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Wedding Dress Silhouettes 101

Unlike most stores, bridal shops don’t carry dresses in every size. Often, they restrict their size selection to only a few. Some brands will only carry sample sizes in 2 or 4, while others prefer sample sizes in 8 and 10. It all depends on where you’re shopping and the brands that a particular shop carries. Given the limited size selection, you may find it difficult to fit into the dresses you’re most drawn to – or that they’re far too large on you.

While the bridal consultant will help as much as possible by clamping and pinning a dress that’s too large, it’s possible to make a bad purchasing decision because you simply can’t envision the dress after alterations, in its proper size. We’ve designed the follow Bridal Gown Crash course with you in mind, with the aim of making your dress shopping experience just a little bit smoother and more enjoyable. Enjoy!

Learn the basics of wedding dress silhouettes

The Ball Gown

The ball gown silhouette is a dress you’d envision a princess to wear. Generally, it’s fitted around the bodice and then darts out at the waist. This kind of dress is a great option if your client is uncomfortable with her tummy, hip, or thigh areas, since those regions are hidden beneath the dress’s full skirt. If your client is slightly overweight, however, the added material and fullness could make her look larger than she actually is – something you want to avoid.

Because of the princess look it creates, the ball gown’s silhouette is most often associated with formal events. If your client plans to have an outdoor wedding or is jetting off to Mexico for a destination wedding, you may want to work with a simpler silhouette. The additional material a ball gown needs for the full skirt could make a summer bride much too hot and she might feel too weighed down to properly enjoy her outdoor event.

Body Types It Works With: Hourglass, Pear, Rectangle
Style with Care: Apple, Strawberry


The a-line bridal gown is widely considered to be the most universally flattering silhouette. This silhouette typically features a fitted bodice and a skirt that begins to flare out and away at the hips. Looking at the dress straight on would allow the viewer to see an “A” shape – hence the name of the cut.
Less extreme than the ball gown, the a-line is a great choice for anyone looking to camouflage any areas they’re insecure about on the lower half without overdoing it, and without losing the fitted bodice. You’ll find many variations of the a-line silhouette, including the fit and flare, princess, slim a-line, and dropped waist.

Body Types It Works With: Apple, Hourglass, Pear, Rectangle, Strawberry


Sheath dresses are body-skimming dresses that typically do not flare out and are not overly fitted in the bodice. Jennifer Lopez has been a fan of sheath dresses time and time again for red carpet appearances and award shows, as they hug her curves and really show off her body.

The sheath dress is best reserved for someone who is slim with a well-balanced figure, or is very comfortable in her own skin. This is because the sheath silhouette leaves little to the imagination and can highlight flaws when made in certain fabrics such as clingy silk or satin. While you may find a sheath dress you absolutely love, make sure you try it on, walk around in it, and have someone snap a few photos from different angles before actually buying it. The photos will help you check it out from another perspective and to decide whether or not  you’ll truly be comfortable and confident in the dress. Some variations of the sheath dress include mermaid, trumpet, and tunic.

Body Types It Works With: Hourglass, Rectangle
Style with Care: Apple, Pear, Strawberry

Empire waist

An empire waist is when the natural waist of a dress sits high, like the dress pictured above, and is most fitted right underneath the bride’s chest. The waist gives a baby doll feel to the dress, and is typically best reserved for casual weddings, outdoor affairs, or destination ceremonies. Most commonly, dresses with an empire waist are made of light and flowing fabric. The empire waist is a common choice for a pregnant bride as it works with her belly shape, not against it, and is a more comfortable option than something very fitted in the bodice.

Body Types It Works With: Hourglass, Rectangle, Strawberry
Style with Care: Pear, Apple

Want to learn more about style? Click HERE to learn about our Personal Styling course from QC Style Academy. Launches May 1 2013.