Overall the A-line has a quite modern feel.
3) Princess line
Often confused with the A-line. The main difference is that there's no seam at the waist and the front is made up of three vertical panels. It is a very flattering shape which makes everybody look slimmer and taller.
It is also very popular and versatile, it can be made to look quite modern or traditional.
4) Empire line
Think "Pride and Prejudice". Cut under the bust with a long skirt. The skirt could be straight cut made out of a soft, clingy fabric or a stiffer satin with a split at the back. In both cases consider it as a column dress and follow the same advice. Despite all the above, an empire line in a flowing fabric is the ideal shape if you are pregnant. The absence of a break at the waist level creates an illusion of height making this shape ideal for petite brides.
5) Fishtail or mermaid line
It hugs the waist and the hips making it the ultimate sexy look. As for the column dress you don't need to be thin but you need to be proportioned so a protruding stomach and big hips are a definite no-no.
Avoid a fishtail which is quite full at the hem because those were popular in the 80's and they haven't lost that out of date look yet.
6) Circular skirt
Think 50's, Happy Days or American Graffiti. If you want a big skirt this is the shape to go for since the volume is at the hem but not on your hips. Avoid it if you are very petite, you'll be swamped.
7) Gathered skirt
It has pleats or folds at the waist or hip level where the skirt meets the bodice. It looks like the fairy tale princess costume and unkind people would call it a "meringue". To be able to wear this shape successfully you need to be tall and slim since it enhances the hips and the sheer volume of the skirt can make you look shorter. It's a shape which suits very young brides.
8) Edwardian cut
Not a very common shape which applies to the skirt cut only. It's pleated or gathered on the derriere and the folds come round towards the front draping the hips. The front view can look almost like a column dress with all the volume at the back. It's a great shape if you want to enhance the curve of the hips. Tall girls who haven't got a very well defined waist should give it a try. Avoid it if you are pear shaped or very petite.
9) Separates and corsets
Apart from the empire line the shapes are exactly the same only they come in two pieces, the bodice and the skirt. There's no advantage or disadvantage in wearing either unless the bodice is a corset.
A corset is heavily boned, is fastened with a cord/lace/string which runs through eyelets at the back so you can adjust how tight you want it by pulling on the cord. Sometimes the cord is covered by a flap of fabric with buttons on it or it's left exposed to make a feature of it. A bodice is also boned but it's fastened by a zip or buttons and it can't be loosened or tightened. There's obviously no cord involved.
A well designed corset "moulds and shapes" your figure and can take a couple of inches off your waist. On the other hand, a poorly constructed corset will just squeeze you in and push the excess flesh where you don't want it to be. Don't be afraid of wearing a corset because you think you won't be able to breathe, remember that they can be adjusted and are actually more comfortable than you imagine.
What Wedding Dress Styles to Wear and What to Avoid
Here's a quick guide for real women with real figures. Don't get depressed, you are very unlikely to have all the imperfections mentioned below and the trick is to draw attention to your good features while disguising the not so good ones. In any case people will be looking at the whole picture and not at the one thing you particularly dislike of yourself. Finally, you are going to have fabulous hair, make up, accessories etc so there's plenty to work with.
Avoid chokers and a high neckline.
Consider a V-neck dress, a halter neck which ends in a V-neck or something which leaves some bare skin on the chest. As for jewellery, a chain with a pendant is probably the best option. Hair can be worn up or down but you really have to try experiment and see for yourself.
You can try "breaking" them with some thick straps but they are quite old fashioned. Frankly, I think they are an asset so I would leave them bare.
In general, avoid jackets or boleros, puffed sleeves and anything which sits just off the shoulder. If you want to have them covered opt for a sheer, flowing fabric. The necklines to consider are the V-neck, sweetheart and round neck.
In this case anything which sits just off the shoulder will make them look wider. An off the shoulder neckline can be round, sweetheart or straight. Some halter neck dresses make a lot of difference too. Discreet shoulder pads are useful if you have sloping shoulders.
Absolutely avoid covering them in satin sleeves! If you are not too happy with the size of your arms and want to cover them up, go for thin, sheer fabrics such as organza or chiffon and avoid beading or lace. The opposite applies to thin arms.
Avoid anything with a high neck, it will make them look twice the size. Apart from that most necklines are suitable. Do wear a well fitted bra.
SMALL BOOBSWhen you try on dresses do check they don't gape at the neckline because there's not much that can be done about it. There's no specific rule regarding small boobs, there isn't really a cut that doesn't suit them so you'll have to try different necklines and decide for yourself. In any case you can consider padding or the "chicken fillets". Chicken fillets are liquid filled pouches that you slip into your bra under each breast. They increase your boobs by one or two cup sizes and look very natural.
Avoid anything column shaped or a fishtail. Bias cut fabrics could also be tricky.
On the other hand you can consider a princess line dress, a corset or an empire line.
Again avoid the column dress, the fishtail and anything gathered or tight on the hips. A princess line, A-line or a circular skirt will hide them very well.
Go for a princess line or an A-line. Avoid anything gathered at the waist or on the hips. Fishtails, column and Edwardian skirts are to be avoided too. Most wedding dresses are A-line or princess line anyway so there's plenty to choose from.
Go for a dress with very little detail on the skirt and definitely avoid any horizontal features such as layering. You can wear a big skirt if you want to but make sure it doesn't swamp you. If you want to wear a veil, go for a short (waist/hip length) one.
Lucky you! If you are proportioned as well you can wear anything you like.
You can obviously choose a dress which hides the problem area or cover it with a shawl/veil/your own hair/gloves etc. Ask for ideas when you go try dresses on and don't be embarrassed because sales assistants come across such problems all the time. Stage make up offers more coverage than normal foundation.
Wedding Dress Fabrics
Silk or man-made fibres?
The advantage of silk is that it's cooler in hot weather and just feels nicer against the skin than anything artificial. On the other hand it's more expensive and creases more easily. High quality artificial fibres can look as good as silk but they are not necessarily much cheaper.
There are so many types of wedding fabrics it's impossible to mention them all but here are a few examples of the most common ones. All of them can be woven from either silk or artificial fibres. No particular fabric is either flattering or not, it's just a question of taste.
The shiny one. It comes in different weights so it can be very soft or quite stiff and rigid.
Sheer and fairly stiff. It's too transparent to have a whole dress made out of it but it's often found as an overlay on another fabric.
Chiffon or Georgette.
They are not the same fabric bur they are very similar, both are sheer but quite soft and floppy unlike organza. They drape very well. Sheer sleeves are often made out of one of the two.
Fairly shiny and it "rustles" when handled. Think Mammie in "Gone with the wind" and her red petticoat. If it's silk, it's very expensive.
Veils or tutus are made from tulle. It's also known as net. Mostly made out of artificial fibres in which case it's very stiff. The silk version is very soft but also very expensive. If used in a dress, it sometimes has appliques work or beads on it
It's a sheer fabric similar to chiffon with a velvet pattern on it. It used to be very expensive because the making of it had a lot of wastage but now the artificial version is quite cheap so there was a definite overuse of it at some point.
Heavy and fairly shiny. It has a pattern woven into it and resembles a furnishing fabric.
Heavy and hot so not ideal for summer wedding. It also crushes very easily.
It's not a type of fabric but a dress cut on the bias is very different from one which is not. Cutting on the bias adds elasticity to a fabric, for example if you pull a cotton hankie from two opposite corners it stretches and gives but if you pull it from the sides it doesn't. Not all fabrics are suitable for this type of cut. In general a bias cut dress is quite unforgiving and shows all the lumps and bumps. It also tends to pucker at the seams which doesn't help either.
In general, it is the cut of a dress and not the fabric which can make miracles for your figure. The choice of fabric is really just a question of personal taste.
Wedding Dress Colours
The choice of colours in bridal is not very great so there isn't much to say apart from the fact that pure white only really suits very tanned or dark complexions while ivory seems to flatter practically everybody. I've also noticed that, in general, a darker shade of ivory looks good on very pale skins.
As for more adventurous bridal colours you just have to try them on.
Caring for Your Wedding Dress
Try to get it dry cleaned as soon as possible because the longer you leave it the more difficult it is to get stains out. Stains such as champagne are invisible when they dry up but they will become noticeable with the passing months.
If your dress is beaded, check there aren't any loose ones because it's likely they will come off during the dry cleaning process. If so, you can either re-stitch them yourself or pass the job to the dry cleaner.
Don't expect to get back a dress which looks brand new, grass or mud stains at the hem never really come out completely.
Most dry cleaners return the dress under a plastic cover, which is not ideal for long term storage since it leads to yellowing and age stains. If you don't intend to wear the dress again, have it packed in a box with acid free tissue paper. Some shops also offer a vacuum packing service which is supposed to be the ultimate in dress preservation. If you open a vacuum packed dress though, you lose the advantage of the vacuum and your dress will age like any other.
If you don't want to shut away your dress in a package in the loft you could cover it with an old (clean) sheet and keep it in a cupboard. The factors that make a dress age and yellow are sunlight and damp.
In any case, apart from vacuum packing, all the methods mentioned are only delaying the inevitable and all dresses will age with the passing years.
About the author
Lucretia Agnus was born in Hungary in 1947.She trained as a costume designer and worked on theatre and TV productions all over Europe. She settled in England after her marriage to raise a family and transferred her skills and experience to the bridal industry where she stayed for the next 20 years.She has now retired and enjoys cooking, gardening and skiing.
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"fabric descriptions useful for my daughter to help decide on a style"
"thank for the advice, ive been so confused about my dress. kind regards "
"You should include pictures!"
"great advice... off to shop tomorrow armed with do/dont. I\'m petite but very curvy."
"thanks you gave a confused lady a clearer view. "
"Great synopsis for the bridal dress shopping novice. Thanks!"
"thank you for the advice"
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