How to choose your perfect dress to suit your body shape

row of women standing together in jeans and white tops of different sizes You'll already know your likes and dislikes when choosing clothes. You may prefer garments with simple lines or would rather choose something more detailed and pretty. For your wedding your dress should reflect your personal style to ensure that you feel comfortable wearing it all day. Whatever your preferences, you can achieve the "WOW" factor whether you choose to purchase a dress, have one made or even hire it. In order to help you, Cliff Bashforth, MD of style consultants Colour Me Beautiful, has shared his top tips with us.

To be that beautiful, confident bride you will need to consider the time of year, the venue, the type of wedding and your personal preferences. The basic styles of wedding dress have barely changed over decades. There will be fashionable influences as far as necklines and fullness of the skirts are concerned, but fundamentally the shapes remain the same. You need to identify which shape meets your aspirations while making sure it works for your body shape and wedding style.


long shift dress drawing

This is basically a simple, straight dress with straight darts that will skim the body. It is ideally suited to stiffer fabrics. The dress can be long or short, and with or without sleeves. It is suitable for all types of wedding. Because of its simplicity, a shift can easily be enhanced with beading, embroidery and lace. If wished, the train can be incorporated into the dress. You may want to consider a slit in the skirt, which will make walking easier as well as adding length to your legs.

empire line gown drawing

This is another simple line, with high waist emphasis just below the bust. The waist detail can be as narrow as a single seam or as wide as a cummerbund. This is a good shape if you are small-busted. The skirt will flare out gently from where the waist seam finishes and its fullness should be determined by your height: the taller you are, the fuller the skirt can be. This is a wonderful style to wear if you are going for comfort first or in a flowing fabric if you are a mother-to-be.

drawing of a bias cut dress

Bias Cut
The secret of the bias-cut dress lies in the cutting of the fabric. The is done across the grain of the cloth and gives a soft, fluid and feminine look to the finished dress, which will skim the hips gently. It is much more suitable for softer fabrics. If you wish to incorporate a floating, fluid train, this is the ideal style to choose.

drawing of a fishtail gown

The fishtail is a variation of the shift, with slightly more waist emphasis and a close-fitting skirt that fans out at the bottom, either all round or just at the back. This really works best on a long style and is ideal for decorating all the way round. It creates a very glamourous look which will give the illusion of longer legs. However, take care of where the skirt starts to flare to ensure you can walk easily.

outline of an a-line dress

This dress style is in between the shift and the ballgown. The top is fitted and the skirt flares out as little or as much you want. This style is ideally suited to a two-piece combination and is therefore the most flexible for many brides as you can mix fabrics and colours. For extra detail, pleats can be added to skirt part of the dress if you need to enhance your hips.

outline of a ballgown dress

This is the dress most brides dream about. The bodice is closely fitted and the skirt very full. It is extremely beautiful with its layers upon layers of fabric, petticoats and train, often intricately decorated with beads, pearls and sequins, but it is not always the most practical dress to wear – it is warm in winter but not so good in the summer. If you are petite, keep the skirt volume to a minimum. This style works particularly well if you have long legs or want to disguise full hips or thighs.

Now you know the dress styles available to you, the next challenge is working out which one suits your body shape the best. Your size does not determine your body shape. Whatever size you are, understanding your body shape will enable you to fine tune the choice of dress styles that will complement you best.

neat hourglass drawing

Neat hourglass
Your bust is well defined, and you have soft curves to your hips, bottom and tummy. You generally have little difficulty getting clothes to fit, so most styles will suit you as long as your proportions are balanced. Most dress styles will look stunning on you, so you can take your pick to find your dream dress. However, you will need to take into consideration your height and whether you are high or low waisted.

full hour glass drawing

Full Hourglass
You have a full bust, a well-defined waist, full hips and possibly a curvy bottom. If you get a good fit on the hips, you will often find the waist of skirts and trousers too large. Close fitting designs are your best bet. Your voluptuous feminine figure will benefit from a close-fitting dress in soft fabric. This is a fabulous opportunity to show off your tiny waist, full bust and curvy hips.

triangle drawing on a woman's body

Your bust may be minimal or full, and your shoulders probably narrow and sloping. You will have difficulty finding a shift dress that fits properly. A dress with a full skirt will work well as will separates. To give the illusion of your body being balanced, you need to bring attention and details to the top half. This can be done successfully with fabrics, layering and embellishments.

inverted triangle drawing on a woman's body

Inverted Triangle
You may have a minimal or defined waist. Dresses that show off your shoulders are great for your shape. Straight-line styles work well on you but avoid frills and flounces. You have the perfect shape to add details to your hips and bottom, if you wish. You have fantastic shoulders and narrow hips. This gives you the opportunity to bring attention to the lower half of your gown, while showing off your beautiful shoulders. You will find crisper fabrics work well over the straight lines of your body for an uncluttered look.

long rectangle box on woman's body

Your appearance is lean and long as you have a minimal bust, just a little shaping around your waist and flat hips and bottom. You need to consider a dress that really enhances your body shape. A boned bodice and a fuller skirt will work well for you. Your svelte figure will be enhanced by using texture and interesting design features on your dress. If you are also petite, make sure the weight of the fabric does not overwhelm your fine bone structure.

rectangle shape on drawing of a body

You may be full or flat chested and your ribcage seems to go straight down to your waist. Your hips and bottom are flat, and you may carry a little weight around your middle. Straight lines are best for you, so look for a dress that gives you the illusion of a waist. The right choice of fabrics will ensure that your dress style complements your body shape. Avoid fine, clinging fabrics unless you use them layered. Your best option is a crisper, heavier satin or brocade. The silhouette of the dress should be kept simple and made special by adding embellishments and details.

oval circle on drawn figure

Brilliant! Proportionally you have a flat bottom and hips. You do, however, carry most of your weight around your central torso area. Wherever possible keep any details or embellishments above the bust line and below the hip line. Your aim is to give the impression of a slightly longer body. An A-line style or a dress with a dropped waistline is your best bet, as both will have minimal detail or interest around your fuller tummy. Fabrics must be soft and fluid, but also have some 'weight' to them. Delicate, flimsy materials will only make you appear larger.

cartoon of woman choosing dresses

Scale and Proportions
When selecting a wedding dress, make sure that you take into account your scale (petite, average, grand) and proportions (high waisted, low waisted) as this will affect the suitability of various designs.

  • If you are petite, then you should keep the details of your look small and delicate.
  • If you have a larger boned structure, you will be able to scale up the details and accessories.
  • If you are low waisted, a wedding dress such as an empire line, that gives the illusion of longer legs, will be perfect.
  • If you are high waisted, try a dress with a dropped waistline.
If you are plus size or have a fuller figure then the structure of the dress is important. If you are full busted, then avoid strapless styles and go for something that is supported, look for a dress with a bodice that has boning in it. Avoid crisp fabrics as these can add bulk, so look for softer fabrics that flow and will skim over your curves. The dress you ultimately choose will depend on your body shape and as we've outlined above there are six types. Ultimately, you're looking to balance overall fullness with height; the shorter you are the less volume you need.

If you have a high waist, then a dress with a dropped waist will be your friend as it will add length. If your body shape is a rectangle, then shift styles will be perfect whilst full hour glasses will stun in ball gown styles. Empire lines work well for those with a triangle body shape, whilst a fish style dress will balance out those with an inverted triangle body shape. Bias for neat hourglass!

If you're still unsure, then why not treat yourself to a bridal consultation with Colour Me Beautiful:

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