Now that virtually every style is in style, searching for the perfect wedding dress -- among the hundreds you come across in bridal salons, department stores, and even vintage shops -- might feel like going on a treasure hunt without a map. Take heart: You don't have to try on every single one. Almost every bridal gown available today is made in one of six basic silhouettes -- ball gown, A-line, princess, Empire, sheath, or slip -- and each of these shapes has strong advantages and disadvantages, depending on your particular figure. To simplify your shopping, the first thing you need to do is determine which styles are most flattering to you. Do this by experimenting a bit with every silhouette, trying even those you wouldn't gravitate toward naturally. It's not unusual for a prospective bride to arrive at a salon wanting a sleek, modern sheath yet finding true joy in a billowy ball gown that she slipped on as a whim. Once you've found a cut that works, you can really focus on the details that make every dress different. And take the advice of the saleswoman; it's her job to size you up -- literally and figuratively -- taking into account both your body's contours and your style (and, of course, your budget). Let her use her experience and knowledge to help guide you to the right dress. Don't forget that your happiness with a dress will depend on its feel as well as its look. The defining quality of a fabric -- the rustle of taffeta, the figure-skimming slide of silk charmeuse, the airiness of chiffon -- may send you in a surprising direction. If you're just starting to shop, you may be unfamiliar with the many luxurious fabrics from which wedding dresses are made. Our fabric glossary offers an introduction to them. Armed with some basic knowledge, you can seek out the dress that suits you best, whether it's one you always wanted -- or one you never dreamed of.
A dress is distinguished not only by its fundamental shape, but also by its fabric; decorative details such as tucks, pleats, ruffles, and flounces; and embellishments like lace and embroidery. The various cuts of sleeves and necklines can work with nearly every style and also make a dress unique.
Bring someone whose sense of style you trust to the bridal salon, but limit the size of the group: Too many opinions will muffle your own.
Wear a small heel and presentable undergarments.
Don't be hesitant to talk price; a saleswoman can prevent you from falling for a dress you can't afford.
If you love the way a dress looks, make sure you also love how it feels. Raise your arms as you will when you dance, and sit down in it. You'll feel more beautiful if you can move freely.
Don't assume you'll lose weight before the wedding; order the dress based on your current size. It's easier to take in a dress than to let it out.
Introduced by Queen Victoria, reimagined by Dior in the 1950s, and never long out of fashion, this is the most romantic of all bridal silhouettes. It features a small waist (natural or dropped) and a voluminous skirt with petticoats. Most flattering to women of at least average height with hourglass or full figures, this style's skirt will overwhelm a petite or a particularly buxom bride. Depending on the fabric, the skirt can appear weightless or heavy.
This enduring style's name comes from the triangle (or "A" shape) between the narrow bodice and outer edges of the wide, ungathered skirt. Suitable for a variety of fabrics, the A-line is versatile: It may or may not have a seam at the waist, which may be higher or lower than the natural waistline; and the close-fitting bodice may be strapless or have any type of neckline.
Closely related to the A-line, with a slender bodice and broad, ungathered skirt, the architecture of the princess gown is based on the most basic element of sewing: the seam. Uninterrupted, full-length vertical seams begin at the neckline, skim the natural waist, and slide over the hip bones, with universally flattering -- and slimming -- results. The seams may be piped, beaded, or otherwise accentuated.
After the French Revolution, Napoleon's wife Josephine popularized this neoclassical dress with a very high waist; the sheer materials she chose caused a sensation. The cropped bodice of the Empire style flatters the small-breasted woman but not a more buxom bride; the raised waist creates a long line, ideal for a petite bride. The skirt may be straight, slightly flared, or even as wide as an A-line.
If you are comfortable with showing off your curves, consider the slyly constructed sheath, popularized in the 1950s by Marilyn Monroe. This body-hugging profile is artfully sculpted with darts, tucks, and seams. The effect will differ depending on the weight and drape of the fabric. A great choice for a tall, slim-hipped woman, the sheath is equally becoming to a petite, slender bride. Avoid this style if you have wide hips but narrow shoulders.
Some women prefer minimal display over the lavish ornamentation common to wedding gowns; for the most body-confident among them, the simple and revealing slip dress is a stunning choice. This cut has its origins in the clingy gowns favored by 1930s Hollywood actresses. Suitable for those lean and trim, tall and petite, this dress usually features flowing fabric and a sinuous bias cut, elevating it from the humble undergarment for which it is named.
The fabric determines how your dress floats, whether it clings to or stands away from your body, and if it absorbs or reflects light. Color makes a difference too. Natural whites are broadly flattering; stark whites look glamorous against dark skin but overwhelm the fair. Ivory or eggshell whites have yellow undertones, which complement pinkish skin tones; traces of pink in champagne whites favor olive complexions.
The best bridal fabrics are made of natural fibers -- usually silk, sometimes cotton or wool. Listed here are the ones that you are most likely to find.
1. Taffeta: A crisp, structured cross-weave, with a lustrous, dull, or moire finish
2. Shantung: Plain-woven silk fabric with an irregular, slubbed texture
3. Satin: A family of fabrics with a high gloss face and matte reverse; double-face satins are glossy on both sides
4. Faille: A fabric with crosswise rib that closely resembles grosgrain ribbon
5. Crepe: Woven with twisted yarns, this lightweight, soft-pebbled or crinkly fabric often has a dull surface
6. Charmeuse: Fluid, smooth fabric, with exceptional drape; dull or semi-lustrous
7. Jacquard: Textured fabric displaying a complex, variegated weave or pattern
8. Chiffon: Sheer and lightweight fabric with beautiful drape; matte finish
9. Organza: A sheer, fine mesh with a dull luster and a stiff body. Sometimes made with cotton and called organdy
10. Velvet: Plush fabric with a soft nap; may be patterned or embossed
11. Pique: Textured medium- to heavyweight fabric with raised rib
12. Eyelet: Woven fabric pierced with a pattern, then stitched around the holes
13. Chantilly Lace: With delicate floral and ribbon motifs on a net ground
14. Alencon Lace: Also called needlepoint lace; ornamental patterns are outlined with heavy silk cord on fine net ground
15. Guipure Lace: With raised, sculptural motifs bridged together or sewn onto coarse net; also called Venise lace
16. Point d'Esprit: Sheer net lace with dots, typically used in layers for a skirt or as an overlay for the dress bodice
17. Embroidered Tulle or Net: Tulle or net ground with patterned overwork