- Emily Scoville
A Quick Guide to Bridal Silhouettes and Styles
Understanding the wedding industry is infamously overwhelming for the newly engaged. One of the most confusing steps of your planning process can be the wedding dress shopping experience. The bridal industry has grown substantially in recent years, offering a wide variety in styles and silhouettes. On the bright side, this makes it easier than ever to find a wedding dress that’s really, truly you. However, the sheer magnitude of options can quickly become overwhelming if you have no idea where to start or what you want. When you add trying to find the words to describe to your bridal stylist what you envision yourself wearing to the mix, things get even more difficult! This guide aims to clear up any confusion regarding the different wedding dress silhouettes available to you.
Pictured: Disney Platinum DP307 "Snow White"
When you picture a princess dress, you probably envision a ballgown. Regal, glamorous, and dramatic, ballgowns are sure to add a fairytale touch to your aisle. You can spot a ballgown by its form fitting bodice and the sharp poof of the skirt, which create definition at the waist. The skirts of ballgowns are commonly supplemented by layers of crinoline and/or a hoop skirt, which help form their volume.
Pictured: Allure Romance 3558
A-lines and ballgowns are commonly confused with one another. A-line dresses have a soft, gradual transition from the bodice to the skirt. True to their name, A-lines form an “A” shape, with no obvious increase in volume at the waist (like a ballgown). The skirt can vary in volume, from a free-flowing chiffon skirt to layers and layers of airy tulle. The A-line is very versatile for your individual style, and are typically easy to move in due to their flowy nature.
Pictured: Allure Couture C602
Mermaid dresses are all about the hourglass. Mermaids are unique in that they're fitted throughout the waist, hips, and thighs. They flare out slightly above or at the knee, and have a definitive line or seam that separates the fitted part of the dress from the poofy part of the dress. Mermaid gowns are commonly considered to be the “sexiest” silhouette, as they hug your body the most of any style.
Pictured: Maggie Sottero's "Aviano"
There is a very thin line that separates trumpets from mermaids. While mermaid dresses flare out around the knee area, trumpet gowns flare out at the mid-thigh. Similar to mermaids, they also have a visible line separating the two sections of the dress. They offer a similar amount of “sexiness” as mermaids, but the higher seam allows for more movement, so you can dance the night away with ease!
Fit and Flare
Pictured: Rebecca Ingram's "Josie"
Fit and flare gowns are another curve-hugging silhouette commonly confused with trumpets and mermaids. They're typically a little bit looser in the hips than the previous two styles, offering a wide range of motion despite being fitted. They also lack a defining line between the fitted and flared sections of the dress, creating a flattering gradient that mirrors an hourglass waist.
Pictured: Chic Nostalgia's "Raven"
Sheath dresses are an airier option for a fitted silhouette, and are typically made of stretchier fabrics than mermaid, trumpet, and fit and flare dresses. Like trumpets, they loosen up at the mid-thigh, but have less volume in the skirt. They fall straight at the front, while the back flares out to create movement. They’re easy to dress up for fancier weddings, or dress down for a more casual event. Like A-lines, sheath gowns have a lot of versatility in style.
Pictured: Allure Bridal 9959
Cage dresses are quickly rising in popularity, popping up on the wedding radar in recent years. They’re a fresh take on the bridal silhouette, blending the look of an A-line with the flattery of a fitted dress. They typically have a stretchy lining that's fitted to your body, mimicking the shape of a sheath dress. One or two layers of tulle float on the outside of that lining. You get a sexy, curve-hugging silhouette, while the tulle layers add a fairytale touch. We find a lot of brides also like that the layers of tulle make them feel less body-conscious than they do in other fitted styles.
Pictured: Rebecca Ingram's "Pippa Lynette" with Detachable Train
Detachable trains are another modern style taking the bridal world by storm. If you read this guide and still can’t decide if you’re leaning towards a fluffy or fitted dress, then the two-in-one silhouette might be for you. A sheath dress is typically the main piece, and a train is attached with either invisible buttons or a belt to complete the look. Detachable trains typically reach the side seams of your dress, leaving the fitted dress underneath still visible. They’re also available covering the whole skirt, giving the illusion of a full ballgown. Brides often wear the detachable train during the ceremony and remove it later in the day for two looks.