The Most Popular Wedding Dress Styles: A Guide for Every Body Type

Wedding Dress Styles
Photo by Erin Turner Photography

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!

Figuring Out Which Wedding Dress Style is Right For You

“It’s just like knowing that [your future spouse] was the right person for you,” says Melinda Macari, owner of Your Dream Bridal in Sudbury, Massachusetts, of finding your wedding dress. “It’s the same feeling. It really is super cheesy, but it really is.” You won’t know until you KNOW.

While you should have a Pinterest page or photos of dresses you love ready to show your bridal stylist. But, like my ballgown experience, you should also be open to their suggestions. Throughout the appointment, your goal will be to explore a wide range of styles to get a sense of what you like (and don’t like) about each dress. 

“I say it’s like a puzzle,”  says Macari of figuring out which dress the bride will feel great in. “It’s the stylist’s job to piece those things together…’She really liked that top. She really liked that bottom…I know we hate this fabric but we love this fabric.’ Then, I’m formulating in my mind, ‘I think she would love dress A, B, and C.’ It’s just that puzzle piece.” 

While we’ll show photos of each, below, here’s a quick overview of the most popular wedding dress styles:

  • A-line
  • Mermaid
  • Empire
  • Ballgown
  • Sheath

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 get into the styles, starting from the necklines to the silhouettes.

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:

Asymmetric:

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.

Mac Duggal Assymetric Gown
Mac Duggal Asymmetric Dress

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Bateau/Boat Neck:

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.

Mac Duggal Boat Neck Wedding Dress
Mac Duggal Boat Neck Wedding Dress

Halter:

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.

Cult Gaia Halter Gown
Cult Gaia Halter Gown

High Neck:

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.

Christopher Kane High Neck Satin Gown
Christopher Kane Satin High-Neck Gown

Illusion:

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.

Jenny Packhnam Illusion Wedding Dress
Jenny Packhnam Illusion Wedding Dress

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Jewel:

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.

Sachin and Babi Jewel Wedding Dress
Sachin and Babi Jewel Neckline Wedding Dress

Off-the-shoulder:

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.

Rebbeca Vallance Off-the-Shoulder Gown
Rebbeca Vallance Off-the-Shoulder Gown

Portrait:

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.

Safiyaa Portrait Collar Gown
Safiyaa Portrait Wedding Dress

Queen Anne:

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.

Wedding Dress Style Queen Anne
Queen Anne Wedding Dress

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Scoop:

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.

Pronovias Gemini Wedding Dress
Pronovias Gemini Scoop-Neck Wedding Dress

Square:

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.

Jenny Yoo Square Neck Gown
Jenny Yoo Square Neck Gown

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Straight Across:

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.

Claire Pettibone Straight Accross Victoriana Gown
Claire Pettibone Straight Accross Victoriana Gown

Sweetheart:

Arguably one of the most popular styles, the sweetheart neckline actually looks like the top half of a heart and accentuates the décolletage.

Pronovias Phoebe Sweatheart Gown
Pronovias Phoebe Sweetheart Gown

V-Neck:

The v-neck, like the name suggests, dips down in the front into a v-shape – organically taking the focus away from the bustline.

Whistles V-Neck Wedding Dress
Whistles V-Neck Wedding Dress

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-Line:

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.

Mac Duggal A Line Gown
Mac Duggal A Line Gown

Ballgown:

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.

Ziad Germanos Ballgown
Ziad Germanos Ballgown

Mermaid:

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.

Mac Duggal Mermaid Wedding Dress
Mac Duggal Mermaid Wedding Dress

Mini:

The mini dress is well, mini. The skirt should fall above the knee.

Rasario Silk Mini Wedding Dress
Rasario Silk Mini Wedding Dress

Modified A-Line:

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.

Sachin and Babi Modified A Line Gown
Sachin & Babi

Sheath:

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.

Mac Duggal Sheath Gown
Mac Duggal Sheath Gown

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Tea-Length:

The tea-length gown does not reach the floor. Rather, the dress’s hemline stops between the ankle and the knee.

Carollina Herrera Tea Length Gown
Carolina Herrera Tea Length Gown

Trumpet:

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.

Cinq A Sept Trumpet Gown
Cinq A Sept Alexandra Wedding Dress

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:

3/4 Sleeve:

The 3/4 sleeve dress hits midway between the elbow and the wrist, offering a classic and timeless look.

Jenny Packham 3-4 Sleeve Gown
Jenny Packham Anemone 3/4 Sleeve Gown

Cap Sleeves:

The cap sleeve is a gentle addition to the sleeveless gown with shorter, slight sleeves.

Calvin Klein Cap Sleeve Wedding Dress
Calvin Klein Cap Sleeve Dress

Long Sleeve:

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.

George Chakra Long Sleeve Gown
George Chakra Long Sleeve Dress

Short Sleeve:

The short sleeve gown adds enough sleeve for the triceps/biceps, but isn’t as modest as a long-sleeve option.

Short Sleeve Wedding Dress
Short Sleeve Wedding Dress

Spaghetti:

The spaghetti strap gown has delicate straps that add comfort without changing the style of the dress too much from a strapless gown.

La Femme Spaghetti Straps Gown
La Femme Spaghetti Straps Gown

Strapless:

The strapless gown has no straps, and is typically a sweetheart or straight across neckline.

Sachin and Babi Strapless Gown
Sachin and Babi Strapless Gown

Sleeveless:

A sleeveless gown does not have defined straps, rather the dress flows evenly from the shoulders to the hem.

Rene Ruiz Sleeveless Gown
Rene Ruiz Sleeveless Gown

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:

Asymmetrical

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.

Asymmetrical Waistline Gown
Asymmetrical Waistline Gown

Basque:

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.

Justin Alexander Basque Wedding Dress
Justin Alexander Basque Wedding Dress

Drop:

The drop waist features a bodice that fits to the mid hip. It’s a great option for those with hourglass figures.

Justin Alexander Wedding Dress Dropped Waist
Justin Alexander Wedding Dress Dropped Waist

Empire:

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.

Mac Duggal Empire Waist Gown
Mac Duggal Empire Waist Gown

Exaggerated Drop:

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.

Exaggerated Drop Waist Gown
Exaggerated Drop Waist Gown

Inverted Basque:

Justin Alexander Inverted Basque Waist Gown
Justin Alexander Inverted Basque Waist Gown

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.

Natural:

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.

Dolce and Gabbana Natural Waist Gown
Dolce and Gabbana Natural Waist Gown

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.

Asos Wedding Dress No Waistline
Asos Wedding Dress, $218

Still have questions about which wedding dress style is right for you? Here’s the most common questions we get from brides ab

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.

What is an A-line wedding dress?

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.

Ballgown vs. A-line: What’s the difference?

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.

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4 Comments

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  1. says: Sandra Johnson

    I initially started reading this article about wearing white your second time around. Then came ALL the wonderful information about the dresss.
    I found the information very informative!

  2. says: Tammy S McMurtrey

    I want the floral wedding dress and I don’t know how to order it or how much at cost. Is there any way someone could contact me about it?
    Thank you,
    Tammy

  3. I love the dresses with one shoulder! I think they look very elegant. The only thing is that I want a modest wedding dresses but I think the ones with lace sleeves are super pretty so Ig guess it will work out okay.