Gowns, like brides, come in every size and shape imaginable. One of the most important elements of looking and feeling your best is choosing a gown that's right for you- that is, one that flatters your figure. The right gown can really do wonders; it should highlight your best bits and help to deemphasize the parts that could use a bit more help. A great place to begin your wedding dress search is with a return to basics: determining your body type and learning how to best dress it. And know that whatever your shape, there is absolutely a dress cut out there that'll ensure your look stunning on your big day. As you should, of course.
Determining Your Shape
- Apples are usually well proportioned, but tend to carry their weight around their mid section, without a well defined waist. But chances are that you have a pretty fabulous set of legs and/ or boobs.
- Pears shapes are, funnily enough, the most common woman's body shape. If you're a pear, you tend to carry most of your weight around your hips, bum and thighs. But it also means that you probably have a beyond- beautiful clavicle and flat stomach.
- Inverted triangles are characterised by their broad shoulders and. or bigger boobs, and proportionately narrow waist and hips.
- Curvy hourglasses tend to have sizeable breasts and hips, and a relatively narrow waist. An incredibly sexy natural shape!
- Rectangle/ column body shapes are quite straight up and down, without a particularly narrow waist or wide hips (though bigger boobs are also common with rectangle shapes!).
Now that you've identified your body shape, let's have a look at how this'll affect your dress choice.
The following general rules apply to your body shape:
- Go for: Empire waistlines, A- line dresses and flowy, unstructured bodices. The A-line is cinched at the smallest part of your waist and the skirt gently flares out to create an 'A' shape, while the empire is recognised by its high waist and slimmer skirt. Both have a fitted top and high waistline, which shifts the attention up and away from your midsection. This is also achieved by having a strapless or v-neckline with lace or ruching on the bodice.
- Best to avoid: short, boxy jackets and full skirts
- Go for: Balance your bottom with bright or embellished tops, and pair this with a plain bottom. Additionally, the A-line dress works well as it has a structured top and a natural waist, which shows off your petite top half, while the flared skirt cleverly hides your bottom section. The ball gown is another option as it similarly draws the attention to your slimmer top half, while the full skirt covers your lower half. The classic strapless, scoop, halter and v-neckline work well with this body shape.
- Best to avoid: anything particularly tight fitting pants, shorts or skirts. This includes fishtail, perncil, mermaid and trumpet cut skirts.
- Go for: Dresses that have a flared waist and hem, such as A- line, empire and ball gowns, as they add volume to narrow waists. Lower necklines is a 'U' or 'V' shape will also help slim your upper half, and balance out your body beautifully. Wearing a belt, and adding embellishments to the bottom half of your dress will force the eye downwards and further encourage a sense of balance.
- Best to avoid: Shoulder pads, puff sleeves, epaulettes, halter tops, and tapering pants.
- Go for: Luckily for you, most cuts suit your body shape, but a mermaid, trumpet or sheath style will best show off your curves. The mermaid silhouette has a fitted top and a flared skirt, which flows out at the knees, the trumpet is a bit more understated with a flare that begins mid-thigh, while the sheath follows the contours of your body. All three dresses accentuate your small waist and hourglass figure. The best neckline is one-shoulder, scoop or strapless.
- Best to avoid: baggy tops or jumpers- they'll hide that beautiful waist of yours!
- Go for: This boyish body needs some help in the waist department, so a ball gown, A-line or empire dress with a fitted corset, a cinched waist and a full skirt are best. A pretty coloured sash tied around the waist can also do the trick. You’ll want to create curves where you don’t have any, so look at a mermaid or trumpet dress, as they both have a flared skirt which provides the hourglass illusion. The neckline to suit you is strapless, scoop or boat.
- Best to avoid: Any dresses, pants, or skirts that sit particularly low on your waist/ hips- this'll just make you look as though you've got a long torso! If you're self conscious of your figure, avoid sheath dresses as they'll emphasise your figure. If you love your long and lean silhouette, however, we say go for it!
Additional Body Characteristics to Consider
- Tall. If you’re tall or especially slender then you need a classic, simple sheath dress. Also known as a column style, it has no waistline and is not as forgiving as other silhouettes, but on the right person it looks elegant and glamorous. On the lean bride it contours your body, accentuating your statuesque shape. Use embellishments sparsely, and opt for a strapless or scooped neckline to shorten the width of your shoulders.
- Short. Empire and A-line styles are ideal as the high waist is above your natural waistline, and this elongates your figure, which makes your legs look longer. A trumpet and mermaid style, with a flared skirt, also work well with a petite frame, but don’t go too large or the full skirt will swamp you. A strapless neckline is always a firm favourite, but a halter neckline will help to lengthen your silhouette.
- Plus size. A very curvy bride should take advantage of her shape and look for a mermaid style dress, as anything shapeless doesn’t flatter you. An empire style also works well because the high waistline elongates the midriff, and the full skirt takes the attention away from your hips. Choose fabrics like satin, over loose material, as you want structure in your dress. Stay away from strapless necklines and rather opt for a sweetheart or v-neckline.
- Big bust. The idea is to show off cleavage without revealing too much, so to minimise the effect choose a square or v-neckline, and balance out your bust with an empire style full skirt. If you’re determined to go strapless, then pick the sweetheart shape as it won’t display excessive cleavage. Avoid shiny or ruched fabric on the bodice and make sure you have loads of support.
- Small bust. Strapless isn’t your friend if you want to boost your bust. Pick a halter or sweetheart style and add ruching to create volume. The right bra will also enhance your chest size. A-line styles and ball gowns with a fitted bodice and a full skirt will help you look your best.
- Pregnant bride. An empire style will disguise your tummy, and it gives you some extra room in the waist, so you’re comfortable.
A Dress- By- Dress Analysis
The A- Line Gown
This is named for the shape it resembles- an uppercase ‘A’. The chest is fitted and flows out to a wide hem, giving the look of a single, unbroken line from chest to hem on either side of the body. It is a classic shape that (depending on the fabric) can be made suitable for just about any venue or dress code.
- This cut is recommended for most body shapes as it draws your eyes upwards and emphasises your waist. Petite women will particularly benefit as it gives the illusion of a bit of extra height, and for curvier women, it will simultaneously emphasize your waist (an incredibly underrated asset) and draw attention away from your hips.
- This cut is not recommended for women with a thicker waist as it will draw attention to the area, and appear to make your waist thicker.
The Ball Gown
Ah, the classic ball gown. Which six-year old hasn’t doodled a picture of themselves in some meringue- like ball of chiffon and lace when planning their wedding? The grown- up version is closer to Cinderella’s own ball-gown than the dessert-abomination we all dreamed of (or at least, I’m hoping it wasn't just me). This style is characterised by a fitted bodice and waist that leads to a full skirt.
- This style is a great choice for tall brides wishing to de-emphasize their height or those wanting to hide their hips. It tends to look great on thin and full figured ladies alike, or those who tend to carry their weight on their lower half (pear shaped).
- Not recommended for those who tend to gain weight in their torso, as this will make those look far bigger than they are; those with extremely petite figures should be wary when considering this one- this dress can easily overwhelm a smaller body.
The Empire Gown
The Empire cut has a raised waistline that sits just below the bust, with the skirt hanging more loosely from below this waistline. Similarly to the A-line cut, the length of the Empire can be adjusted and offers a high level of versatility.
- This style is recommended for those with a smaller bust and a slimmer figure, as well as those looking to draw attention away from a thicker waist. Particularly petite figures, as this look serves to elongate the body, as well as all column-shaped women.
- This style is not advised for curvier brides, as their curves will only make them look heavier in this dress/ and/or completely hidden from sight- ie. full-figured brides, or hour-glass and pear shaped figures.
The Mermaid Gown
Also known as the ‘Good God!’ cut, this dress will certainly inject some Sophia Loren- sized va-va voom into your wedding day. This style fits tightly from the chest to the knee, and then flares out as it reaches the floor. This is for the bride wanting to highlight her considerable curves. A word of warning, however: the tight cut of this dress can seriously impede your movement, so have a walk around in the dress- and maybe even try out a few dance moves- to make sure that you’re comfortable before you make any purchases.
- Consider wearing this if you have an hourglass figure (and a daring personality)
- Don’t bother taking this off the rack if you’re fuller- figured- this will bring sole focus to your curves (as opposed to how you yourself look in the dress) and leave you uncomfortable.
The Trumpet Gown
This is almost identical to the Mermaid gown - the only difference being that the flair on the Trumpet cut begins mid-thigh, whereas the Mermaid begins below the knee. Again, this is best suited to:
- Hourglass figures (your curves will help to balance out the dramatic hemline) and column figures (this will give you some absolutely to-die-for curves)
- Generally speaking, this outfit isn't well suited to fuller figured ladies. The tightness throughout the legs makes it a difficult dress to walk and dance in, which is exacerbated if you have bigger legs (Unless, that is, you can change into something more comfortable to move in or just want to sit around and look FABAHULOUS. In which case I obviously say more power to you, you fierce thing and that I love you).
The Sheath Gown
This cut hugs e-v-e-r-y curve of your body, and is usually made in a lighter, more flowy fabric. This also often features a watteau train, which are also easily made detachable, making it a great option for the reception.
- This is particularly suited to petite, hourglass, or slim figures.
- This is not well suited to those with fuller figures, or those with an apple shape.
The Basque Waist
This consists of a dipped waistline than normally sits on your waist or just below it, forming either a U or V shape. This suits all body shapes, giving the illusion of a narrower waist and hips, and well as a slightly longer torso (which can help your look proportionately if you’re wearing a particularly large or dramatic dress, like the ballgown).
The Fit-and-Flare Gown
Often used as an umbrella term to describe any dress that his fits tightly throughout the bodice, and beginning at either the waist or hip, gradually flares out. This term is not, however, used in the same capacity as the other descriptions as it quite general and can refer to several styles. However, its general shape is one of the most versatile.
- It tends to suit pear, hourglass, and column figures.
- Does not suit apple shapes particularly well, as it showcases your torso.
Extra Tips and Tricks
- The way the material falls
- How the waistline feels
- How the chest area fits
- Any unattractive puckering, bunching or bulging
- Check stitching, embroidery, and beading are all securely attached
View all angles of yourself in your gown, not just from the front. If you see something that you don't like, mention it. The dressmaker should be able to tell you why a problem exists, and what can be done to fix it.The guide below may help you in narrowing down your selection and flatter your body type.
To look taller:
A dress with a high neckline will help you achieve a taller look. Short sleeved or sleeveless dresses with long gloves will elongate your appearance. An off-the-shoulder neckline flatters petite women. Be careful not to choose a dress that overwhelms you.
To de-emphasize your height:
If you are tall, a drop waist and a wide belt with a trim or ruffles that wrap around the dress will take away the all legs look. Open and low necklines with billowy sleeves are also good. Hats or dramatic veiling are effective and will not overpower you.
To appear a little curvier:
Add the illusions of extra pounds by choosing a heavier fabric such as velvet or satin. Choose a more filled out bodice with a gathered waist and narrow sleeves.
To appear more slender:
A gown with a high waistline like an A-line dress will give you this illusion. You might want to consider the classic slim trick and choose to wear vertical lines. Scooped necklines are flattering but be sure to stay away from lacy ruffles, clingy fabrics and puffed sleeves.
Larger sized brides will look beautiful in A-line dresses. Avoid body-hugging gowns, with or without a waistline, flaring from the knees or slightly above. You may also want to avoid clingy fabrics such as crepe and jersey, and bulky fabrics such as velvet and heavy satin. Opt instead for lighter fabrics such as chiffons, and silk shantung.
To de-emphasize your bustline:
A V-neck or high neckline with a keyhole yoke is ideal. Avoid empire or cinched waists, they accentuate larger breasts. A straight skirt or fitted bodice will flatter your figure.
To slim your hips:
If you have wide hips, you can always disguise it with a ball-gown or a flared skirt. Draw attention to your upper body and waist by choosing a gown with bodice detail, like lace or beading.
For a longer-looking torso:
If you're short-waisted, a gown that is fitted at the bodice and opening up gradually to a full skirt, will elegantly draw out your figure. A-line and drop waist bodices also help to create the illusion of an elongated torso.
For pear shaped brides:
You might consider a strapless ball gown as this will cover your bottom half and highlight your better half. An off-the-shoulder neckline will make your top look more in proportion to your bottom.
For petite brides:
You will get lost in big, ball gown styles. You may want to try them anyway. This will give you a feel for what you don't want as well as what you do want.
Choosing your gown is a wonderful experience. Allow yourself time to find the right gown for you and you will be comfortable, happy, and gorgeous on your wedding day.