In fashion, the term "silhouette" is used to refer to the line of a dress, or the garment's overall shape. This is especially important when discussing the cut of wedding dresses and formals, which can be used to dramatically emphasize and alter a woman's appearance. Different dress silhouettes are designed to flatter different body types, and to match the formality level of different events. Understanding how they are used can be helpful when choosing the perfect dress.
According to numerous dress designers, the most traditional wedding dress silhouette is the "Ball Gown." This style of dress, associated with fairy tales, is most suited to a formal wedding setting. It terms of design, it is fitted in the chest and down the torso, and then 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 full-figured women. 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 works equally well for everyone. It is similar to the ball gown, with a fitted chest and torso, however, the skirt is much less full. This creates a smoother, more flowing line from the torso to the floor, or an overall body shape like the letter "A." A specialized variation of this cut is called the "princess" silhouette. Here, a single sheet of material is used to make the front of the dress from above the bust to the floor, creating a smooth flat shape at the front. This is great for short women because the seamlessness can give the illusion of height.
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 thin women who have gentle to no curves. Curvy, full-figured women or short women should avoid this silhouette because it hugs.
The mermaid silhouette is designed for women who have flattering curves that they want to accentuate. It is extremely fitted to the knee, at which point it flares out dramatically. Because of its emphasis on leg and torso length, it is not recommended for women who are short. Brides who choose this design will likely need to change before the reception, because it is difficult to sit in. It is also not recommended for brides who will be kneeling during the ceremony for any reason.