Though some of you may have dreamed of your wedding dress long before you got engaged, we know there’s a ton of you out there that don’t even know where to start! The different silhouettes and waistlines—even the various necklines and sleeves—can all feel overwhelming if you don’t have the slightest idea of which wedding dress styles you like. And even if you do have an idea of what you want to walk down the aisle wearing, your mind can change as soon as you start trying different dresses on.
For instance, when I first started shopping for wedding dresses, I thought I wanted a BIG ballgown. When would I ever have a chance to wear a dress like that again?! However, I soon realized after I tried on my first two ballgown wedding dresses that it was the completely wrong style for me. They weren’t the least bit flattering on my figure (in fact, they looked downright bad). It wasn’t until I tried on my 5th potential wedding dress that I realized that trumpet wedding dresses and sheath wedding dresses actually looked best on me. Which was ironic because they’re about as far away from ballgown wedding dresses as you can get!
WGM TIP: Even if you have an idea of the type of wedding dress styles you like, try different ones on! Your perfect wedding dress might be the one you least expect!
While you won’t know which wedding dress styles look best on you until you try a few on, it helps to know the terminology behind not only the different wedding dress silhouettes, but the names of the various wedding dress necklines and sleeve styles as well. That way you’ll not only know what to ask for when you’re in a wedding dress boutique, but what to look for if you’re shopping online as well.
So, let’s dive into the styles, below!
Wedding Dress Styles: Necklines
There’s a lot of focus on the different type of wedding dress silhouettes, but the neckline is what really makes a dress unique. These are the most common necklines you’ll find:
The asymmetric gown has a strap on one shoulder that drapes across the bustline. It’s flattering for brides who want to show a bit of shoulder and décolletage without baring it all.
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The bateau/boat neck gown follows the collarbone almost from shoulder-to-shoulder and is generally cut in more of a straight line. It’s perfect if you’re looking for a more modest neckline.
The halter gown offers a shoulder-flattering cut in the front with a round neckline at the base of the neck. The straps wrap around the neck, and the back of the dress appears strapless. This is a great option for those who want more exposure in the back of the dress.
Like the jewel gown (below), the high neck offers a more modest silhouette, only with a mock neck collar. This wedding dress style can have sleeves or be worn sleeveless.
The illusion gown offers the modesty of a jewel neckline, but with the general shape of the sweetheart. The material connecting to the sweetheart neckline is usually made with a more transparent material ,so it’s a great option for those who doesn’t necessarily want to go strapless but still want to show off their collarbone and shoulders.
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The jewel gown has a round neckline at the base of the neck. It’s one of our favorite wedding dress styles for those with a small bust, and is a good option for those seeking a more modest dress.
The off-the-shoulder gown offers sleeves that dress part of the upper arms. This style has more material than the sweetheart but while still accentuating the collarbone and shoulders.
If you’re looking for more material, opt for the off-the-shoulder’s cousin, the portrait. It has a soft scoop from one shoulder to the other, and it’s a great option for those looking to accentuate their collarbones but with a little more dress.
This neckline with a high collar in the back and a scoop or v-neck in the front (typically found in lace) is an elegant option for those looking for modest wedding dress styles.
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The scoop neckline is u-shaped and is ideal for just about anyone. The scoop can be cut at varying levels, and it’s traditionally a great shape for those who are set on a dress with straps.
The square neckline has a straight bodice with straps or sleeves that make a 90-degree angle. It’s a great option for those who want something a little more romantic.
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The straight across neckline is for brides looking for a strapless option, but don’t necessarily like wedding dress styles that reveal a lot of cleavage.
Arguably one of the most popular styles, the sweetheart neckline actually looks like the top half of a heart and accentuates the décolletage.
The v-neck, like the name suggests, dips down in the front into a v-shape – organically taking the focus away from the bustline.
Wedding Dress Styles: Silhouettes
Now, to the hard part! There are several wedding dress silhouettes that seem the same, but they’re actually very different. Our first silhouette, below, is a perfect example of this:
A tamed down version of the ballgown, the A-Line gown resembles the figure “A” (literally) because it is more fitted through the waist and gently gets fuller from the waist to the hem. This is generally a great style for all body types.
This is your princess dress. It has a fitted bodice and poufs at the waist with a dramatic, full skirt. This shape can feel a bit overpowering on more petite frames.
The mermaid gown is one step in the tighter-fitting dress department than the trumpet. The dress is fitted all the way through to the knees, at which the dress then begins its volume. This is another style that is great for women with an hourglass figure.
The mini dress is well, mini. The skirt should fall above the knee.
The modified A-Line is even less dramatic than the A-Line, with a skirt that fits a bit closer to the body than the traditional version.
The sheath dress drapes straight and narrow from the top of the dress to the bottom. It’s ideal for tall or petite women alike, though it’s not the most forgiving.
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The tea-length gown does not reach the floor. Rather, the dress’s hemline stops between the ankle and the knee.
The trumpet gown is fitted throughout the bodice and the volume begins at mid-thigh. This style tends to look great on women with fuller hips.
Wedding Dress Styles: Sleeves
Sleeves have become much more of a focus for designers in the past decade, and with good reason! They can make or break a dress. Here are the most common types you’ll see:
The 3/4 sleeve dress hits midway between the elbow and the wrist, offering a classic and timeless look.
The cap sleeve is a gentle addition to the sleeveless gown with shorter, slight sleeves.
The long sleeve gown is for the bride seeking full modesty for her wedding day. This option has full length sleeves that reach the wrist.
The short sleeve gown adds enough sleeve for the triceps/biceps, but isn’t as modest as a long-sleeve option.
The spaghetti strap gown has delicate straps that add comfort without changing the style of the dress too much from a strapless gown.
The strapless gown has no straps, and is typically a sweetheart or straight across neckline.
A sleeveless gown does not have defined straps, rather the dress flows evenly from the shoulders to the hem.
Wedding Dress Styles: Waistlines
The waistline of your wedding dress can make you feel confident or uncomfortable, so it’s important to pick the best one for you (no matter what’s popular). Here are the ones you’ll find:
The asymmetrical waistline is similar to that of a drop or exaggerated drop waistline, except that the seam is higher on one side than it is on the other.
The basque waist offers a slimming option with a bodice that falls below the natural waistline and creates a v-shape in the front of the dress.
The drop waist features a bodice that fits to the mid hip. It’s a great option for those with hourglass figures.
The empire waist has a seam that hits where the bustline meets the stomach, and the rest of the dress then flows to the hem. This is a good option for those with undefined waists or larger hips.
The exaggerated drop waist gown is typically seen with trumpet or mermaid style gowns where the bodice is long and meets the volume at the thigh or knees.
While the basque has a bodice that creates a v-shape pointing down, the inverted basque is the opposite, with a bodice that has a v-neck pointed upwards towards the bustline. It generally sits higher up near the bustline, more like that of an empire waist than the basque waistline.
The natural waist dress (which hits at your, you guessed it, natural waist) is one of the most figure flattering options. It works with most body types and works well in many different dress silhouettes.
No Waist/Princess Seams:
The princess waistline does not have a defined waistline, rather the seams run vertical from the top of the dress to the hem.
Wedding Dress Styles FAQ
While wedding ball gown dresses used to be all the rage, sleeker fit-and-flare styles (such as mermaid and trumpet) have surpassed them in popularity the past five years.
An A-line dress is fitted in the waist and gradually gets wider from the hips to the floor, forming an “A” shape. A modified A-line has a skirt that is cut to fit closer to the body.
Like an A-line wedding dress, a ballgown (also known as a princess wedding gown) has a fitted bodice with a skirt that gets wider from the natural waist down to the floor. However a ballgown takes this to the max, with a skirt that typically has a lot more volume in a bulkier fabric such as tulle.
What’s your favorite wedding dress style? Tell us in the comment section, below, and get more inspiration from our Wedding Dress board on Pinterest.