Wedding Dress Styles – The Wedding Secret’s ULTIMATE Guide

wedding dress styles
SO your Prince Charming has got down on one knee, popped the question, and put a ring on it. Congratulations!

Now you’ve found ‘The One’, it’s time to find ‘The Other One’: your wedding dress!

Find the perfect wedding dress style

I spent two years as a bridal consultant myself, so I know that there are heaps of wedding dress styles out there, and that it can be confusing to figure out which one will suit you best. That said, deciding on what style you want is probably the most important thing to do before you even step foot in your first bridal boutique.

Yes, this is something your consultant can help you figure out, but knowing in advance what silhouette may suit you and what you’ll feel most confident in will save an awful lot of precious time during your appointment!

That’s why we’ve compiled a handy guide of the most common wedding dress styles and what body types they’re suitable for below, making it that little bit easier – and hopefully a whole lot less stressful – to find your dream dress. And we’ve even added some handy links at the bottom of the post to some UK bridal boutiques to help you get started once you’re feeling inspired!

Ultimate Wedding Dress Styles Guide

The A-Line

Let’s start with the most common and versatile wedding dress style. A-Line dresses are so-called because the skirt flares out from the natural waistline, creating a triangular, or capital ‘A’ skirt shape.

This shape suit almost every body type, but are particularly flattering on fuller-figure or apple-shape brides, who may wish to accentuate their waistlines. It’s also a good cut for pear-shape brides who wish to take the focus away from their hips.

What to look for: Embellishments around the bust or waist on A-Line gowns are more flattering as they draw attention to the waist, which will appear naturally slim due to the flare of the skirt. Pear-shape brides should avoid A-Line gowns with too much embellishment around the hip or thigh area, as this might exaggerate the size of those parts of the body whilst detracting from the waistline.

Designers who nail it: Vera Wang; Rosa Clara; Monique Lhullier

Celebs who rocked it: Kate Middleton; Angelina Jolie; Amal Clooney

Suitable for: ANY body type!

wedding dress styles guide

Clockwise from top left: “Nerja” by Rosa Clara; “Nassau” by Rosa Clara; “BL18120” by Monique Lhuillier; “Delaney” by Vera Wang

The Sheath

As the boho bride trend becomes ever more popular, so does the Sheath style dress trend, which is why it features second in this wedding dress silhouette guide. These dresses often offer a relaxed fit with little to no internal structuring, making for a seriously comfortable, yet innately feminine garment.

On the down side, they don’t hide any sins, so pulling one off means you need to be either long and lean, or extremely comfortable in your own skin. This wedding dress shape is best-suited to taller brides with slim or athletic builds, although petite brides may also find that the Sheath’s relaxed fit sometimes adds the illusion of height.

What to look for: Statement backs, lace, and intricate details are bang on trend right now, and are very often found on Sheath dresses. As with A-Line dresses, embellishment around the waist and bust will accentuate curves, and brides with a booty complex should avoid too much lower body embellishment.

Designers who nail it: Claire Pettibone; Jenny Packham; Rue De Seine

Celebs who rocked it: Millie Mackintosh; Dianna Agron; Kate Moss

Suitable for: Straight-, pear-, or hourglass-shape brides.

wedding dress style guide

Clockwise from top left: “Dakota” by Rue De Seine; “Bel Air” by Claire Pettibone; “Euphoria” by Jenny Packham; “Amber” by Claire Pettibone

The Dropped-Waist

For brides wanting a more form-fitting silhouette, but are unwilling to sacrifice a voluminous skirt worthy of their princess dreams, Dropped-Waist gowns offer a perfect hybrid, and are probably the most versatile of all wedding dress styles. Dropped-Waist literally means that the waistline of the dress is “dropped” down to sit either just above or around the hips, as opposed to sitting at the natural waist.

These gowns are great for accentuating an hourglass figure, or for pear-shape brides looking to flaunt their natural assets. They do, however, draw attention to the hip, bum and thigh areas, so are not ideal for brides who are self-conscious about those features on themselves.

What to look for: As the trend leans more towards skirts with less embellishment, look for a simple and elegant Dropped-Waist gown that echoes the timelessness of 1950s Hollywood, the era that made the silhouette desirable. Layers of soft tulle will complement and offset the more structured bodice, and will lend you a positively ethereal look.

Designers who nail it: Sottero and Midgley; Allure Couture; Justin Alexander

Celebs who rocked it: Kim Kardashian (at her first wedding); Luisana Lopilato (married to Michael Bublé); Jessica Ennis-Hill

Suitable for: Hourglass-, pear-, or inverted triangle-shape brides.

wedding dress styles

Clockwise from top left: “Danica Marie” by Sottero and Midgley; “8850” by Justin Alexander; “C301” by Allure; “Garland” by Sottero and Midgley

Fit-and-Flare and Fishtail

Brides wanting to make a statement when walking (or strutting) down the aisle will love the va-va-voom factor of these wedding dress styles. Both of these cuts are figure-hugging, Jessica Rabbit-style silhouettes that are perfect for body confident brides.

Fit-and-Flare gowns hug the body tightly around the bodice and down past the bum, with the skirt flaring out around mid-thigh. Fishtail gowns, on the other hand, are slightly more restrictive, with the skirt flaring from the knee. Both are bursting with sex appeal and are sure to add the Wow factor to your big day.

What to look for: There are plenty of all-lace or rhinestone encrusted Fish Tail and Fit-and-Flare gowns out there, but my personal opinion is to keep it simple. Go for an unembellished organza or tulle gown and let your body do the talking in this silhouette. If you’re dying to bling it up, you can add a statement belt to complete your look.

Designers who nail it: Suzanne Neville; Sassi Holford; Atelier Pronovias

Celebs who rocked it: Kim Kardashian (at her second wedding); Rochelle Humes; Beyoncé

Suitable for: Hourglass- or pear-shape brides.

wedding dress styles

Clockwise from top left: “Astrid” by Sassi Holford; “Beautiful” by Suzanne Neville; “Siren Mae” by Suzanne Neville; “Vicenta” by Atelier Pronovias

The Empire

Empire line gowns are defined by a waistline that sits right below the bust, giving them a flowy and relaxed feel. While they normally hang in a similar way to Sheath gowns, the Empire silhouette is less clingy around the body, making it a good option for brides who don’t want to worry about having to spend their wedding day in uncomfortable shapewear.

Most commonly made with chiffon, these dresses are a great option for a beach wedding in order to keep you cool throughout the day. This cut is also a common choice for brides-to-be who are also mums-to-be, as it’ll be sure to keep your baby bump as comfortable as possible so you can dance the night away! Similar to the Sheath wedding dress shape, Empire gowns can also have an elongating effect on petite brides.

What to look for: Known for their comfort, Empire gowns are also commonly criticised as looking too much like a nightie. To avoid this, consider choosing a gown with a heavily embellished bust, or accessorise with a bolero to make it stand out just a little more.

Keep in mind that this dress style was popular first in Ancient Greece, and again in Georgian England, so perhaps stay away from gowns whose designs echo those periods too heavily. (Unless, of course, that’s what you’re going for.)

Designers who nail it: Claire Pettibone; Lillian West; Nicola Anne

Celebs who rocked it: Liv Tyler; Elizabeth Hurley; Megan Fox

Suitable for: Any shape, but particularly flattering on larger or apple-shape brides.

wedding dress styles

Clockwise from top left: “6300” by Lillian West; “Demure” by Nicola Anne; “Grace” by Claire Pettibone; “Gracious” by Nicola Anne

The Ballgown

Yes, ladies, it’s the big one (literally). The Ballgown is the quintessential ‘princess’ silhouette, its popularity originating from Cinderella and snowballing from there. The most recognisable of all wedding dress styles, it’s admittedly gained a bad rap in recent years due to the ‘meringue’ dresses of “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding”, but done correctly, this silhouette can be elegant and flattering and is definitely not one to turn up your nose at!

Similar to A-Line gowns, Ballgowns also typically come in at the natural waist, with their characteristically large skirts flaring from there. Also like the A-Line, the Ball Gown is good for drawing the eye to the waist and away from features you may not be so keen on, such as your bust or your hips. However, due to the sheer volume of the Ballgown’s skirt, larger ladies or ladies who are self-conscious about their hips may find that this wedding dress silhouette makes them feel larger than they really are, so tread carefully.

What to look out for: Due to the poof-factor of these dresses, my motto when it comes to them is less is more. The skirt is statement enough, and choosing a Ballgown with a load of embellishment can look altogether too busy. However, if you have your heart absolutely set on a Swarovski-bedazzled Ballgown, I say go for it. Your wedding day is the one day in your life you’ll ever get to wear a dress like that, so do what makes you happy!

Designers who nail it: Vera Wang; Sottero and Midgeley; Rosa Clara

Celebs who rocked it: Chrissy Teigan; Anna Camp; Princess Diana (I don’t care what anyone says about the sleeves – that dress is iconic)

Suitable for: Hourglass-, pear-, or inverted triangle-shape brides.

wedding dress styles

Clockwise from top left: “Monaco” by Sottero and Midgley; “Emilia” by Rosa Clara; “Octavia” by Vera Wang; “Foster Rose” by Sottero and Midgley

The Tea-Length or Cocktail

Maybe you’re having a vintage-themed wedding, or you’re eloping and want to wear something special, but not as grand as a full-length gown. In these cases, Tea-Length or Cocktail wedding dress styles may be the way to go for you. These dresses can have as casual or formal a feel as you like, with some Tea-Length dresses offering similar sized skirts to Ballgowns, just without the full length.

Cocktail dresses, meanwhile, make a great choice for a reception dress, making it easier for you to dance the night away without worrying about your drunk uncle trodding on your skirt. They can also come as short or as long as you like, with midi-length Cocktail dresses becoming an increasingly popular option.

Designers who nail it: House of Mooshki; Justin Alexander; Enzoani

Celebs who rocked it: Yoko Ono; Keira Knightley; Audrey Hepburn

Suitable for: Just about any shape, especially as these dresses can come in any cut. They do show off your ankles though, so if that’s not a part of your body you’re confident about, maybe consider a full-length gown.

wedding dress styles guide

Clockwise from top left: “Effie” by House of Mooshki; “8910” by Justin Alexander; “Eliza” by House of Mooshki; “Galveston” by Blue by Enzoani

But which style should you go for?

So many choices and so much information can be overwhelming, I know. Remember that this guide to wedding dress styles is just that: a guide. Use is as a starting point so you can find a dress that you’ll be proud to wear and that you’ll be excited to pass down to your daughter. Yes, your wedding dress should fit you in the right places and should be a flattering shape on you, but the most important thing is that you feel beautiful in it, so trust your instincts and have fun!

Feeling inspired? Here are just a few UK bridal boutiques that stock some of the designers mentioned in this article to help you get started:

Boo Bridal, Hartley Wintney, Hampshire
Isaac Charles Bridal House, Birmingham
Anne Priscilla Bridal, Glasgow
Morgan-Davies Bridal, Hitchin, Hertfordshire
AI Boutique, London
Bijoutique at Botleys Mansion, Chertsey, Surrey

 

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