A cut above

From the neckline to the hemline, here’s our essential guide to classic wedding-gown shapes

Words by Sarah Gillespie

You might think you know exactly which style of wedding dress you want before you’re even engaged (come on, we’ve all thought about it!). I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but all your ideas will probably fly out of the window when you visit your first boutique. Shapes, materials, lengths, embellishments and, increasingly, colours – the variables are enough to make your head spin. I’ve stopped counting sheep when I can’t sleep, choosing instead to drift off muttering “columns, fishtails, peplums, V-necks, halters”, as I imagine floating wedding dresses leaping over rails. Luckily, you don’t have to be this weird to find your dream gown.
You’ll never really know until you start trying dresses on, but your initial search will be much easier if you have your eye on a few cuts you like, and know which to avoid. Worked hard for a Nicole Scherzinger midriff? Show it off in a mermaid gown. What if you still feel self-conscious about your tummy? A peplum can still be fully fitted but flare out over your middle.
It was fun learning shapes in primary school – and that was without the addition of Swarovski crystal teardrop detailing. Get ready to geek out!

Left to right: Style 2526 by Alfred Angelo, April by Amanda Wyatt and Style 68019 by Ronald Joyce

Left to right: Style 2526 by Alfred Angelo, April by Amanda Wyatt and Style 68019 by Ronald Joyce

Mermaid Also known as fishtail, this cut is slinky and fitted, before flaring out anywhere from mid-thigh to below the knee. Carry it off with bags of confidence.

A-line Gradually widening from the waist (the skirt looking like an ‘A’), this is a classic style that lengthens and slims. Great for skimming over pear-shapes.

Ballgown Full-on Disney drama! As long as little girls want to be princesses, this style won’t date. Can be worn with a hoop for extra volume.

Left to right: Laura by Brides by Harvee, Jocasta by Jenny Packham and Jade by Enzoani

Left to right: Laura by Brides by Harvee, Jocasta by Jenny Packham and Jade by Enzoani

Empire A fitted bodice that nips in and flows out at the bust, this style is great for shorter brides. Look to Downton Abbey for elegant dress inspiration.

Column A slimline style that’s best for medium builds as it can exaggerate a skinny or curvy frame. Embellishments can make it really stand out.

Trumpet Where a mermaid dress clings to every curve, a trumpet gives a bit more breathing space, gradu-ally widening from the waist before flaring at the knee.

Alternative shapes

High-low dress More affectionately known as the ‘mullet’ hem, this offers the ease of movement of a shorter dress, plus all the appropriateness of a longer dress, with no compromise on style.
Peplum A mainstream trend from 2012, the second-skirted style started to filter through to wedding dresses shortly afterwards.
Tea-length A favourite of quirky, retro-loving brides. And when everyone else realised how easy it was to dine, dance and erm… use the ladies room in, we were hooked!

Left to right: Rodeo Drive by Ian Stuart Bride; Maisie by So Sassi; Style W136 by True Bride

Left to right: Rodeo Drive by Ian Stuart Bride; Maisie by So Sassi; Style W136 by True Bride

Necklines

We’ve got the top styles collared for all shapes and sizes

Spaghetti straps A 1990s’ style that’s making a comeback. More support than a strapless dress, but still not for bustier brides.
Straight A style that can look formal and demure, or relaxed and casual. Either way, it’s a fashion-forward choice.
Halter Unusual, and typically thought of as Grecian style, the halter has had a modern update with detailed straps.

Left to right: Style 2494 by Alfred Angelo, Evita by Alan Hannah and Iona by Johanna Hehir

Left to right: Style 2494 by Alfred Angelo, Evita by Alan Hannah and Iona by Johanna Hehir

Strapless Great for balancing a bottom-heavy pear-shape, team it with a fabulous necklace if your décolletage feels a bit bare.

Off-shoulder Soft and romantic, although it won’t provide much in the way of support. Ensure straps are altered to fit properly.

Sweetheart Dipped in the centre, like a heart, this style is great for enhancing the bust. Can be worn with sleeves or without.

Left to right: Style 5000 by Jesús Peiró, Ettiene by Sottero & Midgley and Bewitched by Ian Stuart

Left to right: Style 5000 by Jesús Peiró, Ettiene by Sottero & Midgley and Bewitched by Ian Stuart

Illusion Popular because the sheer neckline can be beautifully embellished. Suits most brides and provides decent support.
Straps A neckline that suits all brides. Thicker straps slim and secure, while thinner straps allow more movement.
V-neck Plunging V-neck gowns are all over the 2015 collections. Show as much, or as little, skin as you want with this neckline.
Round This style can suit almost any shape or bust size, as it flashes a little flesh while providing enough structure and comfort.

Left to right: 68005 by Ronald Joyce, Style 9201 by Allure Bridals, Style 15002 by Oronovias and Style 2601 by Mori Lee

Left to right: 68005 by Ronald Joyce, Style 9201 by Allure Bridals, Style 15002 by Oronovias and Style 2601 by Mori Lee