Wedding Dress Styles: Choose Your Own Adventure
By Wedding Spot
If you’ve ever stepped foot inside a bridal store, then you know how many wedding dress styles there are and how overwhelming the options can be!
Your wedding day is one of the most special days of your life and your wedding dress is a big part of making it unique. When else do you get to wear a fluffy white dress and be the center of attention? With so many styles to choose from, it can be a little daunting to find the perfect one for your shape, taste, and budget. In this article, we'll take a look at some of the most popular wedding dress styles, as well as how to choose one that fits your theme and makes you look and feel your absolute best!
The best way to use this guide is to think of it like choosing your own adventure. We’ve provided a comprehensive look at the available options for each of the primary wedding dress styles for you to choose from below. Mix and match your favorite ideas from each category to make wedding dress shopping that much more fun—and stress free!
First, a quick glossary of wedding dress style terms you need to know
Before we dive into the nitty gritty of wedding dress styles, it's important to understand how bridal store specialists and wedding dress brands describe them. Here are some of the most common basic shapes you'll come across.
- A-line. A dress that is fitted in the bodice and flares out gradually from the waist to the hem, creating an "A" shape.
- Ballgown. A dress with a fitted bodice and a full skirt, generally a voluminous full-length skirt that flares out at the hips.
- Mermaid. A dress that is fitted to the body down through hips and flares out dramatically at the knee.
- Trumpet. A dress that is fitted through the bodice and hips and flares out gradually from mid-thigh to the hem.
- Sheath. A dress that is fitted through the entire length of the body, from the neckline to the hem—it doesn’t have to be skintight, but generally conforms to the shape of the body.
- Tea-length. A dress, generally but not exclusively with a fitted bodice and looser skirt, with a hem that falls mid-calf.
- High-low. A dress with a hemline that is shorter in the front, usually around the knees, and longer in the back, typically floor-length.
These terms cover the majority of what you’ll find when you go shopping. If you come across any other wording you don’t quite understand, don’t hesitate to ask a bridal shop assistant or message the online store for more information. It’s better to fully understand what you’re looking at beyond what you can see, so you don’t have any surprises (think hidden corset, complicated lacing, or missing bra cups).
What are the most popular wedding dress styles?
There are many different styles of wedding dresses to choose from so it's essential to know what you're looking for. Some of the most popular styles include:
● A classic ball gown paired with a fitted bodice and a full skirt
● Outdoor/beach-friendly A-line dresses that have a relaxed fit
● Fitted and streamlined sheath dresses that showcase a minimalist flair
● Glamorous mermaid and trumpet dresses that are well-tailored
Like any garment, these popular wedding dress silhouettes have their pros and cons. At the end of the day, what is popular or trending may not be the perfect option for you. For example, a ball gown is great if you want a princess moment but can be heavy and challenging to move in. It also probably wouldn’t fit in well with your beach wedding.
Choosing the right wedding dress style for your body type
Choosing the right dress for your body type is a great first step to ensure that you look and feel your best on your big day. The following is a list of most common body types when it comes to wedding dress fit. While this doesn’t cover all the possible body type, for simplicity’s sake, it should be helpful to narrow down the options based on which figure you feel represents you.
If you have an apple-shaped figure, you carry most of your weight in your midsection. A-line dresses are perfect for you, as they will highlight your waistline while skimming over your midsection. You can also try a dress with a corset-style bodice to create an hourglass figure.
If you have a pear-shaped figure, you carry most of your weight in your hips and thighs. A-line dresses are also great for you, as they will balance out your proportions. You can also try a dress with a fitted bodice and fuller skirt to accentuate your waistline.
If you have an hourglass figure, you have a well-defined waistline and curves in all the right places. Trumpet and mermaid dresses are perfect for you, as they will highlight your curves and create a stunning silhouette. You can also try a dress with a sweetheart neckline to accentuate your bust.
If you have a straight figure, you have little definition between your bust, waist, and hips. A dress with a defined waistline will create the illusion of curves. You can also try a dress with a ball gown skirt to add volume to your lower half (if that’s the look you want)!
Although there are way more than four types of figures, understanding the above will help you navigate wedding racks both online and in person with ease—many wedding brands even use these categories when designing their gowns.
A brief overview of wedding dress materials
Wedding dresses can be made from a variety of materials, each with its own unique look and feel. Some are more appropriate for particular seasons (think chiffon for summer or velvet for winter). Here are some of the most common materials used in wedding dresses.
- Velvet. A luxurious, cozy material best suited for full length dresses, accents, or bridal capes.
- Lace. A delicate, feminine material that can be used as an overlay or as the main fabric.
- Tulle. A light, airy fabric that is often used for skirts and veils.
- Chiffon. A sheer, lightweight fabric that is often used for flowing, romantic dresses.
- Satin. A smooth, shiny fabric that is often used for structured, elegant dresses.
- Organza. A crisp, lightweight fabric that is often used for voluminous skirts.
Narrowing down your material before you go shopping will help you drill down on the right choice for your unique needs, and it can help break a tie if you’ve narrowed down the options and still don’t know which dress you want.
A primer on wedding dress embellishments
The details of a wedding dress can make a big difference in its overall look and feel. Here are some of the most common embellishments you'll come across.
- Beading. Small, intricate embellishments, usually actual beads of various sizes, but can be crystals or other stones laid down on the fabric, that can add sparkle and shine to a dress.
- Embroidery. Intricate stitching that can add texture and dimension to a dress.
- Ruching. A gathering of fabric, providing a ripple effect, that can add volume and texture to a dress.
- Appliqué. A decorative piece of fabric that is sewn onto the dress to create a pattern or design.
- Sleeves. Wedding dresses can come with a variety of sleeve styles, including spaghetti straps, cap sleeves, short sleeves, three-quarter sleeves, and long sleeves.
- Neckline. Wedding dresses are known for their wide range of neckline styles, including strapless, sweetheart, V-neck, scoop, and halter.
Pro tip: Less is typically more unless you make the choice to go maximalist with a gorgeous combination of these details (hint: that would look incredible if you’re having a wedding at a historic manor, museum, or castle)!
Coordinating your wedding dress style to your theme
When choosing a wedding dress, you should consider your wedding theme. it’s likely something you gravitate towards already, but your dress should complement the overall look and feel of your wedding. Not to mention, some dresses aren’t practical for certain venues, and logistically, you’ll need to consider how you can move around your venue in your dress.
Here are some tips to help you choose a dress that fits your venue and theme.
- Beach wedding. For a beach wedding, you'll want a dress that is light and simple. Look for dresses made from chiffon or tulle, or consider a high-low or tea-length hemline. A silky or satin sheath dress, the shiny fabric can mimic the water just feet away from your ceremony.
- Garden wedding. Garden weddings are all about soft beauty and romance, so you'll want a dress that is full and feminine. Dresses with lace or floral embellishments and soft, flowing skirts fit it to a T. Chiffon and lace are great fabric options for a garden wedding.
- Classic wedding. Classic weddings are those big, typically formal events in a hotel, estate, or cathedral. For a classic wedding, you'll want a dress that is elegant and timeless. Satin or silk are great options here, as are ball gown and A-line silhouettes. Add traditional details like a sweetheart neckline, beading, or embroidery to complete the look.
- Bohemian wedding. To match the free and airy vibe at a bohemian wedding, you'll want a dress that is relaxed and even eccentric. Flowing skirts, lace details, or crochet embellishments are all part and parcel with the bohemian theme. A sheath or A-line silhouette can work well for this style as well.
- Modern wedding. Modern weddings are all about minimalism and sleek design. Your dress should be no exceptions, so look for a dress that’s sleek and sophisticated. Clean lines and minimal embellishments are great to create a modern silhouette. A trumpet or sheath dress can work well for this theme, and a high neckline or simple strap design can add a modern touch.
It's also important to consider the season and venue of your wedding when choosing a dress. A long-sleeve velvet dress is awesome for a mountaintop wedding in December in Colorado, but would be miserable for a beachfront wedding on a summer day in Hawaii.
Accessorize your favorite wedding dress styles
Last but not least, it’s time to complete the look with some coordinated accessories. As you may have seen on Say Yes to the Dress, accessories can change how the whole ensemble looks. It may even change your mind about which dress you’d like to rock on your big day!
Here are some of the common accessories you’ll choose from to pair with your bridal attire at the ceremony and reception.
- Veil. Traditional and elegant, a veil adds a level of sophistication to any wedding gown style—and they come in a variety of lengths to match any venue and theme.
- Headpiece(s). Think flower crowns (or real crowns!), sparkling barrettes, and tiaras.
- Cover up or coat. It’s always good to have something to shield your shoulders from the hot sun or protect you from the cool breeze at night.
- Earrings. Classic or statement, depending on what you choose to do with the rest of your jewelry. And don’t forget to look at your dress style and headpieces, too. Your earrings should complement those as well.
- Necklace. Some necklines stunningly highlight your collarbone and elongate your neck. Some can handle a big statement necklace. Some look best with a simple pendant. Test out your options to see what works best for your dress and your style.
- Bracelet. Most brides skip this piece of jewelry, but if you typically wear bracelets day to day, there’s no reason to go without one at your wedding! This is also a great way to fit your “something old” into your ensemble. Plus, you can coordinate it with your wedding band, as your wrist will likely be in pictures with your bouquet, rings, and holding hands with your new spouse!
- Rings. You’ll be wearing your wedding ring, of course, but if you love stacking rings or are a big fan of the bohemian jewelry look, go for it. Maybe place your rings on the opposite hand of your wedding band if you’re worried they’ll take away from the impact of the new ring.
- Bouquet. Your bouquet can either blend in or be the statement piece of the outfit. Remember that it may affect which jewelry makes the most sense for the overall look. And if you feel like it’s an integral part of your ensemble, florists often make a tossing bouquet for the reception—you can simply carry it with you for most of the party.
- Gloves. Another sophisticated option, long gloves can add an air of elegance to any ensemble (and make you feel like an absolute princess). Short gloves also pair well with vintage styles and tea-length dresses, so don’t feel like it’s elbow-length gloves or bust!
- Shoes. Many brides these days choose to wear a dressy pair for the ceremony and a more comfortable pair for the reception (read: dancing, making rounds with the guests, and being on your feet for hours on end). Keep your hemline and venue in mind when picking your shoes. Your shoes will be on display in a high-low dress, and stilettos would be a nightmare on a beach or in your backyard. Luckily, there are a multitude of shoe options for you to choose from, so you’ll find the right fit!
To avoid the often-villainized overly-matchy look, go for pieces that complement each other, rather than coordinate and compete with the overall look.
Now you’re ready to shop for your favorite wedding dress styles!
At the end of the day, it's important to choose a dress that makes you feel confident and comfortable. There are many different wedding dress styles to choose from, each with its own unique look and feel. Understanding the various components used to create wedding dress styles and outfits can help you make an informed decision when choosing your dress and ensure that you’re totally thrilled with your selection!
Up next, discover some wedding dress alteration tips you’ll need to know before you commit to a gown!