Although you should always consider your sense of beauty, style, and personal preference when choosing what to wear, identifying and differentiating dress silhouettes is essential. With the right knowledge, you’ll pick one that matches your body type and accentuates your best assets. Whether you’re choosing a casual dress or a wedding dress, you’ll never go wrong, as long as you’re also familiar with your body shape.
Dress Silhouettes - What Is It?
Generally speaking, a silhouette is a term in the fashion industry pertaining to how a piece of clothing hangs on your body. It’s one of the essential elements of designing. Thus, a dress silhouette refers to the overall shape your dress creates when you wear it or simply put the dress’ outline.
What Are the Most Popular Types of Dress Silhouettes?
With the number of dresses to choose from, it can be daunting to find the perfect one because of the details you need to look into. That’s why most of us often buy a piece that looks good on a model or celebrity. Experts suggest that you first look into the type of dress silhouette to narrow down your choices and then choose the colors, layers, designs, and more.
With that in mind, below are the most common dress silhouette types and the kind of body shape they’re best suited for.
True to its name, this silhouette has a triangular shape that mimics the capital letter A thanks to its fitted bodice and flared-out hem starting from the waist area. Its hem is usually broader than the shoulders. The hem almost always ends either above the knee or at the feet level.
Perfect for casual and semi-formal occasions, A-line dresses can flatter almost all body types because the wide hem can smooth out curves and lines or hide a large lower body. For those with narrow body frames, the A-line silhouette helps create an illusion of curves.
Compared to the conventional A-line dress silhouette, both the bodice and hips are fitted, so it’s not suitable for those with apple-shaped bodies. The skirt still flares up to the hem but fits closely to the body.
The trapeze is one of the dress silhouettes that closely resembles the A-line. It has narrow shoulders and a wide hem, but with a more pronounced hem, so it looks like a triangle. It always has a short length, usually ending below the knee.
The tent silhouette is often confused with the trapeze because it also has a wide hem and narrow top. The difference is that the hem is flouncy, giving it the tent-like appearance. Also, the skirt length doesn’t fall below the knees.
The t-shirt dress silhouette has a straight cut with short or no sleeves, so it’s a type you would love if you want dresses with a bit of flare. It looks like a typical t-shirt but with a longer length. It’s for individuals who want to hide their curves, though you can also accentuate your wide hips by adding a belt or sash in the mid-section.
The bell or ball silhouette also has a fitted bodice and flared-out hem starting from the waist. In contrast to the A-line dress, it has a more dramatic flare achieved with the help of embellishments. These embellishments can include several fabric layers or structures such as ruffles, hoops, petticoats, or other undergarments.
It is one of the most famous dress silhouettes for formal and semi-formal gatherings. It can fit most body types, but it’s best for those with pear-shaped or slender figures. If you’re on the shorter side, this silhouette might not work for you because it can create unwanted and false illusions.
The egg-shaped dress silhouette has a fitted bottom and top and a loose middle area. It doesn’t have the most flattering shape, but it helps flatter pear-shaped and hourglass bodies. Like most of the dress silhouette types discussed above, the egg-shaped dress’ length can end at the knees or calves.
The most identifying feature of the empire dress silhouette is its fitted, high waistline, located under the bustline. It has a loose, flowy, and straight bottom and the hem usually ends at the ankle area.
This dress silhouette has a slimming effect, perfect for those who want to hide their thick waistlines. It also helps elongate the body frame, making it a great choice for petite ladies. It’s also an ideal pick for pear-shaped bodies but not for hourglass ones.
Fit and Flare
This dress silhouette is often confused with the A-line dress because it also has a narrow top and a wide hem. However, dresses with this silhouette have fitted waistlines, and the hem usually ends above the knees. Meaning they closely hug the wearer’s body.
This dress silhouette is perfect for almost all body shapes and suitable for formal and casual settings. Keep in mind, though, that it emphasizes wide waistlines and hips, so you might want to stay away from it if you wish to hide those areas. Still, the fit-and-flare dress can create an hourglass shape or accentuate your natural curve.
This type of silhouette is fitted from the top to the knees or just below the knees, then flares out. The flare gives it the signature “mermaid tail” look and enables you to walk easily. With its fitted style, the dress usually has a long zipper that will help the wearer get in and out of it.
This long dress has an elegant style that makes it perfect for formal occasions; in fact, the tail part can extend and become a dress train. Unfortunately, it isn’t for everyone because of its daring and dramatic design.
It’s best for those with broad shoulders, thanks to its exaggerated lower part, and those with slender body figures as it contours the whole body. That said, curvy or voluptuous women can also wear mermaid dress silhouettes if they want to show off their curves. Thus, always consider if you’re comfortable with wearing it before choosing this dress silhouette.
Often confused with the mermaid silhouette, the trumpet also has a fitted top and waist, but the semi-full skirt starts right below the waist instead of the knees. The body shapes that best suit this style is the same as the mermaid silhouette.
The pencil dress silhouette has a narrow and straight cut, allowing it to fit close to your body but not as fitted as the trumpet and mermaid. Length-wise, the hem ends either exactly at the knees or above the knees. Although this silhouette suits most body shapes, it’s best for those with pear-shaped bodies. It is also usually a perfect dress for the workplace.
As one of the most form-fitting dress silhouettes, the sheath contours your body from top to bottom. It has a straight and narrow cut like the pencil silhouette but is longer, with the hem ending below the knees but not exceeding mid-calf. It also usually has a slit to help you move freely.
The sheath silhouette has a slimming and elongating effect, so it’s perfect for petite women and those with sleek or lean body figures. Women with defined waists, such as those with hourglass or curvy body shapes, will also look perfect with a sheath silhouette dress.
Those with boxy figures can wear this type of dress silhouette but ensure you add a sash or many types of belts to help create a defined waist. That said, those with a pear-shaped body should completely avoid it, as this silhouette could make you look unbalanced.
The charleston or flapper dress silhouette became one of the most popular in the US during the 1920s. It has a semi-fitted top, square-shaped hem, with the arms usually uncovered. Its most identifying feature is the dropped waistline; the waistline doesn’t sit at the waist but the hip area. It’s loose-fitting, so the top isn't as narrow as the pencil silhouette and as fit as the bell silhouette.
With its relaxed style and fit, this dress silhouette is great for slender individuals with smaller hips and busts. If you’re petite, go with the shorter-length charleston dress. Whether you have a short or long torso, this silhouette is perfect.
Straight or Shift Column
With the hem, waist, hip, and bust areas having similar or almost similar measurements, this dress silhouette has a rectangular shape. Thus, it’s also often called tubular or rectangular silhouette. It’s one of the best dress silhouettes for people who want to hide their wide hips and thick waists.
Dress Silhouettes - In Conclusion
From the above information about the different dress silhouettes, we can conclude that most of them are versatile enough. Sometimes, you just have to add some accessories to make them suitable for your body shape.
Therefore, don’t limit yourself; be brave enough to experiment as long as you don’t wear a dress with a silhouette that is a total no-no for your body type. You must also identify what you consider your best assets or features and then choose a dress outline that can accentuate them the most.