Wedding Dress Styles Explained: 20 Terms You Need To Know

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If anything is synonymous with weddings, it is the wedding gown. Sure to feature in all of your wedding pictures, your wedding dress can often set the theme for the rest of your wedding day. For this reason, many brides feel an immense pressure when choosing their dress.

There are so many factors to consider when dress shopping: you want it to flatter you, but also to reflect your personal style. Most brides want to make sure their dress will look timeless for years to come, while still being stylish for today. Some even want to ensure the dress can be passed down to generations to come.

If you’ve never really worn a formal dress before, it can feel intimidating to try and learn about the different terminology consultants will use to describe styles, cuts and materials. There are so many different features that can be used on a wedding dress! You want to feel confident while shopping – there’s nothing worse than trying to find the dress of your dreams while you’re feeling really unprepared.

This guide contains everything that you need to know about wedding dress terminology. We will go through all of the different styles of wedding dresses, including which silhouettes work best for certain body types, different sleeve styles, and what the names for necklines mean. These pointers will help you to navigate through the wonderful world of wedding dresses, so that you can confidently find the dress of your dreams and feel beautiful on your wedding day.

How To Choose Your Wedding Dress Style

Finding the right bridal gown can be incredibly stressful. Fabric, embellishment, and accessories aside, the first hurdle for brides is to navigate through the many shapes and styles of wedding dress to find one that suits their style and flatters their figure.

With countless wedding dress styles in the market at any one time, it can be a challenge to even know where to start! Our advice is to start a Pinterest board as soon as you get engaged. This way you will have an idea of what visuals appeal to you, and begin to consider what sort of settings those dresses will work in. The next step is to book your bridal appointments! Keep these minimal – going to 20 different shops will only make your decision more difficult.

Remember that brands usually have exclusivity deals with certain stores, which means that other shops within a certain radius cannot stock the same styles. This means that you should be able to try on a good range of dresses in your local area. It is always best to call the shop before booking to make sure they have the styles available that you want to try on.

Even with all this prep work, you might find that the style of dress that you had set your heart on for your big day turns out to be nothing like the dress that you actually fall in love with. So there is no wonder it can all be a little bit stressful, but it is also a great reason why wedding dress shops offer Prosecco when you book in to try on dresses!

A guide to Styles of Wedding Dress for body shape

Wedding Dress Silhouettes

There are 7 main styles of wedding dress that are recognised all over the world.

Fishtail Wedding Dress

What Is A Fishtail Wedding Dress?

As the name suggests, a fishtail dress is slim around the upper body and flares out at the bottom from your calves.

Some styles of fishtail dress have a dramatic transition from the body of the dress to the skirt, with an extremely ruffled, lacy, or puffy bottom.

Some gorgeous celebrity fishtail wedding dresses can be seen on Kim Kardashian, Khloe Kardashian, and Meghan Markle’s after party wedding look.

What Body Shape Suits A Fishtail Wedding Dress?

The fishtail wedding dress perfectly suits hourglass figures, as the structure of the dress fits closely to the bottom and the flares outwards towards the bottom, which emphasises this type of shape wonderfully.

 

Fishtail Wedding Dress

A Line Wedding Dress

What Is An A Line Wedding Dress?

The A Line wedding dress gets its name from the fact that it resembles the letter A when worn. It has a structured, fitted bodice down to the waist and a fuller looking skirt which flows down to the floor.

A-line dresses are different from ballgowns as they have a much less full skirt. As an example, an A-line dress more closely resembles the dress a Disney princess starts the movie in rather than what she wears in the final ballroom scene.

Recently, A-line styles have been seen on the likes of Nicki Hilton and Princess Beatrice.

What Body Shape Suits An A-Line Wedding Dress?

The A Line dress suits all body types. The flowing skirt is extremely flattering, and can hide any areas that you aren’t comfortable with. It works particularly well for pear shaped ladies who suit this style very well, as it skims over the hips and makes the waist seem much smaller, while emphasising the bust area.

 

a-line wedding dress

Empire Line Wedding Dress

What Is An Empire Line Wedding Dress?

Thanks to the success of Bridgerton, empire line wedding dresses have exploded in popularity during 2021. This style typically has a high waist line which sits just below the bust, a square neckline, and a long straight skirt which reaches the ankle. Empire line dresses can appear either very regal and Grecian, or like something from a Jane Austen novel depending on what sleeve you go for and how you choose to accessorise it.

Empire line dresses work really well for every kind of wedding. They never look out of place at a stately home, in an English garden or even at a registry office. We love their versatility and ability to flatter every body type.

Lots of pregnant brides-to-be opt for an empire line dress, because unlike other styles this will need minimal alterations as their body changes.

What Body Shape Suits An Empire Wedding Dress?

An empire line wedding dress typically suits brides who are slimmer with a small bust or petite brides who want to add some height to their frame.

Conversely, the empire line wedding dress is also great for apple shaped ladies, brides who suffer with bloating, or anyone who prefers less tightness around their mid-section. If you need to accommodate a coloscopy bag or an insulin monitor on your wedding day then empire line could be for you.

The structure of the dress means that it is more forgiving around the legs and middle, so is perfect for dancing the night away and eating to your hearts content.

 

Empire wedding dress shape

Princess Line Wedding Dress

What Is A Princess Line Wedding Dress?

Princess dresses are extremely flattering gowns which are shaped to the body via a series of long seams which run from the top to the bottom of the gown. Each princess bridal gown is formed from long panels of fabric, rather than one larger piece for the bodice and one for the skirt. This means that the dress does not have a defined seam at the waist.

Despite what you may think, Princess line dresses aren’t the same as ball gowns, or as A-line dresses. The key difference is the seams, and the lack of defined waist.

What Body Shape Suits A Princess Line Dress?

A princess gown hugs the curves and generally looks amazing on women with bigger busts. In fact, the style suits basically every single body type, as the princess seam create a smoothing and lengthening effect to the body.

 

Ball gown princess wedding dress

Ballgowns

What Is A Ballgown Wedding Dress?

Ballgowns are the most classic and timeless style of wedding dress. They feature a fitted upper body and full skirt skirt, with a discernible break between the skirt and bodice.

Ballgowns are extremely romantic and dramatic. They look incredible at a church wedding, but also work fantastically for weddings at stately homes or castles.

If you choose a ballgown for your big day, ensure that your venue’s aisle is wide enough for the skirt to comfortably pass through. You also need to make sure that your chosen wedding transport can accommodate a large skirt particularly if your dress has a hooped petticoat.

What Body Shape Suits A Ballgown?

Ballgown covers such a wide range of dresses, that there is almost always one that is perfect for your body type and bridal style. Many brides choose a ballgown because the extra volume in the skirt can cover any areas which brides may feel are too curvy or they can add curves to brides who feel like they need it. The ultimate versatile style!

The only body type who should perhaps avoid a large ball gown type of dress are the very petite brides, as these types of dresses can make a small frame look very overwhelmed with fabric. However, if you try on a ballgown and get that bridal feeling then do not let your stature or figure hold you back. After all, everyone deserves to feel like a princess on their wedding day.

Sheath Style Wedding Dress

What Is a Sheath Wedding Dress?

A sheath wedding dress is a long, flowing gown that is very fitted in the waist. Similar to a mermaid style, sheath dresses are very flattering to curves. The key difference between sheaths and mermaid gowns is that a mermaid wedding dress fans out near the bottom, but the skirt on a sheath remains straight.

Sheaths are ideal for breezy brides who want to be comfortable on their wedding day. The simple skirt uses minimal fabric, so does not come with the pitfalls of feeling heavy on the body or difficult to go to the bathroom in.

Many brides choose a sheath for their second wedding dress as the versatile style is perfect to dance and party in. They are also the number one choice for beach weddings as they fit in perfectly with the relaxed vibe.

What Body Shape Suits A Sheath?

Sheaths are generally easy flowing, but can definitely cling to the lower body. They look fantastic on petite brides, or brides with an athletic build.

However, the sheath is such a versatile dress style it can really work for any bride. Make sure you try on a range of sleeve and fabric options to make sure that you find the best sheath for you.

Two Piece Wedding Dress

What Is A Two Piece Wedding Dress?

Wedding separates are becoming increasingly popular as brides look to wedding dress styles that can be incorporated into their daily wardrobe after their big day. Although it might not be your first thought to choose a two piece wedding dress, you’d be surprised at how gorgeous they actually look!

A two piece wedding dress usually consists of a smaller top half and a longer flowing skirt, but can also feature things like crisp white shirts, mini skirts, or even flowing trousers. For more traditional two piece wedding gowns, they aren’t instantly recognisable as being two separate pieces.

A great benefit of a two piece wedding gown is the opportunity to easily transition from your ceremony to your after party. Simply remove the longer skirt, add a mini and some sparkly heels and you are ready to go.

What Body Shape Suits A Two Piece Dress?

For brides who are body confident but are perhaps different sizes on their top and bottom, a two piece wedding dress can be the perfect solution. They can also be a great way to make a chic and modern statement.

There are almost unlimited style of wedding ensemble available in two pieces, so there is sure to be one that makes you feel incredible.

Wedding Dress Sleeve Styles

Flutter Sleeves

What Are Flutter Sleeves?

Dainty and whimsical, flutter sleeves are formed of soft layers of chiffon which drape elegantly over the upper arm. The style creates a ruffed affect which is extremely feminine and flattering to every arm.

Who Can Wear Flutter Sleeves?

Any bride looking for a soft, feminine feel to her wedding dress should certainly try out a flutter sleeved dress. This style of sleeve works best with sheath or mermaid style dresses, but can also look beautiful on an A-line gown.

flutter sleeved wedding dress styles

Bell Sleeves

What Are Bell Sleeves?

Bell sleeves are aptly named as they resemble the bell bottom trouser. Think long, fitted to the elbow or mid forearm, and then dramatically flared over the hand.

Who Can Wear Bell Sleeves?

Bell sleeves tend to give a bit of a 60s vibe to a wedding gown, but in the right fabrics they can also look somewhat medieval or witchy. These are the sleeves for you if you want a vintage or fantasy look to your wedding outfit.

Bishop Sleeves

What Are Bishop Sleeves?

Amongst the most dramatic of sleeves, bishop sleeves are full of fantasy and whimsy. Usually made from chiffon or gauze, they are voluminous from the shoulder and fitted back in at the wrist.

Who Can Wear Bishop Sleeves?

Bishop sleeves are the one for you if you want to serve a full fairy tale look on your wedding day. The ethereal feel of bishop sleeves works really well with any style of wedding dress, so can be adapted for all body types.

bishop sleeved wedding dress styles

Spaghetti Straps

What Are Spaghetti Straps?

Spaghetti straps are extremely thin straps which resemble spaghetti. You can usually find this type of strap on silky sheath dresses and slip style gowns.

What Body Shape Suits A Spaghetti Dress?

A spaghetti strapped wedding dress can look really stunning, as the thin straps give a beautiful dainty look which really accentuates the collarbones. Unfortunately, it’s a trend that can be tricky or impractical to wear. As spaghetti straps are much thinner than a normal dress strap they are not ideal for holding any weight. This means that brides with a larger bust may wish to opt for a thicker strap, unless the bodice of the dress has sufficient boning and structure to keep the neckline in place.

Spaghetti strap wedding dresses would ideally suit those who have a very petite or even an athletic body shape to add a different look to the wedding dress.

woman in Spaghetti Strap Wedding Dress

Halter Neck Wedding Dress

What Is A Halter Neck Wedding Dress?

The halter neck wedding dress has a single strap that goes around the neck.

The benefits of the single strap are to accentuate the bust and keep the straps off of the back. This gives a great opportunity for a trendy, daring open back which is a really popular choice for modern wedding dresses.

What Body Shape Suits A Halter Neck Dress?

Many women with broader shoulders try to avoid a halter neck wedding dress, as they believe that it will attract attention to this area. However, wearing a gorgeous halter neck dress can actually add balance to the neck and shoulder area and make the shoulders look slender and in proportion. Halter neck dresses are also perfect for ladies who have medium to large busts and can actually be a good way of minimising the bust area if a bride feels like she is slightly too top-heavy, as again, this lengthens the appearance of the torso and adds proportion.

One thing to bear in mind if you do have a larger bust is the potential weight on your neck. Make sure the strap isn’t too thin on the neck area, as you could end up with a severe red mark if your bust is heavier.

Lace Sleeves

What Is a Lace Sleeved Wedding Dress?

The trend for wedding dresses with lace sleeves seems became mainstream when Grace Kelly married Prince Rainer of Monaco. Kelly’s iconic dress has continued to influence brides today, including Lady Kitty Spencer, Nicki Hilton and most notably Kate Middleton’s wedding dress from 2011. This enduring style adds a real touch of elegance to a wedding dress and is reminiscent of wedding dresses from centuries ago.

Lace sleeves are a fantastic option for brides who prefer to appear more modest on their wedding day. This style of sleeve is usually suitable for weddings at places of worship which require shoulders to be covered.

What Body Shape Suits A Sleeved Dress?

Sleeved wedding dresses are actually perfect for brides who are petite or who are slightly conscious of their upper arms, as the sizing and tailoring can be adapted to suit each bride’s preference. Thanks to the versatility of sleeves, most body types can suit a sleeved wedding dress.Wedding Dresses with Sleeves

Cap Sleeves

What Are Cap Sleeves?

A cap sleeve is a very short sleeve which extends over the shoulder but tapers away to almost nothing on the underside of the arm. They rest on the top of the shoulder almost like a cap, which is how they got their name.

Cap sleeves are a popular addition to wedding dresses as they are more dainty than other short sleeve styles.

Who Can Wear Cap Sleeves?

Cap sleeves are ideal for extending the line of your shoulder. If you feel as if your shoulders are narrow in proportion to your hips or even to the rest of your body, then a cap sleeve will address this proportion issue.

Do bear in mind that cap sleeves stop at the widest part of the arm. This can create the illusion of wider arms, so best to steer clear if this is something you feel insecure about.

cap sleeved wedding dress styles

Wedding Dress Necklines

Strapless

A strapless wedding gown features no sleeves or straps of any kind. The bodice is usually boned or supported in some way so that it can stay up on the body without the addition of straps.

If you choose strapless for your wedding gown, please ensure that it fits to perfection. You don’t want to run the risk of your dress falling down on your special day!

Sweetheart Neckline

Sweetheart necklines are shaped like the top of  heart, meaning they dip in the centre of the chest. They are extremely popular for wedding gowns as they are extremely flattering on the bust, and can even create the illusion of more cleavage.

Bardot or Off-Shoulder

Bardot necklines skim across the collarbones or centre of the chest and extend to sleeves which fall off the shoulder. Off-shoulder dresses can have long or short sleeves and are great for enhancing the collarbones. They are a very flattering choice if your shoulders are narrow and you wish for them to appear broader.

Illusion Neckline

Illusion necklines consist of lace, applique or beading which is arranged on top of a sheer bodice. This can either be very modest or very sexy depending on how the applique is placed. Illusion necklines are perfect for brides who want to have some sex appeal without being too exposed. They also create a beautiful, ethereal effect which is a stunning addition to any wedding dress.

Plunging Neckline

As the name suggests, a plunging neckline refers to an extremely low-cut wedding dress. Think a deep V that is cut to almost the line of the waist. This style of dress is very popular with daring brides who want to look sexy and sophisticated on their wedding day. It is usually more popular with smaller busted brides due to the logistics of wearing underwear with a deep V.

High Neck Wedding Dress

High neck wedding dresses are coming back into fashion in a huge way. They are usually paired with a lace bodice and sleeves for an incredibly classic look. But a high neck wedding dress also looks stunning in fabrics such as silk and chiffon as the soft fall of the fabric really flatters the upper body.

This type of dress would usually suit a bride who is quite slim and with a longer torso, as a higher neck on a dress can make a torso look shorter and slightly larger.

woman in High Neck Wedding Dress

Wedding Dress Colours

If you are sure of what style you want to have for your wedding dress, next you should think about the colour. It is not as simple as walking into the bridal boutique and requesting a white dress. Did you know there are actually different shades of white to choose from?

Here is a rundown of all of the colours that come under the umbrella of ‘white’:

Pure White

Pure white is an extremely bright, icy white which can appear a blue or lavender under strong lighting. Natural fibres can never be bleached to this level of white, so if you have your heart set on pure white you will need to opt for a synthetic wedding dress. This is a tough colour to pull off, especially if you are fair skinned.

Off White

A shade below pure white, off-white is probably the most traditional tone for a wedding gown. This colour can be found in natural fibres and is more flattering to wear.

Natural White

A soft, warm white that is not as yellow toned as Ivory.

Ivory

A golden white that is similar to the colour of bone or eggshell.

Cream

A rich, creamy white with yellow tones and a buttery appearance.

As a bride, you don’t always have to wear the traditional white dress. There are a few different popular colour options for wedding dresses. Here is a brief description of the most popular tones:

Champagne

Champagne gowns range between a soft caramel gold tone to having a hint of pink or lilac in the shade. Champagne is often used as a base layer underneath white or off white lace.

Nude

In the fashion industry, ‘nude’ usually refers to a beige tone which resembles Caucasian skin tones. It will have notes of honey and camel.

Mocha

Mocha is the perfect ‘nude’ for darker skin tones. It is a warm brown, but can range to cooler tones too. It is often used as a base layer underneath contrasting lace.

Peach

Peach sits sweetly between champagne and blush. A dainty orange tone, this pastel dream is perfect for an alternative bride.

Blush

Blush is a very soft pink with tones of dove grey. Wedding dresses which are described as blush can rage from true blush to a pale pink.

Lavender

Lavender is a pale purple colour. Usually cool toned, lavender is the more mature blush for the discerning bride.

Gold

Gold wedding dresses can range from a true metallic gold to an extremely warm colour similar to champagne. Gold wedding gowns often feature matching sequins or embellishments to make the gold tone pop.

Mink

Mink is a sophisticated blend of grey, lilac and dusty rose. It is extremely flattering on those who prefer cool toned colours.

Blue

Yes, you really can live out your Cinderella fantasies in a blue wedding dress. Dusty blue shades look gorgeous and vintage against an artistic setting. That’s your something blue sorted!

Grey

Bridal greys tend to be soft, smoky and flattering. Perfect for a rock and roll bride.

Silver

Grey’s shimmery sister, opt for a metallic silver wedding dress for a show stopping entrance on your wedding day.

Hopefully this glossary of wedding dress terms will help you choose your wedding dress with confidence. Remember that our recommendations are just guidelines, and that you should choose the dress that feels right to you.

Now that you have chosen your wedding dress, make sure your carefully selected straps, embellishment and skirt all remain pristine and have your bridal emergency kit ready for the big day.

 

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