The silhouette of the dress can make a big difference to how you’ll look on your big day. Wedding dresses come in so many different varieties, but they can be categorized in five different categories. Knowing these five basic wedding dress shapes, as well as which ones are flattering to your figure is an essential prerequisite before wedding dress shopping.

Here’s a quick guide on the five common dress shapes so you can get an idea of what’s available and what is best for your body shape.

A-line or Pricess Style

a-line style

A-line dress flares out from the waist or hips into the shape of an A. It’s usually quite a structured, stiff style – so it’s great in stiffer fabrics, such as satin, rather than floaty silks and chiffons.

The A-line dress is flattering on almost all body types. The long lines of the princess cut dress can create the illusion of height on a shorter body, as well as slim down a rounded figure. The skirt of the A-line can also hide a larger lower body, or create the illusion of curves on a narrow frame. Since the A-line dress is so versatile, simple modifications to the neckline, waistline, or fabric can accentuate your best features and hide those your not so fond of.

Ball Gown

ball gown

The ball gown is the traditional fairy-tale dress. It has a fitted bodice, a natural waistline (i.e. sits on your waist or a bit lower) and a full, floor-length skirt.

While this style can accommodate most body types, the ball gown is ideal for slender or pear-shaped figures as the skirt helps to accentuate the waist and hide the lower body. If you have a large bust, this style will help to create the hourglass look since it emphasizes the waistline due to the fitted bodice and natural or dropped waist.

The volume of the ball gown can create false and unwanted illusions. Be careful if you are on the shorter side since you may not have the height to balance the size of the skirt. Also, instead of complimenting the figure of a full-breasted bride, the skirt could actually cause her to look larger. Keep these factors in mind when considering a ball gown, and remember that an A-line or princess cut dress can be more flattering while still providing the desired effect.

Mermaid Style

mermaid style

The mermaid style is one of the most elegant cuts and can be really flattering. Usually off the shoulder the dress is fitted from the bust down to around the knees where is flares out like a fishtail.

However The mermaid cut is not for everyone. This daring design is best worn by slender figures, both short and tall. Since the mermaid dress is made to hug the body and show every curve, it is not well suited for those brides with figures. However, if you are on the voluptuous side and want to accentuate your curves, this is the perfect dress for you. The most important thing to keep in mind when considering a Mermaid style dress is whether or not you will feel comfortable wearing it on your big day. You may have a flawless figure perfect for this type of dress, but if you do not feel confident in it, it is not worth choosing.

Empire Waist Dress

empire style

Empire style is a soft a romantic dress shape. The empire line dress is either fitted or gathered under the bust and then unstructured and falls from the bust line.

The empire dress fits well on most body types, it is especially suited for those brides with a smaller bust since it draws attention to the neckline and creates definition. Added accents and fabric embellishments, such as capped sleeves or delicate bead work, will help to draw attention to your chest and neckline, and therefore create the illusion of a fuller bust.

The design of the empire dress is also ideal for covering other unwanted body features such as a long torso, short legs, or a pear shaped figure. Since the dress flows from the bust line, it can easily leave these areas undefined. The structure of the empire dress is also ideal for pregnant brides since the fluidity of the dress can accommodate a growing belly.

Sheath or Column Style

sheath style

Sheath dress is a really stylish cut. As the name suggests the basic shape is like a column, so it goes straight up and down and gently nips in to fit the body.

Similar to the mermaid style, the column dress is best worn by lean figures, both short and tall. The elongating nature of this design will help petite brides appear taller. However, the column dress does not allow much room for hiding problem areas, such as a larger lower body. It can conceal minor flaws if you opt for a constructed column that will stay in place, but the slip style will be unforgiving. Also, boxy figures that do not have natural curves may consider accenting the waistline with a separate bodice or sash to create the illusion of a defined waist.

Body hugging designs such as the column dress can constrict your movement, including the ability to sit and dance as comfortably as you would wish on your big day. If you want a highly-constructed column dress, you may consider one that has pleats or gathering in the back that will allow you to move more freely.