guide to wedding dress silhouettes

The Definitive Guide to Wedding Dress Silhouettes

by Paula Varsalona

Last week we talked about the different kinds of wedding dress body figures, and today we’re going to help you find the right wedding dress silhouette based on your body type. Now, before I can go into what suits each figure I would like to review the most common silhouettes for wedding gowns. After all, it’s important to understand what every silhouette looks like before I can discuss how to make them work for your figure!

The 6 most common wedding dress silhouettes are:

guide to wedding dress silhouettes


1. Ball Gown

The ball gown is perhaps the most recognizable silhouette. Ball gowns have been worn for hundreds of years as formal and wedding attire. As elegant and extravagant, they are great for a bride looking for a traditional but glamorous flair. Ball gowns feature very full, to-the-floor skirts, typically with structured, fitted bodices. A ball gown’s skirt can come in various levels of fullness—a slimmer-shaped dress with less fullness is great for subtlety emphasizing curves, while a cupcake shaped skirt is playful and attention-grabbing.

wedding dress ball gowns
Left: Sottero & Midgley Right: Allure Bridals


2. A-line

Another classic silhouette is the A-line, which is fitted through the bodice and waist, then flares from the waist and flows to the hemline. I love the A-line on all body types because it’s a silhouette that suits the needs of any figure. The form fitting top lengthens the petite bride and enhances the curves of a rectangular figure, while the flowing skirt hides wider waistlines. Like a ball gown, the skirt of the A-line silhouette comes in various degrees of fullness. A full A-line gives the princess effect of a fairytale gown without the overwhelming grandeur of a full ball gown, making it a better choice for a sophisticated petite bride.

wedding dresses a-line silhouette
Left: Sweetheart Gowns Right: Lillian West


3. Trumpet/Mermaid

These two silhouettes both fall into the category of “fit and flare” dresses, both more modern silhouettes that, as described, hug the figure until dramatically flaring out in the skirt. The mermaid silhouette is fitted from the bust to the knee, giving the flare at the end the fishtail shape that gives the dress its name. The mermaid is great for a bold and confident personality that can match the drama of the silhouette. The trumpet is softer and less dramatic, flaring higher up at the thigh, a great balance of demure sweetness and sensual drama. Both dresses are wonderful for accentuating curves and hips, and pair beautifully with tall and slender frames or hourglass figures.

wedding dress trumpet mermaid silhouette
Left: Casablanca Bridal Fall 2014 Right: Allure Bridals


4. Sheath

Also known as a column silhouette, a sheath gown is usually made from a light fabric like satin or chiffon, with straighter seams to create a sleek, body-skimming shape. It’s a surprisingly versatile silhouette, and can give a wide range of effects, from sexy and modern to soft and vintage. The narrow shape of a sheath gown hides nothing, and is best for a slim or petite figure. A bride in a sheath dress has to be mindful, as the light fabric will reveal any flaws. I like to advise brides to wear shapewear with a sheath gown, and sometimes add a form-fitting slip underneath the skirt to keep it from catching in between the legs.

wedding dresses sheath silhouette
Left: Badgley Mischka Bride Right: Justin Alexander Signature


5. Tea Length

A tea length is great for a bride looking to defy tradition, with a quirky flair, and works with about any body type.  The skirt of a tea length dress has a hemline between the ankle and the knee, somewhere between the classic floor length gown, and the bold, short cocktail.

tea length wedding dresses
Left: Justin Alexander Right: Sweetheart Gowns


6. Short Dresses

The short dress with a hemline above the knee is the ultimate statement for a stylish, modern bride, determined not to follow the beaten path. Though short dresses can often come off as more casual and are great for elopements, they can also be very elegant and formal depending on the level of detailing. Short dresses work best for a bride looking to show off a great pair of legs.

short wedding dresses
Left: Venus Informal Right: Blue by Enzoani

For more wedding gown examples, be sure to check out the wedding dress gallery on BridalPulse, where you can filter by silhouette. In the next article, I’ll talk about which silhouette, with the right bodice and material, suits each body type best, complete with example dresses for each body type. Until next time!



About the Author

paula varsalonaPaula Varsalona, internationally recognized as one of the principal couture designers of bridal apparel, has been a leader in the fashion industry for over 40 years.  As the designer of and manufacturer of the Paula Varsalona Group, Ms. Varsalona offers unique and personalized fashion statements for every bride. Paula is an adjunct associate professor who teaches upper division fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC.