Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Formal Dress Silhouette

Polka Dotted Mermaid Gown

Prom season is rapidly approaching, so I believe some tips on formal dresses are in order. Maybe you already know what you want to wear but are you sure you will be able to go to a store and explain to the sales assistant exactly what you want? Saying “I want a dress that cinches here and here and puffs here and there” while pointing might not be the most eloquent way of telling them what you want so here’s a rundown of the most popular silhouettes. I added some images and general considerations to make it easier for you to picture the type of dress I’m referring to in each paragraph.

Ball Gown – The ball gown is basically a fitted bodice and waistline with a full skirt. Usually, an underskirt is added to make sure the skirt remains full – this underskirt can be built in the dress or it can be bought separately. This cut is a good idea if you are a little big on the hip area and would like to disguise it. With a full skirt, people won’t really know if the volume is from the skirt or if it’s you, so they won’t really pay much attention to that detail. Good examples of this style are the Mori Lee Beaded Halter Ball Gowns as the one you see in the picture to your right. I personally think this peach colour is lovely!

Empire Gown – The empire-style gown has a high waistline under the bust with a narrower skirt, sometimes with layers. It is often said to flatter thinner people but I don’t think that it is entirely true; I think it flatter anyone who doesn’t have big breasts in comparison to the rest of their frame. This is simply because this style emphasizes the size difference between your breasts and the rest of your torso. If you have big boobs for your frame, the size difference will be much bigger, possibly making you look disproportionate. An example of this style is the Floral Printed Chiffon Evening Gown With Ruched Waist. I absolutly adore the movement on this particular pattern. Even if you're standing still, it will look like you're floating on air, giving a very etheral feeling.

A-line Gown: This kind of gown is softly shaped at the waist and then opens up towards the hem. It is called an A-line because the skirt is in the shape of the letter "A”, narrow at the top and wider at the bottom. This is the universal shape; it flatters any body type without being too body-hugging or too loose. A-line skirts work because everything that is above the widest part (the hem line) will look smaller than it really is. A stunning example is the Spring Floral A-line Prom Dress, which I am so in love with, it's not even funny. Too bad my prom was ages ago...

Sheath Gown: The sheath silhouette has a slim bodice and skirt. This style is very suggestive of the 1940’s and, since it is a simple cut, you can have a lot of fun with color, texture and/or embellishments. It’s the dress equivalent to a pencil skirt, so to say. Often you will find this kind of dress with a side slit or even a train, not only to make it sexier, but also to allow you to walk more comfortably. An example of this cut is Yellow Long Dresses by La Femme. This particular dress flares a little towards the bottom so, while still considered a sheath silhouette because this flaring is not ver pronounced, it’s easier to walk in, more comfortable and balances out your figure.

Mermaid Gown: Simply put, it’s a variation of a sheath silhouette. The mermaid-style gown is formfitting and flares from the knees down. It often has a ribbon or embellishments at the line where the skirt starts to flare. It enhances your curves and, if you have an hourglass shape, this is the most perfect silhouette for you. It is very reminiscent of the red carpet and it’s really glamorous. A train could be part of a mermaid style dress though it is more common with a Sheath gown since the demarcation at the line where the skirt flares makes it more difficult to get the train to look right. A good example of this particular style is the Polka Dotted Mermaid Gown. Polka dot is really girly and will take away from the heavier look a solid black dress has.

Now that you know the right names for the most popular silhouettes and can look at a dress and determine what type of silhouette it has, it will be much easier to convey to others what you want for your prom or special occasion. What’s your favorite silhouette? Let me know in the comments as I am really curious. I’m undecided between Empire and Mermaid…

Prom Dresses

Fashion Is Foremost Inspiration



  1. Great summary, thanks :)

    I love the mermaid personally, which is lucky for me as I have a large bust and this seems to be the only style that would suit (or that I could find that would come close to fitting properly around my bust)!

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  3. Hi Phillipa! I'm glad you found my post useful. Mermaid dresses are awesome indeed, but if you ever need a change (or want to go for a shorter dress, for example), an A-line one would suit you very well, too. I have a big bust as well, so I feel your pain when you say that it's hard to find clothes that fit as they should... *sigh*


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