The Different Wedding Gown Shapes and their Names (Buying Guide by Silhouettes)

Like every dress, wedding gowns are cut and sewn to form specific shapes on the body (aka silhouette), which gives the dress its overall shape and style. There’s a specific wedding gown silhouette for every body shape, and knowing yours in advance will make shopping for your dream dress easier and faster.

There are a few basic wedding gown shapes or cuts and each one has a name – it’s highly recommended that every bride know them.  One of the first questions a bridal shop attendant usually asks is ‘what type or style of wedding gown’ are you looking for? This guide will show you what types there are so that you can be more confident when shopping. The number of wedding gown shapes, styles, and designs at bridal shops can be overwhelming and confusing for many brides. However, you’ll have an easier, faster and stress-free shopping experience by getting familiar with the names and descriptions of popular wedding gown silhouettes (shapes and styles).  In this post, you’ll see pictures of each type of wedding gown silhouette style, along with their names and descriptions – so that you can identify them and know what to ask for when shopping for your wedding gown.  Read on.

bride in nigerian wedding dress
Photo Credit: Obi Somto Photography/ Instagram

Names and Pictures of the Different Wedding Gown Shapes & Styles

The silhouette is the term used to describe the style, overall shape or cut of a wedding dress.  When searching for the perfect wedding gown to buy, choosing the silhouette or dress shape is the best place to start from. Once you find the best wedding gown for your shape, you can then take your time to decide on what style of wedding gown train to go form, what neckline style of sleeves length or style.

But, first you need to know the different wedding dress silhouettes (styles) by their names – and what they look like. Also understanding how each silhouette fits around different parts of the body will give you an idea of whether any particular style would look good on your own body shape or not.  In this post, I’m explaining all that. To even give you a better idea, I included pictures of the different wedding gown silhouettes, so that you can recognize them at the bridal shops.

There are 6 different types of wedding gown silhouette styles, and here’s the list: A-line (or princess cut), ball gown, empire gown style, column (or sheath), Trumpet Silhouette (aka Fit n Flare),  and mermaid silhouette style.  When shopping for a wedding dress, the bridal shop assistant may ask you the name or description of the silhouettes you want to try on. Below is a detailed guide with descriptions and images of the different wedding gown silhouettes. Scroll down to see which silhouette suits you.


The 6 Basic Wedding Gown Shapes or Silhouettes by Names

#1. A-Line Silhouette (aka Princess Cut Wedding Dress Style)

a-line mermaid wedding gown style

The A-line silhouette, also known as the princess wedding dress is body-hugging around the bodice and gradually widens from the waist to the hemline.  This dress style flares out from the waistline to the floor (hemline), resembling the shape of a capital letter A.  The A-line gown highlights the waistline and also makes the body appear curvy.  This type of wedding dress (shape) silhouette looks good on any body shape.

RELATED: 17 Tips to Find the Right Wedding Gown Faster

#2. Ball Gown Silhouette: Wedding Dress Style

ball gown wedding gown style

The ball gown wedding dress style is tightly fitted at the bodice and has a very full skirt area that starts from the waistline. The ball wedding gowns remind us of Cinderella (in the movie); it has a big and full skirt part and the waistline is very prominent, because it’s body-hugging on the top part, down to the waistline.

#3. Empire Silhouette: Wedding Dress Style

empire style wedding gowns

You will recognize the empire silhouette from the position of the waistline. Empire gowns have a characteristic high waist; the waistline starts right from under the bust. The rest of the empire gown flows out fluidly from the bust area down to the hem or floor.

#4. Column (Sheath) Silhouette: Wedding Dress Style

column sheath wedding dresses

The column silhouette, also known as sheath silhouette, is a very simple style but elegant and sexy.  This style of wedding dress is tight-fitting and features a slim and I-shape cut, straight-down (from top to bottom). Here is an easy way to recognize a column dress: it is flowy-straight down from the neckline to the hem-line – does not have any flare or full skirt.

The cut of the sheath wedding dress makes it to reveal everybody curve and contour (including lumps and bumps), because the gown flows down smoothly like a slip dress. Column (Sheath) style wedding gowns do not have a flare at the skirt area – it is just long like a tube dress.  Overall, this wedding gown style is not voluminous, as it has no flare at all.

ALSO: 5 Things You Must Know Before Buying a Wedding Dress (to avoid expensive mistakes)

STYLING TIPS: A shapewear is a must of you to choose the sheath wedding dress.  For more elegance, adding a bridal belt or sash to a column silhouette breaks it up to make the waistline more noticeable and give an illusion of a more curvy figure at the hip area.  Also, wearing a good shape-wear can help smoothen out your bumps and lumps, so that your sheath dress looks smooth.

RELATED: Different Parts of Every Wedding Gown by Name (Shopping Guide)

#5. Fishtail Wedding Dress Style (aka Mermaid Silhouette)

mermaid wedding gown styles

Fishtail or Mermaid shape wedding dresses styles are tight-fitting from the top down to the knees, where it starts to flare out downward to the floor, looking like a mermaid’ or fishtail (fish-tail is what some Nigerian tailors call mermaid style skirts). Now, this is different from the fit-n-flare silhouette which has its flare at the thigh region.

#6. Fit and Flare Wedding Gown Silhouette (aka Trumpet Wedding Dress Style)

The fit and flare wedding gown, also known as trumpet wedding gown silhouette, is tight-fitting from the top or bodice to the mid-thigh (below the hips), from where it flares outward to the hem of the dress. This style is very body-hugging and therefore reveals the curves of the body.  It’s a suitable style for you if you have a curvy figure and want to show off your hip curves.

The fit and flare style or wedding gown looks similar to the fishtail or mermaid wedding gown – they are both tight at the top/ body and have a flared skirt area.  The difference is that the flares in the mermaid wedding gown flares starts from below the knees.

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fit and flare wedding gown styles

Fit-n-flare silhouettes are sexy and similar to the mermaid or fishtail wedding dress style, in the way they are fitted at the top and flares downward. The difference between the fit-n-flare wedding gown silhouette and the mermaid silhouette is where each one starts to flare:

  • the flare on the fit-n-flare silhouette starts from the thigh area;
  • the flare on mermaid silhouette starts from the knees, just like fish-tail.

RELATED: The Latest Aso-ebi Styles (with Pictures)

Mermaid vs Trumpet Style vs A-Line Wedding Gowns: What’s the Difference?

Of all the wedding gown silhouettes, the mermaid (aka fishtail) and Trumpet (aka Fit and Flare) shapes are the most similar and it’s common to confuse one for another.  Both fishtail (or mermaid style) wedding gowns and the fit-and-flare (or trumpet style) wedding gowns are body-hugging and fitted on the top side and flared from the mid-hips or knees downward.

Here’s a quick way to tell the difference between the Mermaid wedding gown and Trumpet wedding gown – where is the flare?  Their flare is where the difference lies.  Where each style starts flaring out from is the quickest way to easily spot whether a wedding gown is a Mermaid gown or a Trumpet style.  See more differences between Mermaid and Trumpet wedding gowns below:

  • Where does the dress flare from? Unlike the Mermaid (fishtail) and Trumpet (fit and flare) wedding gown cut, the A-line cut dress starts flaring from the waist, while both the Trumpet style and Mermaid cut dress flares from below the hips. Therefore, you cannot mistake it.
  • Flares from the knee area or below: If a wedding gown flares start from or below the knees, it’s a mermaid gown.
  • Flares from the thigh area: If a wedding gown’s flare starts from the middle of the thighs or around the thighs, it’s a trumpet or fit and flare wedding gown.
  • Shape and Volume of Flare: Mermaid cut wedding dresses have a dramatic flare. Their flare is puffed up and fuller than that of the Trumpet gown.  In contrast, Trumpet cut gowns have softer, not full flare that flow downward, almost in an A-shape.
  • Ease of Movement: The mermaid dress style is harder to move around in than the trumpet style, due to its flare starting from below the knee. If you plan on doing a lot of dancing on your big day, consider wearing a separate dress for the reception.

A-Line vs Ball Gown Wedding Dress: The Difference

There’s a similarity between ball gowns and A-line wedding dresses – they both start flaring from the waistline. The main difference between the A-line and ball gown is in the fullness of the skirt area (how full/ big).  See more differences below:

  • If the dress has a very full skirt (way fuller than A-Line skirts). Hey, it’s a BALL gown!  The skirts are also puffed up.
  • If the dress shape resembles capital letter A, it is an A-line dress (also called Princess cut).
  • The shape of the flare in an A-Line gown is more flowy-downward than a ball gown, WHILE the flare of ball gowns are puffed up, due to their fullness.
  • Ease of Movement: Both the ball gown and the A-Line cut are easy to move around and dance in. The nature of their cut does not restrict movement.
  • Event Formality:  The ball gown suits a more formal type of wedding.

SEE: Pictures of Latest Wedding Gowns Nigerian Brides are Wearing

Takeaways: Choosing the Right Wedding Gown Shape (Silhouette)

Hopefully, you have now started thinking of the wedding dress by the names of the styles or cut. I also hope with the pictures of the different bridal gown styles, you can recognize wedding gown shape (silhouette) when you go shopping, and can also now differentiate a trumpet dress from a  mermaid style?  I hope this post gives you an idea of the wedding dress cuts and styles to ask for when shopping, and also the styles that could look good on your figure.

Now, tell me: which style of wedding gown silhouettes above do you think would look best on you? Leave me a comment below to tell me.

Image Credit: David’s Bridal Amazon store (for wedding gown pictures in this article).
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About Stella Anokam

Stella is the founder and Editor of this blog (NaijaGlamWedding). Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest. Submit your photos to be featured - it's FREE, because we love everything weddings, bridal showers, engagement shoots.


  1. Priceless says

    Thanks alot…great article. my wedding is on 20th May, 2017 and I am to go pick a gown tomorrow morning. you narrowed my search. I’ll go for a mermaid gown cos that’s the style of my dinner gowns. Great job!!!

    • Hi Priceless,
      Awesome! I love mermaid gown style, as it looks good on most Nigerian and African women. I love it.
      I’m happy to know that this article guided you and made it easy for you to narrow your search on the perfect wedding dress. Thanks for the feedback and happy wedding!
      *We’re here for you, if you ever decide you want us to feature your wedding – just come back and leave us a comment or message.

  2. Hello Stella, I am in planning to open a bridal gown rental shop here in Lagos, is it advisable to stock up all the five silhouette wedding gowns or are there preferences?

    • Hi Omon, yes it’s a good idea to have a wide range of wedding gown cuts and styles for different body types and tastes. Over time, you’ll observe the ones that customers in your store area like most. Generally, Nigerian’s love the mermaid cut – but some of your customers would want others styles – and you need to cater to their assorted tastes.

  3. I couldn’t resist commenting. Exceptionally well written!

  4. Mermaid gown, fit and flare gown or Empire gown will be very perfect for a size 12 right?

  5. Hi,the gowns re lovely but I need a mermaid silhouette gown,could u possible send my styles on d mermaid silhouette gown so I could choose from nd u can tell me its price.tanks

    • Hello Judith, thanks for the feedback – I’m glad you like the featured wedding gown styles. We do not sell wedding dresses, we are an online magazine – I suggest that you visit a bridal store near you to have a look at the mermaid wedding gown silhouettes they have. Another option is to check Name Your Linkonline wedding gown designers’ sites like David’s bridal (click here).

  6. perpetual chinenye says

    And I want to know if u do hiring of a gown

  7. perpetual chinenye says

    All the wedding gowns are beautiful but am looking for a mermaid silhouette with off shoulder neck. If is possible to send me your number for whatsup so I can send u the picture of a gown am having

    • Thanks, Perpetual. I’m glad that you like the featured wedding gown pictures gallery. Your choice is on point – most brides love the mermaid gown style of wedding dress. We don’t sell, we’re a wedding magazine blog, and our purpose of compiling in-style wedding looks (such as the one here) is to help inspire our bride-readers on what to wear for their weddings. However, you can find some awesome wedding dress stores in this list that we compiled (click here) – feel free to send them a picture of your dream wedding dress.

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