Should you spring for a mermaid gown or a lightweight A-line? A slinky number with a plunging neckline or an off-the-shoulder dress style? Finding the perfect dress is as challenging as it is fun. You are faced with seemingly infinite options. Your head will spin as you try to keep track of designs, prices, and obscure names for styles. But don’t worry–we’ve got you.
Below is the definitive guide to wedding dress shopping, from identifying your personal style to dressing for your body type to tips for making a decision.
Know Your Taste
Before you begin shopping for the perfect dress, identify your personal style and taste. Vow’s Bridal offers the following options as style categories to as inspiration:
“-Classic and refined
-Modern and minimal
-Artsy and free-spirited
-Feminine and all things pretty
-Fresh, clean, timeless”
You can choose one of Vow’s suggested options or use these as a jumping-off point to define your own category. Once you’re feeling confident in the parameters of your personal style, start thinking about the specific adjectives you would use to describe your ideal wedding dress. Vow’s Bridal also provides these ideas as dress descriptors:
- Flowing and ethereal
- Elegant and comfortable enough to party in
- Classic and timeless, with a veil
- Chic, simple, and tailored perfectly
- Spirited and eclectic
How would you categorize the dress you want to wear on the biggest day of your life? Give yourself time to arrive at an answer that feels clear. Of course, you might change your mind when you go shopping and start trying on different styles–but going into the store with the vocabulary to describe what you’re looking for will allow you to avoid feeling too overwhelmed by all the options.
There are also plenty of online wedding dress style finder quizzes to get you thinking, such as this David’s bridal dress quiz.
Dresses for Your Body Type
Everybody is uniquely beautiful, but not everybody will look great in every dress. Arm yourself with the knowledge of what dress styles complement your body type. Here’s what you need to know.
Dress Styles for Hourglass Figures: A mermaid gown is one of the most popular choices for this body type. With ultra-fitted necklines and snugness around the hips, mermaid gowns give you a silhouette that flatters and draws attention to your natural curves.
A more relaxed alternative is a fit-and-flare gown. It’s relatively similar to a mermaid gown, with two notable differences: First, the bodice is straight (as opposed to fitted, as in the case of a mermaid gown), and the skirt begins to flair out around the mid-thigh, whereas a mermaid gown does so further below, around knee level. These differences translate to increased comfort and mobility while still flattering your dazzling hourglass figure.
Finally, dresses with V-necklines look great on hourglass-shaped ladies, as well. They highlight curves and draw attention to the body from head to toe.
Dress Styles for Full-Chested Women: This body type is sometimes referred to as ‘apple shaped’, and it means that a person is fuller at the top of their body than at the bottom. If this is you, opt for a dress with wide straps and sleeves to support your bust, conceal bra straps, and bring softness to your figure.
When it comes to necklines, go for a bateau, portrait, sweetheart, or off-the-shoulder neckline. These styles will flatter your curves in all their splendor and magnificence. On the other hand, apple figures who prefer a leaner look should try on some empire line dresses, which are known to de-emphasize the waist and highlight vertical length rather than horizontal width.
Bigger-busted women can also pull off some of the same styles as those with hourglass figures, such as mermaid or fit-and-flare gowns. In fact, these styles are often used by brides who wish to imitate an hourglass look.
Dress Styles for Pear-Shaped Bodies: A pear-shaped body is the opposite of apple-shaped: This designation covers people whose legs are broader and their torsos more slender. Pear ladies look breathtaking in A-Line gowns; while this is a versatile style that flatters most brides, pear figures are especially in their element in an A-line.
Those seeking to flaunt their assets (yes, pun intended), such as their hips and booties, will be wowed by how they look in a fit-and-flare gown or a dress with an overskirt.
Dress Styles for Ladies with Smaller Chests: Corseted gowns are a favorite for less busty women because they offer padding, thickness, and lifting. A high-neck dress is also very attractive on this body type and will emphasize the chest and make the bust seem fuller.
Alternatively, those who don’t want to make their chests appear larger should choose a plunging neckline or V-neck gown. These are bold styles that smaller-chested women can truly rock, unlike any other body type.
Dress Styles for Ballerina Bodies: If your body is rectangular without a strongly defined waist, you have a ballerina body. In this case, a sheath-shaped dress will highlight your slender form in an alluring way, as will a fitted A-line gown. This is also one of the few body types that can truly pull off a high-necked dress.
To appear curvier, try a dress with a fitted bodice and a full skirt. Create a curvier look by choosing something with skillfully-placed embroidery and beading in key areas, such as around the bust, rear, and waist.
Dress Styles for Athletic Body Types: Athletic ladies are encouraged to get creative with unique necklines, beads, and other embellishments, or a tiered skirt to add some pizazz to the silhouette. Anything that creates extra angles will look delightful.
Athletic types with muscular shoulders and arms shouldn’t miss the opportunity to highlight them by wearing a strapless dress. Your tailor will add extra support during the alteration process if necessary, so you’ll still be able to jam out without worry at the reception.
Dress Styles for Tall and Slender Brides: The proud Amazon goddesses among us can highlight their stature with a sheath gown, and those with proportionally long legs turn heads when they don a ballgown. The key for the tall and slender is to keep things simple. Sparkle-y and glittery don’t work well with this body type, nor are they necessary. You can shine bright without embellishment.
Dress Styles for Petite Women: You have THE body type that truly shines in an open-backed dress. This style elongates the torso, adding the illusion of height and flattering a small figure. To add some flair without appearing bulky, go for vertical details and flowing layers. Make sure to choose a smooth fabric in one color only.
Stay away from ball gown dresses in particular because these will overwhelm a smaller body and conceal your cute figure. If an open-backed dress isn’t your thing, try a slinky A-line instead. It will elongate while emphasizing curves.
Beyond personal style and body type, there are additional considerations to bear in mind as you shop.
Comfort vs. beauty: Remember that on your wedding day, you will want to feel beautiful and perhaps sexy yet comfortable. Every bride is immediately wary of a dress that sacrifices looks for comfort, but a dress that offers zero mobility might look really sexy and feel just fine in the bridal boutique–but considerably less fine on the dance floor. Move around, jump, and spin a bit in each dress you’re serious about. If it doesn’t feel easy to move around, reconsider.
Determine your budget: The first step is to get clear on who’s responsible for paying for the dress. You? Your partner? Your family? Next, find out how much that party is willing to allocate to the wedding dress, including a veil if applicable. If you’re not sure, look around online at dress prices so that you can get an idea of the price range for the level of fanciness you’re going for. Don’t forget to include tailoring costs in the clothing budget, as well as accessories like your veil, jewelry, and shoes. Some couples also include the cost of cleaning and preserving the gown after the big day.
Although going over budget is not recommended, going under budget, if possible, can save you money that can be put toward other wedding-related expenses. Instead of starting the search at an expensive bridal boutique, start with something inexpensive and work your way up to more expensive shops if you do not fall in love with a dress along the way.
Calm your inner critic: When choosing a dress, you’re going to need to have a word with your inner critic. As always, there will be things you like and don’t like about your body, and you’ll naturally try to find a dress that highlights the features you’re proud of and conceals the ones you’d rather not have on full display. However, you are your own harshest critic, and what really matters is that your dress feels like ‘you.’ Don’t let your insecurities get in the way of choosing a dress you love.
Consider expert feedback: Everything written above regarding dress styles and body types can act as a guide. However, a guide is not a rule. Not every petite-framed bride will look gorgeous in an open-backed dress, just as some ladies with slim, rectangular figures look inexplicably stunning in a ballroom gown that was never intended for their body shape. A professional stylist or sometimes even the sales attendant at the bridal boutique will provide expert advice on what will flatter your particular figure–if you let them.
That said, with every dress you try on, it is equally important to notice both the image in the mirror and your own gut reaction. A big part of how you look in a dress comes down to how you feel in it.
Decide on your theme: The wedding theme will play a role in determining which dress styles are (and aren’t) appropriate, so make sure you define your theme before you start seriously looking around for a dress. A more casual dress might not fit well with a formal, romantic wedding set in a fancy resort, just as a high-end dress with a long train could feel out of place in an informal garden wedding.
Wear the right attire to the bridal salon: If your underwear makes a big indent in the silhouette of a dress you’re trying on, or if your bra straps are sticking out, it’s going to be difficult to visualize how the dress will really look on you on your wedding day. Similarly, you’ll look different in your chosen dress, wearing flats or going barefoot in the bridal boutique versus in heels, walking down the aisle. So when you go dress shopping, wear a strapless bra, a thong, or other underwear you won’t be able to detect at all under a tight silhouette. Bring heels in order to try on dresses while looking as close as possible to how you’ll look at the altar.
Choose your dress crew: Going dress shopping with your Mom, sister, favorite aunt, and four best friends in tow might make a great fantasy, but it’s not actually fun in reality. Getting a group that size to agree on where to eat dinner is already a herculean task; try getting them all to agree on which dress is a keeper! Instead, choose two or three people whose opinions are the most important to you or whose judgment and sense of style you trust the most.
Now you’ve identified your personal taste and style, considered which styles will best complement your body type, and thought through your budget and other important considerations. We now pronounce you ready to shop! Go forth and find your perfect dress.
Nicole Sheehey is the Head of Legal Content at HelloPrenup, and an Illinois licensed attorney. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to prenuptial agreements. Nicole has Juris Doctor from John Marshall Law School. She has a deep understanding of the legal and financial implications of prenuptial agreements, and enjoys writing and collaborating with other attorneys on the nuances of the law. Nicole is passionate about helping couples locate the information they need when it comes to prenuptial agreements. You can reach Nicole here: [email protected]