your silhouette



The silhouette you choose is going to be the foundation of your look—the appearance you create once you make your entrance, dance your first dance, cut the cake.  The right silhouette creates a positive visual chemistry.  Something like a light turned on, illuminating the unique beauty of your female form.  There are three basic silhouettes: the sheath, the ball gown and A-line.  Within each of these big three derive a few variations deserving closer examination. 



The sheath is long and columnar like a cylinder.  Styles vary and have waistlines and skirt features that are usually as snug up top as on bottom.  The sheath can work for the bride who wants a stylish, simple presence as well as one who wants to make a more powerful statement with her veil or accents of laces and a train added.  This is an ideal gown if you’re short and slim.  The unbroken columnar line creates height.  Although, it’s also great for tall, thin, physically fit brides as well.  If you’re statuesque or prone to heaviness, look toward more flattering A-lines. 

                 Variations of the Sheath

Chemise or Shift-Relaxed version of the sheath.  Falls in a straight line usually cut on the grain of the fabric.  The waistline if any, is loosely fitted and fits low on the hips a la 1920s style.

Slipdress or Evening Gown-Carolyn Bessette wore the classic of all classics when she and JFK Jr. tied the knot.  Cut on the bias, it hugs the body, evoking 1930s Hollywood chic.  Ideal line for brides in tip-top physical shape who like to strut trim bodies.  Be warned though.  Toned and tight through the belly, hips and thighs are a must.


Fitted Shell-Think of enchanting Nancy Kwan in The World of Suzie Wong, sporting her Mandarin collared Shell and you’ve got the lines right.  In fact, a floor-length Mandarin shell in ivory brocade would be an excellent choice for the bride who wants to add an exotic aspect to her look.  The shell was also popularized by Jackie Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn circa 1960s.  Check out Audrey’s celebrated black dress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s only think white.


The Mermaid-Like the legendary creature herself, this silhouette is half and half: half sheath, half ball gown.  Fitted long and snug to the knees then POW!  Either a full flared skirt or tiers of ruffles complete the look, sometimes falling into (no pun intended) a fishtail train in back.  Big glam look in the 1950s in heavier, highly polished satins.  Bombshells like Jane Mansfield donned some high voltage, kitchy-chic with this cut. 

                                                                    Marianne Lanting Couture 

Above are two versions of the mermaid.  Right photo is edgy with a more modified skirt.  Left is more the classic tight fit with full skirt. Right photo by Henley

                                                                   Gown by Marianne Lanting Couture

                                                      II. THE BALL GOWN

Casual bouffant ball gown in cotton eyelet

    Christian Dior revolutionized fashion in 1947 with his “New Look”.  Cinched waists atop skirts flowing in yards of fabric over layers of crinoline marked a turning point in twentieth-century fashion.  The hourglass, the most defined female silhouette, was back.The ball gown is indeed an hourglass and remains the most dramatic of all bridal silhouettes.  A ball gown can be as romantic a confection as those seen in the corps de ballet, flowing in swirls of white tulle; or as edgy and structured as the silk faille versions in 1950s Paris Vogue.  But it doesn’t matter whether the fabric used to create it is delicate, mid-weight or heavy, one aspect of the ball gown always remains the same: the skirt and its understructure are both based on volume.  Thus, sweeping skirts equal sweeping entrances especially awesome on brides who know how to work their strut. 

       Regardless of its formality, a ball gown seems to have flex when it comes to showing up anywhere and looking beautiful.  While they go great in all the splendor of a full-blown cathedral ceremony, imagine an outdoor garden wedding where nature, big and diverse as a thousand cathedrals can be the perfect sanctuary.

    Tall, slim brides carry this silhouette off best.  Also if you’re medium to tall and pear shaped, you’ll benefit from the uber-volume in the skirts that camouflage your every imperfection from the waist down.  Petite brides who want some gown drama might be better off going with the more modified A-line since the mass of a ball gown skirt will swallow you up. 



            Variations of the Ball Gown


Bouffant or Hourglass-Fitted bodice with cinched natural or dropped waist atop gathered or pleated full skirt.  

Bubble-Bouffant shaped skirt swelling out of a cinched natural or dropped waist.  Skirt curves in a balloon like shape at the hemline. 

Petal-Very structured overskirt.  Imagine a fuchsia.  A cinched natural or dropped waist sitting atop a full skirt with curving understructure that slits open in the front.  Sometimes shows a bit of sheath-like under dress peaking out.

Shirt dress-A more relaxed version of the hourglass, a classic and tailored look concentrating as much on the bodice detailing as the skirt.  Typically has long shirt-like or billowing sleeves and full gathered skirt.  Can be made out of lightweight fabrics like organza, chiffon and crepe, as well as medium weights like linen.  Nice for a garden reception, especially with a wide- brimmed hat.

                                                             III. THE A-LINE

Henley Photography

    The hourglass wasn’t Christian Dior’s only reinvention.  His A-line hit big in 1955 and stayed with us.  An A-line cut is a more modified form of hourglass, bringing with it refinement and understatement.  Fitted through the bodice, the A-line can have a slight to moderate flair in the skirt.  Dubbed by fashionistas as “The Deb Dress” it’s been one of the most popular silhouettes for the reason it flatters just about every figure type.

                                                        Variations of the A-line

Classic-Slightly flared, you see it everywhere; mostly with a strapless bodice in medium to heavy fibers.  Stunning.

Princess-Fitted bodice flowing into a skirt that has two parallel vertical seams running up front and back; can have a slight to full flare in the skirt.  Very flattering.  Especially great for petites or any woman wanting to add height.  Heavier brides benefit too from the vertical seams drawing the eye, up, up, up.

Trapeze-Loose fitting A-line that premiered in Yves Saint Laurent’s 1958 collection.  Some versions have a lot more ease in the cut than others.  Couture and bridal versions tend to look like classic A-lines with a little more slack in the torso area.  Great for heavier brides.


Tent-Another smart choice for the heavy bride.  Except you’ll rarely see it anywhere in today’s fashion, so you’ll have to have it custom made.  This triangular gown hangs from the neck or a yoke, flaring way out at the hemline.  Priscilla wore a to-the-floor version when she married Elvis.                                     


                                                   IV.  THE SUIT

    No matter how simple or paired down a gown can get, some women just can’t get into wearing a dress even on their wedding day.  For this reason, the classic suit is becoming a stylish alternative.  Like the sheath it’s long and columnar only in two-pieces with a jacket and straight skirt.  There are of course exceptions.  Skirt shapes can be flared like A-lines or take on full bell contours even under man-tailored jackets.  Pantsuits are another option with pant legs varying from slim cigarette widths to wide culotte cuts.  Later on we’ll cover the exceptional details of wearing a suit on your wedding day.  Until then, consider a suit one of your options.