A dress is a lot more than a dress. Each gown is a work of art created by a designer to showcase a woman’s style. The right dress silhouette can make a woman feel magnetic, attracting all the right attention to make the night a little extra special. But what is a silhouette and how do you choose the right one? A silhouette is the shape of a dress and it is often characterized by different styles based on how fitted the silhouette is and where it hugs or flares.
Types of Dress Silhouettes
A handful of classic gown silhouettes are designed to accentuate certain features or obscure others. The most popular dress silhouettes have a classic look and widespread appeal.
Versatile, Modest A-Line Silhouette
A fitted bodice, defined waist, and flared skirt define the iconic A-line silhouette. This gown silhouette is credited to famous designer Christian Dior and is aptly named for its shape, which resembles the capital letter A.
The A-line silhouette wins the mainstream popularity contest as one of the most popular dress silhouettes because it is universally flattering. The skirt length can vary from shorter lengths above the knee to floor-length gowns.
Dressed Up Ball Gown Silhouette
A ball gown is another classic style, similar to an A-line silhouette in that it features a fitted bodice and flared skirt. However, ball gowns are designed to be full formal gowns, typically feature full skirts, and always come in a full-length train. Some designers will indulge in dramatic design choices with fuller skirts, adding hoops and ruffles.
Undefined Empire Waist Silhouette
The empire waist silhouette provides a great illusionary effect. These gowns are fitted in the bust and immediately flare from just below the bust. This silhouette is characterized by its noticeably undefined waist. The empire waist silhouette can be a great lengthening gown for petite women since it obscures any definition through the waist.
Fitted Sheath Silhouette
A sheath dress is fitted from top to bottom. The sheath silhouette is designed to showcase the female form. It is a fan favorite for accentuating curves. Designers often enjoy dialing up the sex appeal on designs featuring sheath silhouettes using daring slits and low necklines.
Flowy Shift Silhouette
Shift dresses are the opposite of a sheath dress. Instead of hugging the body’s curves, a shift dress has a looser fit, hanging in just the right places for a comfortable yet styled look. Shift dresses are an excellent choice for warmer weather, beachy weddings, and effortless style.
Unique Mermaid Silhouette
One of the most interesting dress silhouettes features a fitted top from the bust through the thighs, flaring out at the knees to a full-length or flowing train. This silhouette is an iconic wedding gown style. This silhouette makes a bold statement and is a favorite for designers to dress up with dramatic details.
Picking the Right Silhouette for your Body Type
Now that we’ve covered the lineup of common silhouettes, it’s time to match the right silhouette to your body shape to nail your look with the perfect dress that feels and looks like it was styled just for you. Your body shape is characterized by the proportions of your shoulders, waist, and hips.
Women with a wider waist and slimmer bottom are referred to as having an apple shape. The goal of achieving a flattering look is to draw attention away from the waist. An empire waist silhouette has a high waistline and flowing form that fits the bill for apple-shaped body types. Shift dresses are also a good choice for comfort. A-line gowns are also flattering on almost everyone, including apple shapes.
Pear-Shaped Body Types
Like the fruit, pear shapes are narrow on top and wider on the bottom. The goal of dressing a pear-shaped body is to draw attention to the bust and away from the hips. This can be achieved with a classic A-line gown or ballgown, which each offers a fitted top and flared skirt.
While the geometry of a rectangle body shape might sound funny, this common body shape is characterized by perfectly symmetrical dimensions. The shoulders, waist, and hips are similar in size and width. The idea with rectangle shapes is to create the appearance of curves. There are two ways to achieve this–concealing the figure with an empire waist silhouette or letting the gown do the speaking with a mermaid silhouette.
Women with a slim waist paired with curvy hips and proportionately larger bust have an hourglass shape. These women look best in form-fitting silhouettes like sheath dresses and mermaid gowns.
The Takeaway on Dress Silhouettes
The right dress can boost a woman’s confidence because when you look great, you feel great. But finding the right gown can be confusing. It all comes down to having a clear understanding of what different dress silhouettes accomplish. It doesn’t matter how stunning the gown is; if the silhouette doesn’t match the body type, it will be a disaster–or at least a missed opportunity.
Jonah Levine is the Creative Director of NewYorkDress.com. NewYorkDress.com, established in 2008, is the #1 online source for Evening and Prom dresses worldwide. As Creative Director, Jonah works to create the ultimate online and in store luxury shopping experience with a focus on service and personalization.