The ultimate guide to wedding dress styles

Sep 14, 2021 | Planning

Dreaming of the perfect wedding dress often starts long before a proposal but when it comes to actually choosing your gown, where do you start? With countless designers and styles to choose from, it can feel totally overwhelming to start your dress shopping journey. Until now! Today we have all the information to familiarize yourself with different wedding dress styles and the industry terms used to describe them so you can find exactly what you want.

Cavin Elizabeth, fine art wedding photographer and owner of San Diego bridal boutique, The White Flower, shares her wisdom in this comprehensive guide to wedding dress styles. Cavin explains: "It is helpful to learn the names and types of the various silhouettes, necklines, and sleeve styles of wedding dresses before you start shopping. This way, your bridal stylists will know exactly what kind of dresses to pull for you and there won’t be any miscommunication during your appointment."

Marchesa Couture gowns Pin it

Wedding dress silhouettes: A-line vs ballgown vs fitted

The three main silhouettes for wedding dresses are A-line, ballgown and fitted (also known as fit to flare, or fit and flare). Both A-lines and ballgowns are fitted in the bodice area above the waist, and flare out below the waist. Generally, A-lines are less voluminous and are more flowing below the waist, meaning they are slimmer and usually less structured than larger and more voluminous ballgowns. Above and left is a beautiful Marchesa Notte A-line gown and on the right is a Marchesa Couture ballgown with a large train.

Fitted wedding dresses Pin it

Fitted gown styles

Fitted gowns come in a few varieties but are generally fitted throughout the bodice and the hips then flair out from the knees. Mermaid gowns are fitted gowns that often have a lower point of flare with a much larger flare. Above on the right is a stunning Marchesa Notte fitted gown with 3D floral appliqués. On the left is a Lee Grebenau fitted gown.

Bridal overskirts ​ Pin it

Bridal overskirts

Can’t decide between a fitted or A-line/ballgown? Consider an accessory called an overskirt. Sometimes they match the gown exactly and sometimes they are simple style that merely complements your gown. Some overskirts are open in the middle so they expose the front part of your gown and other overskirts are complete circles. The gown above is the same Marchesa Notte fitted gown as immediately above just with its matching overskirt. You can see how much it changes the look of the gown. Usually brides will wear the overskirt for the ceremony and some portraits and ditch it for the reception.

​Wedding dress necklines Pin it

Wedding dress necklines

Sweetheart, v-neck, plunge, bateau/boatneck and square are most common necklines in the wedding dress world. Above is a sweetheart neckline of a Lee Petra Grebenau gown. What makes it a sweetheart neckline is the two curves that come to a soft point in the middle like the top of a heart shape.

V-neck wedding dresses​ Pin it

V-neck wedding dresses

V-necks are extremely popular and can be subtle or deep. Both of these examples below are quite deep. On the left is a Marchesa Couture gown and on the right is a Marchesa Notte gown.

Plunge wedding dress Pin it

Plunge neck wedding gowns

Plunge necklines simply take a plunge! They can accompany a sweetheart or a subtle v-neck. Above to the tight is a Lee Grebenau gown with a sweetheart neckline plunge and on the left is a Martina Liana gown with a v-neck plunge.

​Bateau or boatneck wedding gowns Pin it

Bateau or boatneck wedding gowns

Bateau (also known as boatneck) gowns sit high on the collarbone and are softly rounded openings on the neckline. This Marchesa Notte gown is a ballgown with a sweetheart neckline but its topper (a jacket accessory) has a bateau neckline.

Square neckline wedding dresses Pin it

Square neckline wedding dresses

Square necks usually aren’t too harsh of a square but they generally form somewhat of a 90 degree angle along the neckline. This example below is a Martina Liana gown.

​Wedding Dress Sleeve Styles Pin it

Wedding dress sleeve styles

Moving onto wedding dress sleeves and the main styles include strapless, off-shoulder, sleeveless, cap sleeve, and sleeved (usually long sleeve). Above right is a strapless Marchesa Notte ballgown and to the left is an off-shoulder Marchesa Couture a-line gown.

Sleeveless wedding gowns Pin it

Sleeveless wedding gowns

Sleeveless gowns can have spaghetti (super thin) straps or thicker straps. Providing the straps don’t cover the shoulder, the gown is classes as sleeveless. To above left is a spaghetti strap Martina Liana v-neck plunge fitted gown and to the left is a sleeveless Lee Grebenau v neck a-line gown.

Cap sleeve wedding dresses​ Pin it

Cap sleeve wedding dresses

Cap sleeve gowns have a small sleeve that isn’t quite long enough to be considered a short sleeve. This Marchesa Notte ballgown has a topper that features a cap sleeve.

Long sleeve wedding dresses Pin it

Long sleeve wedding dresses

Gowns with fuller sleeves are generally long sleeves. Short sleeve gowns aren’t as common and can be harder to find. Long sleeve gowns are very popular, though some brides find they can restrict arm movement for dancing. Above is a Marchesa Couture fitted gown with long sleeves.

The ultimate guide to wedding dress styles Pin it
Wedding gowns with detached sleeves Pin it

Wedding gowns with detached sleeves

Some gowns come with detached sleeves, which means they simply slide on and off your arms. These Lee Petra Grebenau gowns come with detached sleeves to give brides the option of two looks on their wedding day. You can see how much of a difference these sleeves make for the overall look of the gown!

You're now are fully prepared to give your bridal stylists the most accurate terms for your wedding dress preferences and hopefully you’ve learned what styles of dresses you’re leaning towards for your own vision.

vendor details

Content and photography: Cavin Elizabeth | Bridal Boutique: The White Flower | Florist: Gaslamp Floral | Beauty: Julee Vidrio | Model: Alexa Kubena


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