Get the lingo: the basics of wedding dress terminology that will help you find the dress of your dreams.

October 02nd. 2015

We know that wedding dress shopping can be a bit stressful when it comes to considering what you like; but even more so when you start hearing words that might as well be in another language! Once you start looking, be it in magazines, blogs or boutiques, you will get the idea of what terms reflect your dream dress, but we want to make it that bit easier for you with our starters guide to wedding dress terminology. There are thousands of complicated terms that could explain all the detail that goes into a wedding dress (have you ever heard of a bugle bead or a princess dart?), but the terms below are the basic features that will help you explain to your consultant what you are really looking for.

This is the shape of the dress; imagine what the shadow of the dress would look like and that would be the silhouette. There are plenty of silhouette options but the general idea is to create balance, for example if you are heavier on the bottom you might consider shoulder detail to help create that lovely hourglass figure.

A-line: a silhouette favourite, this style comes straight out from the hips in an A shape. But depending on the fabric this can create many different looks. If you have an A-line in satin, the shape will be much more defined. If the fabric is a delicate silk tulle, the shape will be much softer.

Mermaid/Fishtail: This dress style is very recognisable as it features an exaggerated kick out from the knee and slim fit from the waist down. Again the shape can change dramatically depending on the fabric used.

Trumpet: A much softer version of the mermaid style, this dress gently flares from around mid-thigh.

Ball gown: Also known as a circle skirt, this style of dress is reminiscent of a classic Disney princess ā€“ think of Cinderella in her blue ball gown. Completely full from the waist down and with layers of stiff tulle underneath to give it its shape. This style is also very popular in shorter styles, including knee length, tea length (mid-calf), or ballet length (ankle).

Column dress: This is quite a catch-all description for any dress that hangs straight from the waist but can encompass many different styles of dress. Empire line is a dress that feature a seam just below the bust and flows straight down from there (think Jane Austin). Grecian also usually features an empire line but the gentle draping with light fabrics changes the silhouette completely. 1920s style dresses are usually cut on the bias (diagonally on the fabric) which means that it hugs your curves without being too tight. These dresses are extremely flattering and suit all sizes.

You might often be asked what kind of neckline you like, which might a bit of a novelty! Necklines on a dress can transform a dress on you, so are actually quite an important thing to consider. You will learn very quickly which suits you and will usually dictate what kind of dress you like. The main types of neckline are:
Sweetheart: A very popular shape that mimics the top of a heart shape around your bust, it gives great definition to all bust types, but would usually feature on a strapless dress.
Illusion: This is a top half that is created with a sheer fabric, such as lace or chiffon, which lies over a visible structure underneath, such as satin bodice or silk slip. This is a great alternative for those who like the strapless look without wanting too much exposure.
V Neck: A classic neckline shaped like a V that looks great on those who want to visually lengthen their dress or create a bit of cleavage.
Cowl: A soft draped neckline that hangs delicately from the shoulders and looks equally gorgeous on the back of the dress. This feature was very popular in 1920sā€™ style dresses.
Boatneck: A high neckline with a very shallow scoop, this neckline typically starts mid shoulder and across the collarbone. Popular in the 50s, this feature often appears in retro style dresses.

Cap sleeves: These are small sleeves that literally cap the top of your shoulder and can make all the difference to the silhouette of your dress.
Butterfly sleeve: Using a delicate fabric in a draped cut, butterfly sleeve gently cascade down the side of your arm and help create a more romantic look.

We always ask our brides not to be too concerned about fabrics when dress shopping. There are so many different weights, textures, finishes available that each can differ wildly from the next making one dress unrecognisable from the other. The main fabrics used are satin, silk, tulle, lace, chiffon and organza. Tulle, chiffon, lace and organza are usually available in synthetic mixes (as opposed to 100% silk etc); this does not diminish the quality of your dress and in fact can usually enhance it, not to mention keep the cost from spinning out of control. Satin is preferred when the dress requires some structure or is carrying lots of embellishment, while silk will give a more boho boudoir look. Tulle has gotten a bad reputation after being used as a stiff underlay for circle skirts, but once you get your hands on a fine tulle overlay you will see how romantic this fabric can be when used in a much lighter weight. Equally lace can sometime be viewed as a traditional finish but designers are executing more modern designs into their lace dresses which make them surprisingly contemporary and very wearable. Ultimately it is important to keep an open mind when shopping for your dress!

A beaded Column dress by Eliza Jane Howell with butterfly sleeves

A beaded Column dress by Eliza Jane Howell with butterfly sleeves. This silhouette suits all shapes and sizes and the all-over beading hides all manners of lumps and bumps while the delicate butterfly sleeves soften the upper arms. You can also add a delicate belt to create more definition around the waist area.


sleeveless lace wedding dress

A dropped waist ball gown by Lou Lou with an illusion neckline and sweetheart cut. This dress is great for those who want to create more definition around the middle area without baring your full figure! The sweetheart neckline is extremely flattering while the lace creates a tad more modesty for those who don’t want to bare all.


Mermaid silhouette lace applique wedding dress by Christine Dando with V neckline and slight capped sleeve. This dress has a beautiful sheer back detail adorned with lace applique and buttons running the length of the dress and train. This dress can come in an ivory however the store sample is a light blush tone. The dress comes with a train which can be shortened or removed entirely if preferred. This dress has in built boning for added support.

Mermaid silhouette lace applique wedding dress by Christine Dando with V neckline and slight capped sleeve. A mermaid shape is deal for those who want to show off their curves! It’s designed to hug your figure while still giving plenty of princess-like drama at the bottom. This dresses’ delicate lace cap sleeves balance out the volume below the knee so you don’t appear to bottom heavy.


A trumpet silhouette by Charlie Brear with a simple boat neck.

A subtle trumpet silhouette in luxe crepe by Charlie Brear with a simple boat neck. This is a minimalist version of the standard trumpet shape in that is does not use a tulle underlay to give its shape, instead using a clever cut to flare slightly from below the bum to the ground. The simple high neck gives this dress a timeless elegance ideal for those who want to draw attention up to the face.

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