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Dress Silhouette Types

by Candice Mancini

Silhouette refers to the lines and shape of a dress. While often used to describe wedding gowns and other formal wear, the silhouette can refer to casual dresses, too. The silhouette you choose should be determined first by your body type. A woman who is tall and curvy, for instance, is usually suited for a different type of silhouette than one who is slender and petite. The type of event you are attending should also determine your choice, since some silhouettes are more formal than others.

Maxi Dress, Maximum Style

Flared sleeves are often found on maxi dresses.

The maxi dress is long, often skimming the ankles or feet. It usually has a stretchy middle section, making it a practical choice for pregnant women. Maxi dresses come in dozens of styles, including halter tops and those with billowing sleeves. Maxis look best on taller women, and some styles of the dress are most suited for the young. As Jess Cartner-Morley, writing for "The Guardian," points out, "Tiers and patchworked maxi dresses look glorious only on the under-16s ... Unless you have the hewn clavicles and gravity-defying breasts of a teenage Brazilian model, proper straps and a fitted torso are vital." Wear jewelry that complements the lines of the dress.

An "A" for Flattering Everyone

A-line dresses are a popular choice for bridesmaids.

The A-line dress style has a fitted bodice and flares into an A-shaped skirt. Its length can be short, medium or floor-skimming. A variation of the A-line is the princess dress, which maintains the shape of an "A," but includes vertical panels that run from the neckline to the hem, often divided by a ribbon or other simple band around the waistline. Sleeve types vary, including strapless, spaghetti and puffed. Accessorize A-line dresses with decorative drop earrings, such as in a diamond-tone, and strappy heels with a covered toe. A-line dresses provide the appearance of curves and camouflage the lower half; it is a style that flatters all body types.

For Accenting Curves, It's a Wrap

Add drama to a wrap dress with a wide belt.

A wrap dress is made of draping material, wraps around the body like a bathrobe and closes in the front. It is a curve-hugging style that forms a V-neck. The look works best for hourglass and thin figures. For jewelry, opt for a bracelet and drop earrings. Leave the neckline free to accentuate the shape of the dress, and wear decorative strappy heels, such as in silver.

Ball Gown Style Isn't Just for Balls

Wedding dresses are often in the style of ball gowns.

A ball gown is traditional, formal and luxurious. While it is a popular choice for brides, non-bridal ball gowns are available, too. The top is form-fitting and, at the waist, the fabric flows into a full skirt that is often made from tulle. Ball gowns come in a variety of sleeve styles, including sheer, long or short, spaghetti, puff or strapless. This style of dress complements most body types that are medium to tall; however, a short, petite figure might get lost in it, while a very buxom woman might appear too round. Pair with heels, to provide some height beneath the skirt, and clustered pearl earrings.

Moving the Waistline Upward

An empire dress makes legs appear longer.

The empire dress style has a raised waistline that sits right below the chest. The high waistline is sometimes adorned with a decorative touch, such as a ribbon or lace. The sleeves of empire dresses range from strapless to long peasant styles. Keep the look natural with simple heels and jewelry. The style camouflages undefined waistlines and is flattering on women with smaller busts. It is less so on voluptuous figures.

Long and Lean

A sheath dress hugs the body like a slip.

This long, graceful dress style drapes the body in elegant lines. Often strapless or with spaghetti straps, a sheath dress clings to natural curves. Pair with a drop necklace and strappy heels for a look that is simple yet refined. The style is best suited for slim frames, as it does little to hide trouble areas, such as tummy pouch.

Mermaid For Drama

The mermaid dress is most flattering on women with distinct waistlines.

As its name implies, the mermaid dress conjures images of ravishing underwater creatures. This style is usually strapless and always curve-enhancing, contouring the body from chest to knee. At the knee, the skirt flares subtly or dramatically to the floor, providing tail-like movements when you walk. Accessorize with a choker adorned with your favorite gems and heeled silver sandals. The look is best suited for slender or hourglass figures and least suited for women with high hip-to-waist ratios.

About the Author

Candice Mancini has always loved matching people with career paths. After earning her master's degree in education from the University at Albany, she spent a decade teaching and writing before becoming a full-time writer. Mancini has published articles and books on education, careers, social issues, the environment and more.

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