Bridal Gowns 101

A-line, ball gown, empire waist. Here’s how to pick the wedding dress best suited to your shape.
Published June 16, 2016

This gown glossary by bridal designer Amy Michelson takes the mystery out of the myriad dress shapes you’ll encounter when you start shopping.

Like brides, wedding gowns come in every conceivable shape and style. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by choice as you start your gown search, this guide will help you narrow down the options to the styles that are most likely to flatter your figure and make you feel absolutely gorgeous as you walk down the aisle.

If you have a large bust:

  • Accentuate the positive by choosing a sweetheart, halter or plunging V neckline. A dress with boning or built-in bra cups will give added support to create subtle décolletage.
  • Minimize a large chest by staying away from bateau and jewel necklines, which cut across the bust, or high-collar necklines that add bulk and width. And avoid showing too much cleavage — save that for the honeymoon!
  • A large bust looks great in a fitted style that hugs your curves. A mermaid shape is particularly flattering when the skirt flares out just below the knee, balancing your top half and showing off a curvaceous figure.

Fashion flash: Unearth your inner glamour girl by trying on a bias-cut sheath. On the hanger, this type of dress may appear too slim and clingy, but the soft fabric glides over the body and is often more flattering to fuller-figured women than a stiffer fabric in a more structured style.

If you want to cover your arms:

  • Avoid flutter or puffed sleeves, which will make your arms look bigger and draw attention to what you want to hide. Instead, opt for elbow length, three-quarter or long sleeves.
  • Even if you want to wear sleeves, you should still show a little skin. Look for a sheer stretch fabric, such as tulle or lace, to give a slimmer, sexier look than a solid fabric sleeve.
  • A great model for sleeves is the Alexander McQueen dress worn by Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.

Fashion flash: For a more updated look, try a strapless or sleeveless gown with a wrap, shrug, capelet, shawl or bolero jacket over it. Planning a winter wedding? A white faux fur or marabou shrug is a glamorous way to cover up. At a warm weather affair, a sheer chiffon or organza wrap makes for a delicate, dreamy look.

If you have an undefined waist:

  • A deep V-neckline in both the front and back draws the eye in and narrows the waist.
  • The vertical flared seams of a princess gown provide fit and flare, giving shape to the waist.
  • A coloured ribbon or sash can make your midsection appear more defined.
  • Diagonal draping across the bodice can also create the illusion of a slimmer waist and tummy.

Fashion flash: Don’t be afraid to make a splash! A mermaid gown gives the illusion of curves accentuating the bust, whittling the waist and balancing out the hips with its flared trumpet skirt. Or look for a dress with a structured bodice to nip your body in at the waist.

If you have an overall fuller figure:

  • A well-proportioned full figure can look fantastic in a simple, sexy dress. Don’t let your femininity be hidden by too much fabric; flaunt those curves!
  • A V-neck that accentuates the bust will draw the eye upward and a full A-line skirt will hide any below-the-waist imperfections.
  • Look for seams and trim designs that create the illusion of a waistline.
  • A bias-cut gown skims and slims the body and creates a long, flowing line from head to toe.

Fashion flash: Fabric choices are the key: Stay away from bulky laces, stiff brocades and heavily embroidered satins, which add pounds. Look for smooth, lightweight fabrics such as organza, chiffon, charmeuse, duchesse satin and taffeta instead. And a slimming undergarment, such as a Spanx body shaper, can help smooth out bumps and lumps and help you look pounds thinner.

If you are a pear shape with full hips:

  • A strapless, A-line gown focuses attention on the bust and shoulders while disguising the lower body. Vertical princess seams enhance the slimming effect.
  • Off-the-shoulder straps create a wide horizontal line at the shoulder, balancing out the hips and making the waist look smaller.
  • A draped A-line skirt puts the spotlight on the waist and stylishly covers ample hips.
  • The classic ball gown camouflages all below-the-waist issues. Just be careful to avoid adding too much width to the overall silhouette.

Fashion flash: Rich lace or embroidery in the bust and bodice will draw the eye up and away from your hips.