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As I tried on each dress and attempted to find the one that I both looked good and felt good in, one thing became painfully clear: I didn't know a single thing about wedding dresses! From styles to sizing to altering—it was all a big mystery to me. Sure, I got through the process by asking every married female I knew how it all worked (along with the patient staff at the bridal store) and managed to stay within the same weight from engagement to wedding day. But, an easy-to-follow guide would have helped me narrow down my dress choices to a few styles—something that could have saved hours of shopping and negated any anxiety I had about fitting into that darn dress.
Because I didn't have a "wedding dress guide" and learned instead through serious trial-and-error, I wanted to share some real tricks and tips of wedding-dress shopping to help you find your perfect dress without the headache and stress that can go along with shopping and altering. After all, wedding planning is enough work in its own right, and dress shopping should be the fun part!
There are five popular styles of wedding dresses. All are beautiful, but choosing the right one can accentuate your best assets and hide any areas you're more conscious of, no matter your shape or size.
A-Line/Princess: Named after the shape the dress visually creates, this style is classic and simple. The A-line dress is fitted around the bodice and flows out to the ground. Its length can range from above the knee to full length that flows into a large train, and it can be made with everything from free-flowing silks to heavier fabrics such as satin. The princess cut version of the A-line dress is more dramatic and emphasizes this style’s clean lines by utilizing vertical panels that run from the neckline to the hem.
Who It Flatters: The A-line dress is a good general option for almost any bride. The full skirt of the A-line can hide a rounder lower body or create the illusion of curves on a narrow frame. If your main goal is to slim, the princess style is a great option that elongates lines creating a slimming effect as the eye naturally focuses on the length of the dress.Empire: The empire dress is unique for its raised waistline that sits just below the bust, from which the rest of the dress flows down. Empire dresses can have varying sleeve lengths ranging from longer bell sleeves to sleeveless, along with different skirt cuts that can flow freely or contour to your body. Additionally, empire dresses are usually made from lighter fabrics, so this style of dress takes on a romantic feel.
Who It Flatters: An empire dress works well on most body types but is specifically flattering for a bride looking to enhance her bust. On the flip side, ladies with large busts also like empire dresses because the traditional square can better cover larger breasts. This dress is also ideal for pear-shaped figures, as it is forgiving of the legs and hips. Because of the room in the stomach area, this is also an ideal dress for pregnant brides.Column/Sheath: As you can probably guess from its name, the column dress has a narrow shape that flows straight down from the top to the bottom. This dress, also referred to as a sheath, tends to hug the body and show any and all of your curves. A column dress can be a simple slip dress to a more contoured dress made of heavier fabrics such as damask.
Who It Flatters: Although a column dress style is timeless, it's typically not as forgiving as other styles and is best suited for lean brides. Petite brides can look taller and longer in a column dress, but there's not much room for hiding problem areas. Also beware that some column dresses are very tight and may restrict movement on the dance floor!Ball Gown: This is the style of dress that fairy tales are made of. With a fitted bodice and full skirt that can either be one piece or separate, this dress is perfect for big, traditional weddings. You can even pair a ball gown with long gloves and a dramatic train for even more of a “wow” factor. Everything from satin to chiffon is used on top, along with layers of taffeta or tulle on the bottom to create a floating effect.
Who It Flatters: While many brides will look beautiful in a ball gown, the cut is ideal for slender or pear-shaped figures as the full skirt helps to accentuate the waist and hide the lower body. Additionally, this style helps create the hourglass look because it emphasizes the waistline. If you're shorter, beware that a skirt of this size can overpower a small frame.Mermaid: This cut is a very sexy look that highlights a woman’s curves. Its silhouette contours to the body from the chest to the knee, and then flares out to the hem. This dress style comes in various versions from strapless, to halter, or trumpet flare and even flamenco—so the sky is the limit.
Who It Flatters: Because of its body-hugging cut, the mermaid is best worn by brides who are confident and comfortable in their skin. It is flattering on slender, short and tall figures, however, girls who love their curves can rock this dress as well.