Before stepping into any bridal shop, you may wish to know the basic wedding dress styles and the terms used to describe them.
A wedding dress is typically described by five parts: silhouette, sleeves, bodice, neckline, and train. For each part of the dress, there are many different styles.
Wedding dress silhouette
The silhouette is the basic shape of the gown.
The ball gown is characterized by a fitted bodice and a waistline leading to a very full skirt (think Cinderella).
An empire-style gown features a high waistline (right under the bust), falling to a slimmer (yet not body-fitting) skirt.
A-Line or Princess Gown
An A-line or princess shape features vertical seams flowing from the shoulders down to a flared skirt, creating and inverted V or A shape.
The slim sheath closely follows the line of the body, creating a form-fitting look.
The mermaid style is form fitting at the top, similar to the sheath, and then flows out around the knees, creating a mermaid shape.
Wedding dress sleeves
For wedding gowns, sleeves are more than just long or short. Read below to decide which type of sleeve is best for you.
As the name indicates, these sleeves resemble those of your favorite T-shirt. This style is a good option for brides who want to cover their upper arms but don’t want to go all the way.
Shorter than a T-shirt sleeve and more rounded, therefore a little more baring. Cap sleeves work best on women with fairly slender and well-toned upper arms.
These sleeves cover the upper part of the arms while leaving the tops of the shoulders exposed. The sleeves also cover enough of the upper arm to make most feel comfortable.
This style has a classic, ladylike feel, with the sleeves ending midway between the elbow and the wrist. An elegant look suited for a formal or winter wedding.
These are skinny straps with no sleeves attached. Not for the “arm shy,” this style works best for brides with well-toned upper arms or who just want to look sexy!
Today, strapless gowns with no sleeves are actually the most popular choice among brides. This style works for many body types.
Wedding dress bodice
As the name indicates, the bodice represents the “body” of the gown, or the section between the neckline and skirt.
This is a form-fitting bodice, complete with boning and lace-up or snap closures. This bodice style is fashioned after the ladies undergarment with the same name.
This bodice style ends just below the bust and flares into a full skirt. This style is flattering on almost all body types.
The halter is a sleeveless bodice that wraps around the neck – sometimes backless, always sexy.
This bodice fits closely around the mid-rib cage and is a great choice for accentuating a small waist.
This sleek bodice, characterized by two vertical seams that travel from bust to hem, is super-slimming and gives the illusion of extra height.
The surplice bodice cross-wraps the fabric in either the front or back.
The tank is a short, sleeveless top with wide armholes. This popular style looks great on most body types.
Wedding dress neckline
The most noticeable part of the dress in your wedding photos, the right neckline can create a truly stunning wedding gown. Below, we help you decipher the different styles.
As the name implies, this neckline sits below the shoulders, showcasing a woman’s collarbone and shoulders, while sleeves cover part of the upper arm. This neckline flatters almost all figures.
The portrait neckline is similar to an off-the-shoulder style but additional fabric covers the shoulders. The portrait neckline is characterized by a wide, soft scoop from the tip of one shoulder to the tip of the other.
Shaped like the top half of a heart, the sweetheart neckline’s ability to accentuate décolletage makes it a great option for fuller-chested women.
This shape is cut straight across, following the curve of the collarbone to almost the tip of the shoulders, showing less décolletage. This neckline can be paired with sleeves or a sleeveless style.
The halter wraps around the back of the neck, creating deep armholes. The halter is often paired with a backless style, creating a very sexy look.
The classic scoop is a U-shaped neckline and flatters almost all body types. For a sexier look, it can be cut low. The scoop will often continue on the back of the dress.
Jewel or T-Shirt
Similar to an actual T-shirt, the jewel neckline is round and sits at the base of the throat. This neckline creates a bustier look.
This neckline dips in the front into a V-shape. Since it de-emphasizes the bust line, this neckline is good for B or C cups.
Wedding dress train
More than any other element of the wedding dress, the bridal train has the ability to transform. It’s the elongated back portion of the gown that lies on the floor and trails out behind the bride as she walks, giving her a majestic appearance. The formality of your wedding should influence the type of train you go with; the length should be consistent with the location and time of your wedding.
The longest and most formal train, the royal train extends beyond 10 feet from your waist and is appropriate for the grandest of occasions when the bride really wants to make a statement.
Another dramatic and formal train, the cathedral train extends about seven feet from your waist.
Extending about five feet from your waist, the chapel train makes a significant statement.
Extending about three feet from the waist, the court train is slightly longer than the sweep train and can be used at most ceremonies.
Barely “sweeping” the ground behind your dress, the sweep train is the shortest train style (apart from not having one). It’s also the most versatile, as it can be worn at just about any type of ceremony.
Characterized by the way a single panel attaches to the top of your dress at the shoulders or upper back, the Watteau train can fall to the length of your dress or it can extend behind for a more formal look.