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Your ultimate guide to wedding dress silhouettes, according to experts

From A-line to mermaid and tea-length, here's everything you need to know

Sarah Young
Sunday 28 April 2019 12:50 BST
(Charlie Brear)

You’ve booked the venue, sent out your “save the dates” and tagged all your bridal musings on Pinterest, so now it’s time for the really fun part – wedding dress shopping.

Finding the right gown is undoubtedly an exciting process but it can also be a stressful one.

From a seemingly endless list of fabric, fit and price options to baffling terminology, shopping for a wedding dress can feel overwhelming given the high expectations of perfection on your “big day”. But the good news is that there are some things you can do to make it less taxing.

While there are no rules when it comes to choosing a gown (after all, you could always choose a suit or jumpsuit), if you’re feeling daunted by all the choice available, thinking about what shapes work for your body type can be a great place to start.

As well as helping to narrow down the dress options, doing a bit of research will mean you know exactly what styles to ask for when you walk through the door for your first appointment.

Here, we speak to the experts to find out exactly what those tricky terms mean and how to choose the best wedding dress for your big day.


Bellami, Dawn, £549, Wed2B; Adelaide wedding dress, £699, Whistles; Carenne, POR, Charlie Brear

The term A-line was first coined by Christian Dior in 1955, however, the silhouette was not identical to the one we know now. Instead, the more streamlined A-line shape was popularised by Dior’s successor, Yves Saint Laurent with his “Trapeze Line” in spring 1958.

Today the silhouette features regularly on the runway of designers including Miu Miu and Richard Quinn.

One of the most universally flattering silhouettes, the art of an A-line shaped dress is in the proportions.

“A-line shape dresses widen from bust to hem to imitate the capital A shape,” Charlie Brear, founder, designer and creative director of her eponymous bridal label tells The Independent.

“They emphasise the waist which make them flattering to most body shapes but especially suit a triangle shape.”

Brear says that some of her brand’s most popular A-line dresses include the Carenne and the Fernley, which can be styled with showstopping overskirts to add lace, texture or sequins.

Delicate belts also work well with this shape by accentuating your waist and the subtle, balanced lines of the dress.

According to Wed2B – the UK’s largest and most affordable bridal retailer – 47 per cent of women would pick a flattering A-line gown as their favoured silhouette.

Ball gown

Maximiliana, POR, Provonias; Lauren Dress, POR, Temperley London; Anna Sorrano, Porsha, £549, Wed2B

Arguably the most regal silhouette, ball gown wedding dresses are the perfect choice for fairytale fantasists and those who want to draw attention to the narrowest point of their waistline.

“Ball gowns are good for brides who want a fitted bodice and a full skirt with lots of drama,” Brear explains.

“These are usually good for all body shapes and pull in the waist and balance out shoulder width.”

The full bell shape of the ball gown is described by David’s Bridal – the US’ largest bridal retailer – as a “love note to tradition” and also a great option for anyone who may feel conscious of their stomach area.

Celebrity fans of the ball gown style include Serena Williams who married Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian in 2017 wearing a bespoke Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen dress that featured a voluminous skirt and a strapless, sweetheart neckline.


The Signature Collection, Cyrus, £599, Wed2B; Haliton, POR, Charlie Brear; Lipsy, Bridal High Neck Maxi Dress, £75, Asos

A style that closely traces the body’s outline, column dresses tend to have “a slim fit with a straight silhouette”, Brear says.

“They elongate the body and the look can easily be added to with additions such as an overdress or cape to achieve two different looks for your day.”

According to David’s Bridal, a column dress is a good choice for petite brides or women who a wary of being overwhelmed by lots of fabric, and are a great match for less formal or beach celebrations.

The Duchess of Sussex chose this silhouette for her evening gown on her wedding day in May 2018, opting for a sleeveless halter neck design by Stella McCartney.

The gown spurred a flurry of searches for similar dresses online, with global fashion search platform Lyst reporting that searches for “halterneck dresses” increased by 40 per cent in the weeks following the royal wedding.

In fact, it proved so popular that Stella McCartney launched a 23-piece capsule collection of lily-white replicas of the original gown worn by Meghan Markle.


Vivian Wedding Dress, £549, Whistles; Bellami, Lula, £529, £529, Wed2B; Betty, POR, Fairy Goth Mother

If traditional floor-length dresses aren’t your thing then why not opt for a cropped hemline instead?

Brear says that tea-length styles are a great choice for brides tying the knot in the city or with apple body shapes.

However, they’re also well-suited to anyone with a love of shoes.

“Shoes are a great way to show off your personality when wearing a vintage inspired wedding dress,” says bridal boutique Cutting Edge Brides.

“Go dramatic with show-stopping colourful shoes or compliment your gown with vintage inspired ones.”

For a real authentic 1950s-inspired look, tea-length dresses work well with petticoats, which are great way to inject volume and colour into your finished look.


Atlas, POR, Provonias; Aria, POR, Suzanne Neville; Anna Sorrano, Constance, £549, Wed2B

A style that offers a sophisticated look for brides who also want a touch of drama, mermaid wedding dresses amplify your body’s natural curves.

“The mermaid silhouette fits closely to the body through the bodice and hips then flares out to the floor like a fishtail,” Brear says.

“Mermaid dresses suit curvy hourglass or muscular body shapes. They are ideal if you want a fitted dress all over the body but also with some volume in the skirt.”

Not only does the fit-and-flare shape show off the contours of an hourglass figure but it also emphasises a woman’s strong arms, thighs and derriere.

“Brides with curves love mermaid gowns, but this silhouette maximises the va-va-voom effect on straighter figures, too,” says David’s Bridal.

When Kim Kardashian West walked down the aisle in 2014 to marry Kanye West, she wore a custom lace mermaid gown, crafted by her close friend and Burberry creative director Riccardo Tisci.

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