Stylish woman in a leopard dress, glasses and bag

In fashion, the term silhouette refers to the line of a dress, or the garment's overall shape. Silhouettes can be used to emphasize and alter a woman's shape to create a flattering illusion. Different dress silhouettes are designed to flatter different body types as well as meet the dress codes for different events. Understanding different silhouettes can help you find the most flattering one for your body type.

Ball Gown

This style of dress, often associated with fairy tales, is most suited to a formal setting. It terms of design, it is fitted in the chest and flares at the waist into a very full, often multilayered, skirt. This style is flattering on almost any body type, but is especially flattering for petite women, or those with small waists. On a pear-shaped woman, the full skirt can do much to camouflage large hips.


This dress has a waist line which is raised to directly beneath the bust, with a skirt that flares slightly from the raised-waist down. This dress is particularly recommended for women who do not have a defined waist, but is not recommended for women with a pronounced hourglass shape.


This gown silhouette tends to work well for every body type. It is similar to the ball gown, with a fitted chest and torso, however, the skirt is less full and dramatic. The slight flare creates a flowing line from the torso to the floor, or an overall body shape like the letter A.


The sheath silhouette is used to refer to dresses that are form-fitting from the bust through the length of the thighs. This is generally recommended for slimmer women who have gentle to no curves.


The mermaid silhouette is designed for women who have curves that they want to accentuate. It is fitted through the chest and torso to the knee, at which point it flares out dramatically. The mermaid silhouette is flattering on most shapes, but incredibly petite women should be cautious about proportion because this style emphasizes leg and torso length.