Finding the perfect dress is probably one of the most exciting events when it comes to planning your wedding. However, it can also become a real headache if you're not familiar with the styles, fabrics, colors, and necklines used in bridal wear. Now, don't fret over thinking that your seamstress or bridal salon will expect you to know the technical difference between a chapel veil and a mantilla veil off the top of your head--but they will find it much easier to design or help you choose your dream dress if you tell them you want an A-line. We've gathered up the most common wedding dress styles, necklines, and fabrics you'll come across when searching for your perfect dress. Armed with this information, you'll be able to make the wedding dress selection process much less overwhelming.

The Ultimate Guide to Wedding Dress Styles

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There are hundreds of wedding dress styles out there, and most of them keep changing and evolving with the current trends. However, if you filter through them, you can easily boil it down to just five classic full-skirt styles (not including modern mini or cocktail dresses.)

1. A-line

A-line dresses feature a snug top that accentuates the waist and the bust and a flared skirt that widens towards the bottom. It's probably the most used and the most versatile style, as it can work with pretty much any neckline, veil, and train. It looks great on pear-shaped bodies, distracting the attention from the hips and bottom to the waist, decollete, and neck. A-line dresses are also great for adding a bit of extra height, as you can easily sneak some high heels under those extra inches of fabric without it being too noticeable.

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Sharon Nicole Photography

2. Ball Gown

The ball gown is what you imagine when you think of a princess's wedding dress--a tight, probably strapless corsage, and a full, puffy skirt. Although this is a very popular silhouette and you can easily find pre-made ball gowns, they usually need quite a bit of adjustment to make them fit you like a glove. With a few fitting sessions, ball gowns can look amazing on any body shape, and will definitely make you feel like royalty on the big day.

Picture This Forever Photography

3. Empire

The empire style, also known as Josephine, is a high-waist dress with a long, free-fitting skirt. This shape is perfect for brides who are a bit conscious about their waist or hips, as it brings all the attention towards the decollete and the neckline. Perfect for apple and rectangular body shapes, the empire is also not as restricting as a ball gown or an A-line, allowing more freedom of movement.

Alba Rose Photography

4. Mermaid

The mermaid, or trumpet, is a very dramatic dress that hugs around your curves and flares out from the knees down. Needless to say, this is a very dramatic silhouette that is best pulled off by hourglass figures.

Addison Studios

5. Sheath/Column

A sheath wedding dress (also known as a column wedding dress) has a slim and snug fit from the neckline to the hem. Some can have a bit of flare from the knees down, but not as much as a mermaid. It looks great on tall, slim bodies, and it can be very versatile when it comes to necklines and textures.

Bride with cathedral length veil

Koby Brown Photography


Now that we've covered the major wedding dress styles, let's talk about necklines. Wedding dress necklines are as varied as they are beautiful. Committing to one style can be difficult. However, there are several neckline styles that you'll see over and over again during your wedding shopping journey. You can pair any of the silhouettes above with any of the necklines listed below. Below we show how these popular necklines pair with certain wedding dress styles as well as various body shapes. 

1. Square neckline

The square neckline is a staple choice for A-line dresses, but it also looks great with the high-waisted empire. Depending on where you draw the line (literally), it can show quite a bit of cleavage, so it's best worn by brides with a bigger bust.

2. V Neckline

You'd think a V-neck would be the best way to show some cleavage, but it's actually quite the opposite--V-shaped necklines help draw attention to your neck and collarbone as opposed to the bust.

Mustard Seed Photography

3. Strapless

One of the most popular styles in the past couple of years, a strapless neckline is pretty self-explanatory. The corsage fits tight around the upper body, so it doesn't require straps and draws a lot of attention to the collarbone and decollete area. This style is typically paired with ball gowns.

Bride and her bridesmaids in black and white

Twilight Photo Video, LLC

4. Sweetheart

A variation of the strapless neckline, the sweetheart, creates a heart shape around the bust, adding a bit of dimension and plunge. The style also comes in a "semi-sweetheart" version which has less of a plunge.

Nancy Aidee Photography

5. Bateau

The bateau is a high rounded neckline that resembles the shape of a boat (hence the name). It's usually paired with an open back, for those brides who are looking for a dramatic retro look.

Two-piece wedding dress

Tracy Autem & Lightly Photography

6. Off the shoulder

The off-the-shoulder style is here to stay, so it deserves its place among these classic necklines. You can pair it up with pretty much anything, from A-lines to ball gowns and even sheath/column dresses. Great for brides with small, round shoulders.


Now we'll dive into wedding dress fabrics. Although "fabric" is a bit of a misnomer as the textures listed below aren't actually fabrics, but finishes. These finishes can be made up of a variety of fabrics--silk, polyester, or a combination of both. But for ease, we'll just stick with fabrics when describing them. Now there are other wedding dress fabrics outside of the five listed below, but these are some of the most common and knowledge of them we'll allow you to navigate your way around any bridal salon.

1. Organza

Organza is a sheer, light-weight fabric, but unlike chiffon, it is stiff and can hold a shape. It's is great for full skirts, but be careful because it can snag and wrinkle easily.

Twilight Photo Video, LLC

2. Charmeuse

Charmeuse is a rich fabric with a lovely drape and gorgeous sheen to it. It usually made of silk, but can be made from synthetic fibers. Charmeuse is usually used in sheath/column dresses. The fabric is certainly sophisticated but beware as it can show every flaw.

Tracy Autem & Lightly Photograpy

3. Chiffon

Chiffon is incredibly airy and lightweight, making it great for destination weddings. Because of its lightweight nature it is often used in combination with another, heavier fabric. One must be careful with this fabric as it does fray and snag very easily.

Tracy Autem & Lightly Photography

4. Lace

Lace is an open-weave fabric that brings elegance and refinement to any wedding gown. It is usually used as an overlay or detail and comes in a variety of styles.

  • Chantilly: a very detailed, open lace with a defined border
  • Alençon: a lace featuring bold motifs on the net, and trimmed with cord
  • Venise: a heavier and more textured lace great for winter weddings
Bride with cathedral length veil

Ama Photography & Cinema

5. Satin

Satin is one of the most common and most luxurious wedding dress fabrics. Because of it's heavy nature, it pairs well with structured gowns. However, depending on how the gown is cut, it can be very unforgiving, so consider your body shape and any imperfections you want to hide when choosing a satin wedding dress.

Alyse French Photography

Alyse French Photography

This should be enough to get you on the right track to choosing the perfect wedding dress for your body shape. And if you're still looking for inspiration, check out the our Inspiration section to see real weddings and styled shoots featuring the most stunning wedding dresses.