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Wedding dress styles – How to find the right style for you

Faced with an online overload of glamorous and tempting wedding dresses, it can be hard to see the wood for the trees!

The best way to organise this smorgasbord of wedding dress delights, is to group the dresses into themes or styles, that way you won’t waste time looking at dresses which are really not for you.

The easiest way to work through the different styles is to subdivide the dress into sections. Let’s start with the silhouette.

Silhouette of your wedding dress

  • Mermaid or Fishtail – this style features a fitted bodice and upper skirt section down to around the knee after which there is what is called a kick-out section, just like a mermaid’s tail. This style of dress is perfect for the bride who wants to show off her curves and because of the flared section at the bottom, are pretty easy to walk and move around in. Read our full guide to mermaid wedding dresses
  • Trumpet – trumpet style wedding dresses are similar to mermaid gowns in that they have a fitted top and a voluminous bottom, however there is no clear defining line between the two. The flared section starts around halfway down the thigh and flares out more gradually. Trumpet style dresses work well with long trains and are easier to move around in than a mermaid gown
  • Fit and flare – again, similar to the trumpet and mermaid style but the flare begins just below the hips and is the most graduated of the styles. This design can flatter hourglass figures and disguise elements of the pear shape that some dislike as well as create curves for brides who are tall and thin
  • Column or sheath – rather like a slip dress, the column or sheath is fitted to the body but gives the appearance of being gently draped. This style of dress is perfect for formal evening receptions and is easy to move in so ideal for the dancefloor. Fabrics tend to be lighter and more gossamer, and the overall look is elegant and sophisticated whilst being easy to wear
  • Princess or ballgown – think acres of tulle with a voluminous skirt and a strapless fitted top. This is a great style for a bride who wants to define their waist and create an hourglass look
  • A-line – similar to a ballgown style but with a more triangular shaped flare to the skirt. The A-line style suits most figures and can be matched with any design of bodice to flatter all bust sizes, shoulders and decolletages
  • Tea length – a flattering style which kicks out from the waist and ends at the knee or mid-calf. A fantastic cool summer style, the tea length dress is great for showcasing fabulous legs and even more fabulous shoes. The whole look can be quite vintage
  • Waterfall hemline – this is not a style in its own right but a cut which can be added to a ballgown or A-line dress or a sheath/column design. Put simply, the skirt is shorter at the front and longer at the back. The waterfall hemline is also sometimes referred to as a mullet hemline

Once you have selected your silhouette, the next decision to make is on the neckline or bodice.

Neckline styles for your wedding dress

  • Sweetheartpopular and flattering, this design mimics the shape of a love heart, this is a softer look that a straight cut neckline
  • V-neck – a V-neck only works in combination with straps or sleeves and creates the hourglass look
  • Wrap over – this creates a V-shape at the front with the fabric overlapping diagonally under one side of the bust. Wrap over necklines are flattering for larger busted ladies
  • Plunge – like the V-neck but more dramatic and extending down the middle of the chest to as far as the navel. A good design for flat chested brides as it creates the illusion of curves
  • Illusion – this refers to any more extreme neckline which is kept safely in place with a nude mesh, so it presents something of an optical illusion
  • High-neck – think choker or turtleneck style, this can be very classic and especially elegant with hair worn up and away from the face
  • Boat neckthis is a slightly curved style which goes from one side of the collar bone to the other dipping just below the decolletage
  • Halter – this is a sleeveless design exposing all of the shoulders but covering up the chest. The design elongates the shoulders and can balance out broader hips to create the impression of an hourglass figure. This style is ideal for making a smaller bust seem larger
  • Cowl neck – cowl-necked dresses are curved slightly downwards with some extra fabric creating a ruched effect across the top of the bodice. This style is commonly seen on column dresses
  • Square – a square neckline features straps or sleeves coming straight down over the shoulder and meeting the bodice at a right angle with the bodice cut straight across the front

How to choose the right wedding dress style?

fishtail wedding dress

The style you have fallen in love with or the style you have planned in your imagination since you were a little girl is always the one for you. But what if you are completely stuck as to what is the best design for your shape and figure?

In this situation, the best wedding dress is the one that suits you best. Most brides want to look jaw droppingly gorgeous, in fact, they want to look amazing, and some styles are definitely going to suit you better than others.

Think about your finest features and the ones you want to accentuate or show off. Perhaps you have beautiful arms and are thinking about a sleeveless or strapless gown? A well-chosen wedding gown can also disguise parts of your figure or appearance that you don’t like. If you are small in stature or height, then a meringue will only highlight this. Tall brides who are worried about their height will accentuate this is a straight gown or something floaty and sheer.

Work out the dress features and styles which will suit you best and then take a trusted friend or family member with you to a bridal boutique and start trying on the dresses.

A good wedding dress shop with experienced members of staff can really help you narrow down your choices. Always listen to their recommendations and try on dresses which you would normally have just gone past on the rail – you might be surprised at what they look like.

Top tips to help you choose the right wedding dress style

  • Start with length, do you want a short or long dress? Long dresses are traditional, and a full skirt can hide a multitude of sins
  • What style of skirt do you like? In simple terms think about A-line or mermaid, trumpet style or flare and ballgown versus straight or column style
  • What style of back do you like and what will best flatter your body shape? There are lots of different variations
  • Sleeves or sleeveless and what type of sleeve style?
  • What type of waistline best suits your figure?
  • What type of fastenings do you want at the back of the dress?
  • Do you intend to have a train or veil?

Made to measure

If you really can’t find one gown which captures all of the features that you are looking for then you only option is to either tailor an existing dress or have a wedding dress made for you.

Bespoke dresses are a joy because you can choose exactly what you want without compromise, this includes the fabric, the colour, the style which can be a combination of designs and the finish or decoration. And they are not as expensive as you might think.

It is quite important to have a drawing of what you would like before you approach a dressmaker. Cut outs from magazines or online images are not necessarily going to work. Try and access a fashion student or someone with a good eye who can produce a close enough design that a dressmaker or seamstress can work with.

Other considerations

Once you have hit on the style of wedding dress you want, have a think about whether it will work for your day.

  • Is this a dress you plan to wear all day? Will changing your shoes from heels to flats be impossible with a full-length gown?
  • You have planned a candlelit walk from that pretty church through the dusk to the reception, what is the pathway like? What will happen to a full-length dress if it is raining?
  • You have chosen a wonderful and dramatic location and aim to have some fabulous moody shots taken on the clifftop or in the ruins of a castle, how will your dress work with these outdoor images?
  • What are the bridesmaids going to wear?

Who would have thought that there was so much to think about when choosing a wedding dress? Always allow plenty of time so you can make an unrushed decision, it is after all, one of the most important fashion choices you will ever make.