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Off the Shoulder Wedding Dress – An Iconic Style

The off the shoulder wedding dress is an iconic style that’s incredibly popular in wedding dress designs and has long been popular for formal dresses and evening wear.

What is an Off the Shoulder Wedding Dress?

One of the most crucial elements of a wedding dress is the neckline and there is an almost infinite amount of variety and designs for a bride to choose between. The neckline frames the décolletage and the face, and it can also highlight or disguise parts of the upper body including the bust, arms, shoulders and neck. Last but not least, the neckline is a showcase for fabulous jewellery and stunning hair styles.

The off the shoulder dress offers several beautiful and elegant neckline options for brides and features straps or sleeves that start below the shoulder line. The shoulders are bare and the décolletage revealed. This is quite a different style from a strapless dress which has no sleeves or straps at all.

Sleeves on and off the shoulder dress can be capped, long or short and even detachable.

What is the History of the Off the Shoulder Wedding Dress?

The off the shoulder evening dress appeared in the 1840s although the style faded quite quickly and was superseded by other designs. However, it was a look that never quite went away, reappearing in the 1930s as a glamorous contra to the rather androgynous look of 1920s fashion. Missing out the 1940s when the war dictated fashion and there was a shortage of fabric, the off the shoulder look came back with a vengeance in the 1950s for both short and long dresses.

The off the shoulder design has always been there or thereabouts in fashion and is enduringly popular in the bridal market. It lends itself to a variety of different wedding dress styles so is hugely versatile. An off the shoulder neckline can be the focal point of a dress and frames the face plus reveals some exposed skin without being too risqué.

Celebrity Endorsement

It is not a matter of looking for celebrity brides who have chosen an off the shoulder wedding dress rather the question is who has not chosen this style of dress as it has always been enduring popular.

When the singer Lily Allen married actor David Harbour in Las Vegas, she wore an on the knee 1960s inspired mini dress with a shoulder skimming neckline by Dior.

In 1950, when Elizabeth Taylor married the first of what was to be a total of seven husbands, she wore a traditional off the shoulder gown designed by a costumier for the film company, MGM, called Helen Rose. This designer was also behind Grace Kelly’s wedding dress although this design was not an off the shoulder gown.

Mariah Carey’s dress for her first marriage in 1993 was designed by Vera Wang and reputedly cost $25,000. This princess-style off the shoulder gown complete with tiara has been reputedly inspired by Princess Diana’s famous dress in 1981.

One of the most iconic dresses of the 20th century was Jackie Kennedy’s traditional gown made by Ann Lowe, then a favoured dress designed in American high society. This dress was made from just under 50ft of ivory-silk taffeta and the voluminous skirt was complemented by a nipped in waist and elegant off the shoulder skimming neckline.

Designers with Off the Shoulder Wedding Dresses in their Collection

Take a look at Madeline Gardner’s range of off the shoulder dresses for Morilee. There is something for every silhouette and budget and some with detachable sleeves.

For an off the shoulder wedding ballgown, designer Galia Lahav has a corseted dress called Magnolia which features soft silk tulle, a draped bodice and a sheer voluminous skirt. Lahav is a lover of the off the shoulder style so there are plenty more off the shoulder dress styles in the collection.

For the classic Shakespearean look, this effortlessly romantic gown from Alon Livne features semi-sheer off the shoulder long sleeves, a fitted bodice and all-over chiffon draping.

For brides with a more modest budget, most designers you will find in high street bridal boutiques and online will offer off the shoulder designs in their collections because they are just so popular.

Body shapes that work well with an off the shoulder wedding dress

Off the shoulder designs are pretty versatile, think capped sleeves, low sleeves or long sleeves which can be in a different, gossamer fabric. This style complements lots of different body types and dress designs. It can look particularly flattering on brides with a larger bust

Because this neckline can be incorporated into virtually any wedding dress design, it is a style that can suit lots of different brides. However, there are some brides with wide shoulders who don’t want to accentuate this feature and also brides who want to hide their arms although a long-sleeved off the shoulder design can achieve this.

Another thing to bear in mind is that deportment these days has totally gone to the wall. Deportment is the etiquette of how someone stands and carries themselves. These days, many people are rounded shouldered and carry themselves with their head tilting forwards, the penalty of too much screen time. If you are round shouldered and tend to be slouched in your posture, then an off the shoulder neckline may not quite create the look that you think Take a view of some online images, you won’t see a bride with bad deportment in those pictures! An off the shoulder dress needs to be worn loud and proud and carried off with an elegant posture and frame.

Fabrics for an Off the Shoulder Wedding Gown

Because off the shoulder necklines work well with just about every gown shape from ballgown to mermaid through to column-style and mini dress, this style also supports a range of different fabrics.

Remember, that the fabric chosen for the bodice does not have to limit the fabric chosen for either the sleeves or the skirt and train so literally anything is possible from wispy, ethereal tulle to delicate and intricate lace and crêpe de chine.

What about colour?

The off the shoulder design was borrowed from full length dresses designed more than a century ago so this style has long been popular for formal dresses and ballgowns.

If you want to go off script and choose a wedding dress in a solid or bright colour, then there will be lots of choice available plus plenty of similar options for your bridesmaids.

View the colour options available for wedding dresses for sale here on Bride2Bride

Accessories for an Off the Shoulder Wedding Dress

Many brides like to wear their hair pinned up as one of the real features of an off the shoulder dress is that it emphasises the neckline. For a more romantic look, a stylish braid or waves pinned to one side or a mix of pinned hair with a long plait or even just loose at the back can look very feminine.

If you intend to wear a necklace or pendant, then a shorter length piece will balance the top of the dress better or why not consider a choker? Long earrings work well with a messy updo and an off the shoulder gown.

The usual rule with an off the shoulder dress is don’t let this stunning neckline compete with either the hair style or large, chunky jewellery.

Advantages and disadvantages to an off the shoulder wedding dress

Off the shoulder wedding dresses can be a little chilly so think carefully if you are planning an outdoor wedding and/or plenty of photography outside – goose bumps can really spoil the look.

Good deportment is essential when wearing any long dress but if you feel the need to disguise yourself a little or want the protection of more fabric rather than less then this is probably not the dress design for you. To carry off an off the shoulder dress, positive and confident stature is pretty much essential.

The advantages of an off the shoulder dress is that you can team this neckline with virtually any style and length of dress and in any colour. It is endlessly customisable to suit different brides’ tastes and figure shapes.


Off the shoulder long sleeve wedding dresses are really romantic and feminine. They are also a great option for a winter wedding of if you want to add a contemporary touch to a more traditional dress style. Gossamer fabric can create that see though illusion whilst still offering some protection against the weather, creating a look that is more modest and elegant.

An off the shoulder neckline is truly versatile and suits lots of different fabrics and dress designs. It also works well with a range of different hairstyles and wedding themes so no wonder it is a popular choice.

Thinking of selling your off the shoulder wedding dress?