Best Dress For Your Body

By Frances Badgett

Mendelssohn’s Wedding March in C Major begins, and the guests stand and turn, craning to see you. You take those first few steps down the aisle, and it surrounds you, moves with you. You feel it on the top of your slippers and around your shoulders — the dress you shopped for, tried on, fell in love with, maybe abandoned for a while and finally put on for this most special of days. Maybe you always knew what you wanted, and maybe you made yourself crazy worrying about how it would flatter or camouflage. Maybe you chuckled at photos of the crochet-and-eyelet mini-dress your Aunt Joan wore, and suddenly felt panicky that you’d be wearing a modern-day version of her 70s nightmare. Whether you’re having a dress specially made or you’re buying from a boutique, renting or making your own, the dress you think you want and the dress you end up loving may not be the same thing.


Most bridal boutiques offer consultants in addition to sales people, or train sales people in bridal consulting. If you’re buying from an outlet or less personal venue, you might be on your own. Take an objective, supportive friend along to help you. The first step is to educate yourself on all the different styles of dresses and try on an example from each style. Narrowing down your choice from Anything White to just a-lines will make your final decision a little easier.




The Styles

The Sheath, and Empire waist

Both fall straight through from the waist. The sheath is columnar, classic, with a narrow profile. The empire is fitted around the bust and then falls straight with a nice flow (the costumes in Jane Austen-inspired movies are often empire-waist dresses). All three work well on a rectangular body, in which the hips, bust and waist all fall in a line. You don’t have to be a stick figure to pull off these narrow profiles — cut away from the body in layers, all three can be very flattering on a variety of body times. If you’re tall, a clean, straight sheath will keep you from looking too cutesy or overdone. If you’re short, an empire waist and straight sheath will give you length.


Mermaid or Trumpet

The descriptors “mermaid” and “trumpet” are used in bridal circles interchangeably. This is the perfect dress for curvy body types, as it is tight through the waist, hips and thighs, and then flares at the calf or ankle. Often the mermaid is accented with ruched layers, tulle, and other layers at the flare. A celebratory silhouette, the mermaid fits nicely, and moves with you.


Ball gown

The classic for brides wanting a full-on princess experience. The choice of profile for Disney and Princess Diana, the ball gown makes a big entrance and adds drama to photos. Cut with a close waist and with layers cascading down, it’s a flattering style for many body types, particularly those who want to emphasize a slim waist and want to minimize hips and thighs. Ball gowns are an excellent choice for women who have small bustlines, as they can add a little line and shape where it’s needed. Plus-sized women look great in them as well, especially if the dress material is substantial, like shantung or heavy satin.


The A-Line

Perfect for so many body types, the A-line gives definition on larger bodies and makes less curvy bodies seem more defined. It’s a great classic style, perfect for brides wanting a more vintage feel. A wrapped bodice with an A-line skirt can be particularly flattering on voluptuous women. Adding ruching or pleating to the skirt can really add to the dress’s flattering effect.If you’re going with a seamstress, communication is really important. Just because your dressmaker makes dresses doesn’t mean she or he knows what you want by instinct. You have to learn the lingo of the dress business, and give plenty of clear direction. Choose someone who comes highly recommended specifically for bridal gowns, and listen to their input about fabrics and styles: heavier fabrics, like velvet, can add unwanted bulk, or possibly camouflage flaws. It all depends on how your seamstress cuts the dress.




The Look


Be careful with accents. That line of beaded roses can suddenly call attention to exactly the part of your body you’re trying to de-emphasize. A big bow can make your petite figure look overwhelmed. Knowing how to accent your dress, and what accents will look on you, will take some trial-and-error. Try on dresses and ask questions.



Sweetheart, boat neck, halter, halter strap, high neck, illusion, scoop, asymmetrical, v-neck … the list of necklines is long and complicated. The complicated world of necklines is another reason to try on a lot of different styles. Generally, halter, halter strap and high necklines look good on women with great Michele Obama shoulders. Sweetheart and v-necks can flatter a large chest (just make sure you can move with maximum coverage) and small bustlines that need added definition. Boat and scoop necklines can be perfect if you have a narrow face or high neckline. Thinking strapless? Try it on. A well-fitting strapless gown can flatter any body type.



In general, a late-afternoon or evening wedding requires a long gown, but it’s your wedding. Gowns do run long, so make sure you allow for plenty of time between the purchase and the wedding for alterations.



Having your dress made? Give your seamstress more time than you think she needs. Add two weeks to her estimate of how long it will take. And check in regularly to keep your project on the front burner. I had to send my brother to my seamstress’s house miles and miles from where he lived so he could grab my dress from her hands.


Just remember, regardless of what you decide to wear, when you turn to face your guests at your wedding, you’ll always be beautiful to them — you are, after all, the only bride in the whole room.