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Formal Attire - Bridal Gowns

- Terminology/Styles
- Finding the One You Love

- Back to the Planning Guide

Terminology / Styles

Ankle Reveals the ankles, slightly shorter than floor length.
Floor Skirt is1/2 to 1 1/2 inches from the floor.
Short Skirt is at knee level or above.
Tea Hemline is several inches above the ankles.

A-Line Two vertical seams follow the A shape, starting from the shoulders and falling to the skirt which then flares out.
Ball Gown A tight, fitted bodice and definite waistline with a very full skirt.
Basque Waistline An elongated waist, about two inches below the natural waist, that may dip to a point at the center point.
Bouffant A very, very full skirt, most often accompanied by a hoop slip
Box-Pleated Skirt A natural waist, with deep pleats of parallel fabric folds.
Empire Characterized by a very high waist (right under the bust); the skirt is fairly slim.
Mermaid A very slim-fitting dress that ends in a little fishtail skirt.
Natural Waist The bodice and skirt are joined by a seam at your natural waistline.
Princess A fitted shape defined by vertical seams; has a seamless waist and flares slightly to hem.
Redingcoat Skirt An A-line or sheath with an overskirt, giving the appearance of an open skirt.
Sheath Like the mermaid, this very modern style is form-fitting, usually with a flare at the bottom.
Shirred Waistline A waistline characterized by gathered fabric that creates a horizontal panel at the waist.
Tiered Skirt This features a series of layers or panels that fall in graduated lengths to the floor.

Sweep The shortest train, it extends back 8 to 12 inches after touching the floor.
Chapel Extends 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 feet from the waist.
Semi-Cathedral Extends 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 feet from the waist.
Cathedral Extends 6 1/2 to 7 1/2 feet from the waist.
Extended Cathedral/Monarch Extends 12 feet (or more) from the waist.
Watteau A train attached at your shoulders instead of at the waistline (can be sheer like a veil).
Note: If your dress does not have a detachable train, you will need to bustle it so you can move around freely at the reception. This entails pulling the train up and attaching it to your dress by tiny hooks sewn into the back of the gown and the train.

Ballet/Waltz Falls to the ankles; this is also becoming popular, in simple, multiple layers.
Blusher A short veil worn over the face. After the ceremony, it is turned back over the headpiece. The blusher can often be attached to a longer veil or a hat.
Cathedral-Length The longest of veils, generally at least 3 ? feet in length. Trails behind the bride several feet and attaches to headpiece or waist
Fingertip Several layers of veiling that extend to the fingertips.
Fly-Away Multiple layers of veiling that brush the shoulders; usually worn with informal, ankle-length dresses, but this style is becoming more and more popular with all kinds of gowns.

Cap The shortest of sleeves, it traditionally covers the shoulder only.
Fitted Very close to the arm, no excess material.
Juliet Fitted A tightly fitted sleeve with a small pouf at the shoulder.
Leg of Mutton Very full at the shoulder, the sleeve remains full until it narrows to become very fitted at the forearm.
Melon An extravagantly rounded sleeve that extends from shoulder to elbow.
Off-the-Shoulder Exactly what it sounds like- the sleeves have a sort of "fallen" look, like they fell off your shoulders
Poet A fitted long sleeve with an outward flare just above the wrists.
Spaghetti Straps Simple straps between 1/8" and 1" wide
Three-Quarter A sleeve that ends between the elbow and middle forearm- can be fitted or loose
Tulip A cap sleeve made of overlapping fabric that curves into a petal like shape over the top of the arm.

Boat (bateau) Straight across shoulders with a slight dip in front
Band Like a mock turtleneck, this high neckline circles the neck.
Decolletage A revealing, deep, plunging neckline.
Halter A la Marilyn Monroe, the neckline scoops in front and ties behind the neck, leaving your arms bare.
Illusion Yoke Has transparent fabric from the neckline to the bust line.
Jewel A high neckline which follows the natural shape of your shoulders and neck.
Keyhole Back A tear-shaped opening, either small and close to the nape of the neck or larger and dominating the back of a gown.
Queen Anne A high-standing collar with a sweet-heart style cut in front.
Scoop Neck A low, curved neckline cut deep in the back, front, or both.
Square Forms a half-square around the neck.
Strapless Neckline A neckline designed to reveal the shoulders, often designed with a coordinating jacket or wrap.
Sweetheart Heart shaped; there are many variations of this look.

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Finding The One You Love
One of the most important things that will help you find your perfect dress is knowing what you want. Of course, included in knowing what you want is knowing what would look best on your body shape. Here are the four basic dress silhouettes and what body types look best with them
Ball Gown (a fitted bodice and a very full skirt)
  • Full figure

  • Pear shape

  • Thin

Empire (a slim skirt with a waist right below the bust)
  • Petite

  • Thin

  • Pear shape

Princess (a dress with vertical seams and a flared skirt)
  • Hourglass

  • Full figure

  • Petite

Sheath (a very slim, form-fitting dress)
  • Thin

  • Petite

  • Hourglass

Once you have figured out what silhouette you want (based on what would look best), you will want to decide on other parts of the dress as well. Not only will you want to make a list of styles you do like, you will also need to make a list of styles you don't like. For example- likes: empire waist, flared sleeves, sheer overlay; dislikes: big skirts, lots of beading, long trains. Your lists can be as long or as short as you want, but remember, the longer the like list, the harder to find the perfect dress and the shorter the dislikes list, the harder to narrow down the search.

As soon as you have your "do's and don'ts" list, look at resources online, or bridal magazines to find dresses that match your criteria. The more research you do before you go shopping, the better. Try to only focus on two or three of your likes when picking out dresses so that the people at the bridal salon have something to work with (instead of set criteria that are unwavering).

When you finally do go shopping, make sure you bring your sample pictures and a trusted friend with you. The best thing to do is call around to a couple stores and make appointments (if necessary) and make sure you look at lots of different dresses before making a final decision. The salespeople at the bridal salon may suggest different styles that may look good on you. Unless these styles are in your "dislikes" list, try them on- you never know what you may fall in love with.

Just as with most purchases, brides usually do not buy the first dress they try on. Most brides try on between 5 and 25 dresses before finding the one they really love. If you are not completely satisfied with the way a dress looks on you, keep looking- it is not worth the disappointment of not thinking you look fabulous on your wedding day.
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