There are only a handful of silhouettes to choose from, but within each silhouette there are an infinite number of variations and modifications that can be made. In addition, there are several neckline choices and of course all sorts of fabrics and combinations of textiles. I'm sure they teach entire courses on bridal gowns in fashion school. I didn't go to fashion school. You probably didn't either, but that's okay because I'm still going to teach you everything you need to know.
To start, let's keep it basic. There are four basic silhouettes to choose from when selecting a wedding gown: ball gown, a-line, trumpet/mermaid and sheath.
Ball gowns are the fullest skirt silhouette, but the skirt can begin at the natural waist, or it can be dropped a bit closer to the hips:
Ball gowns are often very full because the fabric is gathered or pleated at the waist. This, in addition to the specific way in which the fabric is cut and sewn together helps to create a VERY full skirt. Petticoats and layers of tulle or crinoline help the dress maintain its shape. In some cases, hoop skirt petticoats are used as well.
A-Line is less full than a ball gown, but it is essentially the same silhouette. The name comes from the idea of the skirt falling like the letter "A" from your waist down to the floor.
Fit & Flare is also known as Mermaid or Trumpet style, but there are slight differences between the two. Both silhouettes are fitted through the bodice, waist and hips. However, a mermaid silhouette becomes fuller at the knee, whereas a trumpet silhouette will flare out a bit higher, usually around mid-thigh.
Sheath dresses are generally the slimmest silhouette, and are perfect for an informal, destination wedding, or for someone looking to infuse some "Old Hollywood" glamour into their wedding.
This is FAR from an exhaustive list of the many variations on all of these silhouettes, but you can still get an idea for the main differences between each one. When selecting the silhouette of your wedding gown, there are several factors to consider. First, which is going to be the most flattering on your body? Sometimes the answer will surprise you. Height is also a factor to consider when determining which is the most flattering silhouette. Second, which silhouette do you feel the best in? This may also be a surprising answer. Wedding gowns are unlike any other garment you will ever wear, and you will be surprised by how different dresses feel on your body. Finally, consider the venue and the tone you are trying to set for your wedding. If you are getting married in a grand church setting, a sheath might not be the ideal silhouette for you. Consider a full a-line or a ball gown instead.
I may be new to the bridal industry, but my experience as a costume designer and stylist has thoroughly prepared me for this new world I'm in. If you or a friend are shopping for your wedding gown and you live in the New England area, I encourage you to make an appointment at Madeleine's Daughter. All of the dresses pictured above might not be available at our shop, but I can promise that all the designers you see above are available, as well as many others. While I may be equipped to give you a basic crash course here on my blog, there is nothing like the experience of selecting your gown with a seasoned, professional bridal consultant.
Stop by again in the future as I cover other aspects of selecting your gown including neckline, train, waistline and fabric choices. You'd be amazed at how many different combinations exist!