We found that many brides go through one or both stages of wedding dress shopping:
1. There are so many varieties in wedding dresses to choose from… all of them beautiful. How does a bride limit herself to one?
2. All these dresses look great on mannequins! Maybe if I were a mannequin, it would have been easier to choose at least one dress that looks good…
The answer to both dilemmas is… make it all about you!
1. Let’s start by defining our style.
Before we focus on specific silhouettes, necklines and other elements, let’s start by dreaming up our dress style, or the overall look. Would you like a dress that suits your personality? Or perhaps one that is a little out of place in the real world, but fits within the fairy-tale world that you’ll inhabit for the day of your wedding? Are there any special requirements for the overall style of the dress that may limit our options?
Will you invite the real ‘you’ to your wedding?
Your clothes speak volumes about your personality and mood. Leather jackets or oversized sweaters make you seem more distant; suit jackets add a touch of the masculine; sneakers or short skirts lend youthfulness. Day in and day out, we tend to gravitate towards a fairly similar look.
Look through your current wardrobe. Look at your old and recent pictures. Are there any themes? Do you like to celebrate special occasions with a dramatic, bold look? Do you turn heads with your curves? Do you feel at home in the delicate and ethereal look of the vintage? Do you like seeing yourself in compact, uncluttered and lightweight clothes? Does active, sporty fashion match up with your athletic lifestyle?
Or maybe you’d rather dream yourself up in an alternative reality?
The carefully pre-planned events of the day will unfold like a movie where you are the main character. Consider the theme of the wedding and the image that you want to project, even if it’s not your usual style. Do whatever… within your comfort zone. Glamorous celebrity confident to expose some skin as a red carpet look-alike? Innocently flirtatious girl in ruffles and bows? Ultimate femininity of a grecian draped dress? Seductive vixen with lingerie-inspired neckline? Independent thinker with a strong silhouette? Hopeless romantic with nostalgic soft-focus of bygone era? Or maybe your fiancé’s down-to-earth partner in crime in an unpretentious skirt or even a matching tux?
Do you have any special vision or requirements?
Perhaps you’ll let the time and place dictate the look… Something like a white bathing suit for a beach wedding, or a historic-inspired dress for a wedding in a historic venue, will always be memorable.
Or perhaps you are particular about the fabrics you wear? Many people will only wear natural fibers, either due to skin sensitivity or simply for comfort. Many others refuse to wear silk for ethical reasons. On the other hand, some people never care to check what fabric their garment is made of, and then are surprised when it feels too stuffy, or too cold, or a little itchy. Whatever your situation, we prepared a detailed wedding dress fabric guide that will give you great options.
2. Expect your dress to make you feel great.
It should be all about us. It bears repeating: the dress is here to make us feel great about ourselves. If a dress doesn’t do that – for instance, if we don’t like the way we look in it – the problem is not with us… it’s with the dress.
If we try a dress that looks a little off, let’s not wish we looked different or criticize our bodies. Let’s not fall into the unfortunate trap of making it all – including ourselves – about the dress.
There is a dress, out there, that will make you look great. Don’t choose a dress just because it looks good on someone else. If there’s no chemistry with the dress, look further. Don’t try to change yourself for a dress. Walk away from a bridal boutique that does not subscribe to this philosophy. Think outside the bridal boutique box if you have to. It may not come very easily, but you can insist on making it all about you.
On the other hand, we’re not here to invite you to criticize each dress on some misguided quest to perfection. Embrace the fact that the real ‘you’ is not perfect… and celebrate that in a dress that you love, accepting that it won’t make you look perfect. The freedom from endlessly analyzing the elements of the dress will be liberating.
“What is important in a dress is the woman who is wearing it”. – Yves-Saint Laurent.
How a dress can flatter us
Objectively, a dress that looks flattering on us will tend to balance out the various proportions of our body, optimize the relative sizes and shapes of our various parts, and enhance the curves that connect them all. Subjectively… well, it has to give us, the brides, the look that we expect to have. But whatever the look that we’re going for, there is still a veritable menu of options. If you’re not entirely happy, keep searching for a more flattering or different look.
For instance, I could go on and on about my wide shoulders, long face and unremarkable cleavage. Much as I wanted it to work, sweetheart necklines just fell flat on me.
Thankfully, a formal dress, with its potential for smooth unbroken lines, contrasts and sculpting, can skillfully guide the eyes and create an attractive, balanced look that is the definition of beauty… regardless of our size or shape.
Let’s clarify. We’re not trying to hide, correct or de-emphasize any part of ourselves… we’re adding balance. Just like you would by going to yoga or for a long walk in the park for your mental health, you’d do with a puffy skirt or a V-neck for your look.
We’ll go into more detail below, but quite simply, here’s how it works. Things about ourselves that we really love and want to emphasize, we:
- make them shiny or adorn them with embellishments
- show some skin near them
Things about ourselves that may need a little help to look their best, or that we may want to balance out a little, we:
- add volume elsewhere to counter-balance the proportions. For example, big puffy sleeves counter-balance big hips;
- use optical illusions to counter-balance the shape. For example, vertical elements (V-neck or lapels) look slimming on more rounded bodies;
- if all else fails, guide the eye elsewhere (go for matte and avoid shine).
Zero in on your beauty
Before we can find a dress that flatters us, we need to decide what body parts are the assets that we’d like to draw attention to, and what body parts may need a little balancing.
Think about the compliments you receive. Seriously, do think of a few things that people consistently notice about you, believe that they mean it, and feel good about yourself for having them.
Consider what you love about your favorite going out clothes. Whatever it is – cowl neck or deep plunges, hip-hugging skirts or open back – these celebrate something beautiful about you.
If you feel good about your bosom or your shoulders, consider a strapless dress. If you love your neck, lengthen it with a V-neck or even a high collar. If it’s your tanned skin, find the right hue that optimally complements it (champagne or darker, for example). If it’s your blue eyes, think of adornments that will echo the blue color of your eyes. If you’re proud of your back, expose some skin there with a generous V or a keyhole back. If you’d like people to notice your hips, look for a trumpet dress or perhaps one that has diagonal pleats radiating from a hip. If you’d like to let your hair down, keep the fabric around your shoulders to a minimum with a strapless dress or an open back.
Stylistic help where needed
Here are some suggestions to help you understand the effect of various elements:
Face and neck.
If your face and neck has prominent features, don’t echo them in your clothes – think counter-balance and optical illusions.
- Ladies with a round face, avoid rounded scoop necks;
- Square jaws, avoid boats and straight horizontal necklines;
- My fellow long-faced sisters, like Celine Dion, we should stay away from V-necks.
- Higher necklines or choker necklaces look nice if your neck is a little wide when compared to the width of your face.
Shoulders and hips.
Some girls’ shoulders are wider than their hips, others are the opposite. Because symmetry seems to be the law of attraction, stylists recommend using elements of clothing to balance that asymmetry.
If your shoulders are broader than your hips, dress like Julia Roberts and consider the following tricks to counter-balance your shoulders:
- lengthen your neck (for example, wear long earrings);
- lengthen your upper body with a vertical neckline. V-shaped and deep vertical necklines, raglan and crew-necks, medium-sized lapels;
- dress your shoulders with strategic sleeve choice: batwing sleeves and capes can do wonders;
- counter-balance by adding volume to hips (with a puffy skirt or widening sleeves) or embellishing hips (sashes);
- throw off the proportions with diagonal lines.
What you don’t really want to do is to expose your shoulders with horizontal necklines, halter tops and sleeveless dresses. Also, you may notice that matte fabric with less embellishment on the shoulders adds balance to your look.
If your hips are wider than your shoulders, do the opposite, and enhance the shoulders. Dress like Beyonce:
- add volume to the neckline or show off your collarbones. Consider ruffled textures, large lapels, wide-set straps, and horizontal necklines.
- flash those shoulders! Bare shoulders look great on you.
- alternatively, add volume to shoulders with cap or puffy sleeves or embellish them with shoulder detailing and sheen.
What you don’t really want to do is exaggerate your hips with puffy, stiff skirts, or visually shrink your shoulders with deep and vertical necklines or high necklines.
Length and thickness of arms.
We do everything with our hands and arms… so the wear and musculature often shows in ways that some find a little unflattering. This is of course unfortunate. As they say, try finding someone who has no arms… and then think again whether or not you like your arms.
Three-quarter sleeve is a winning combination for almost everyone – it hits at the thinnest part of the forearms and looks slimming. Bare arms look great, too – especially if your arms are a little on the short side.
Remember that sleeves do not have to come with the dress. You could get a jacket, a bolero, or even a shawl that would partially cover your arms and add a visual element that will enhance the overall look.
The essence of femininity, here’s how fashion helped ensure the long-term survival of humans by enhancing this department:
- don’t forget the obvious: padding and push-up technology.
- necklines such as low / plunging necklines, ruffles and layers, even horizontal stripes. Victoria Adams went even further when she introduced us to the sculptural effects of a strapless “crumb-catcher” neckline with folds that stand away from the chest.
- anything else that draws attention to the area, such as brooches and sleeve lengths that align with the bust, or even patterns with large spaces between them, irregular patterns, an strong color contrast.
- well-sized underwear will help avoid any lumps under the arms.
- strive for verticality or V-shapes – with necklaces, buttons or seams, V-necks and lapels. Avoid horizontal lines or seams, and avoid high-waisted looks.
- generally, to make any body part smaller, wear patterns with regular spaces between them and choose subtle color contrasts.
Breathe easy… literally. Embrace your curves. Femininity is all about curves – bust to waist to hips. It’s proportion – not actual size – that matters. Consider enhancing the proportions. For example, if you use stylistic elements to broaden both shoulders and hips, you will visually narrow down the waist. A corset-like detailing, V-shaped or inverted V-shaped waistline, or a wide horizontal sash can enhance the proportionate look. However, short girls sometimes find that hourglass shape visually shortens them even more, and so they go for straight unbroken lines of column dresses or shorter shift dresses.
Ah, the graceful folds of a beautiful long skirt, poured like liquid over the body’s curves. A long asymmetrical slit that offers glimpses of bare legs. Trumpet explosion of a mermaid skirt, which doubles the curve from bust to waist to hips to knees to feet. Somber sloping of wide skirts. Fresh look of a cocktail-length skirt, or a soft-focus (or revealing) effect of an illusion skirt. Dare to forget about the ‘size’ number that your dress or skirt came with, and focus on the right fit. Ensure you can move and sit in it. Avoid skirts that end at mid-calf: showing off the thickest part of the legs is a bad idea for most people.
Would you like to lengthen your body?
- try high collars.
- go for knee-length or 7/8 (ankle-length) skirts. Think Audrey Hepburn.
- try to divert attention upward, say, with decollete or bare shoulders, or by broadening your shoulders – avoid weighting down your body by too much emphasis on your hips.
- if you have long legs, look for a lower waist; if you’re shorter, high-waisted looks will be amazing on you.
- uneven hemlines of the skirt and long slits on the side of the skirt elongates the legs.
- styling your hair up heightens.
- vertical elements, such as bows with long lace hanging down, lengthens.
- pointy toe or peep toe look elongates, just as – obviously – high heels.
If you are one of those girls for whom there is such a thing as too much height:
- go for wide floor-length skirts, relatively narrow shoulders, and bright noticeable shoes that draw attention down and, thus, shorten.
- avoid plunging necklines and other vertical elements.
- avoid very short skirts.
Here are few stylist tricks to know about slimming:
- the softer the lining, the better the dress will drape over your body;
- matte dresses – or even matte inserts – can help streamline the figure;
- avoid bulky, stiff, and clingy fabrics;
- dress color has an effect on the silhouette. Some colors – the ones that work better with your eye and skin color – divert the eye from your body and draw it to your face;
- contrast between colors you wear also has an effect on the silhouette. The greater the contrast, the more it visually ‘pops’;
- wide sleeves, which are either wide in the upper arms (so-called leg of mutton sleeves) or in the lower arms (so-called trumpet sleeves), can do a great job distracting the eye and counter-balancing large hips or visually reducing the waist. So do boat necklines;
- knee-length skirts (just under or just over the knee – not exactly at the knee) hit the leg at the narrowest spot and thus have a slimming effect;
- avoid miniskirts as they mess up the proportions;
- just forget about the size number. Really! With an outfit that’s too tight, your body may look a little like sausage meat. Not slimming at all!