Anatomy of a Wedding Dress - Everything You Need to Know
You’re getting married, which means you are long past the days of anatomy class. You know how it all works, and you’re not sad that your days of dissecting frogs and struggling to keep your eyes open are over. Or, are they? Maybe you need one more quick anatomy lesson prior to your wedding – no, not that lesson. It’s about your wedding dress. The anatomy of your wedding dress might not seem like something you are overly interested in learning about, but you’d be surprised just how much you need to know prior to donning that gorgeous gown and making your way down the aisle to start your life with your new little family.
A gown, as boring as this sounds, is like a vehicle. It looks amazing from the outside, but it also has a lot going on inside that is just as important as the exterior. While you might not need it to have leather seats and a sunroof, you want to be sure your gown is going to have everything you do need to make it easy to wear, beautiful, and comfortable simultaneously. So, sit back, buckle up, and pay attention; this is how your wedding gown works. We are going to start from the neck down.
Wedding Dress Neckline
Ladies, your decolletage is one of the most flattering parts of your body, so you obviously want a beautiful neckline on your gown. There are two specific reasons this is so important. First and foremost, this is the one area of the dress that either makes or breaks your overall look. It’s where everyone looks first since it is the closest portion of fabric to your face. If your neckline is not flattering on your body, you won’t find that your gown accentuates your face as well as it should. The second reason is basically the same in that it’s the first part of the dress that people notice.
Some necklines are high and leave little to the imagination. Those are called jewel, bateau, and mandarin. They don’t show much skin. They sit high on your neck and they are full-coverage, which makes these necklines perfect for a more conservative bride. Sweetheart, halter, portrait, one-shoulder, and strapless gowns leave a lot more skin visible to the public. These are wonderful necklines for brides who have beautiful shoulders, long necks, lovely collarbones, or who simple want to show off a stunning necklace.
Wedding Dress Sleeves
Most brides choose sleeves based on the season, and we have no problem with that. A gown with long sleeves it not typically the most desired sleeve in the middle of a summer wedding on the beach. However, you can wear whatever you want. Just know that many brides choose a sleeve that accentuates the tone of the wedding and the skirt of the dress. Long sleeves, cap sleeves, ¾ length sleeves, sleeveless, short sleeve, one sleeve, fitted sleeves, bell sleeve, and everything in between. You can even find removeable sleeves if you want to go that route. The other reason sleeves are so important is that they allow you to decide how conservative you want to be on your big day.
Some brides want a very daring neckline and short sleeve or no sleeve during their reception in a fun reception venue, but they need something with a lot more coverage in a conservative ceremony venue (i.e. a religious location like a church). You can also purchase sleeves in the form of a fitted jacket or top that go on over the dress so you look more conservative when necessary, but you can take it off and show off your gorgeous gown when that part of the wedding is over.
Wedding Dress Bodice
This is the top of your gown. It can come in any style, shape, and have all different types of features. Some bodices are daring, featuring a mesh stomach or a cut out. Some gowns are simply two pieces and the top is not connected to the bottom. Some are traditional, some are strapless. Some are simple, and some have a corset back. You can adorn them with anything you like from crystals to beads to lace.
Wedding Dress Silhouette
We like to call this the shape of your gown to make things simple. This is probably – at least for most brides – the most important part of the gown as a whole. This is the overall style, and it’s what makes a major decision for most brides. A princess bride is going to want a full bell-shaped gown. A bride who wants something softer or more romantic – or simply more forgiving – might choose an empire waist gown. A mermaid gown is typically sexier and more fun. A sheath is so elegant and classic. The silhouette of the gown can speak to your specific style as well as the season and the type of wedding you are having.
Wedding Dress Waistline
It’s the part of the dress where the skirt meets the top. It’s design, additionally, helps bring a shape to the gown. It can become a signature style, it can become a simple style, or it can create something more traditional. A basque waistline, for instance, can help add more appeal to a princess-like fairytale ball gown. An A-line gown comes with a more natural waistline that’s feminine, simple, and elegant. If you want to make it seem like you have a longer torso, you can go for a dropped waist. If you’re looking to appear thinner than you are, you may choose an empire waist gown. This is also a popular style for those who might be expecting during their wedding.
Wedding Dress Hemline
Long? Short? Calf-length? Floor-length? Ankle length? Mid-thigh? The hemline of your gown is the length of your gown, and you can do anything you want. It might be more ‘traditional’ to opt for a floor-length hemline, but no one says you cannot opt for a more casual tea-length gown or a flirty, fun, and daring short hemline. You can even do a hemline that’s shorter in the front and longer in the back if that’s what you prefer.
The most important thing you should know about your hemline is that it traditionally speaks more to the formality of your wedding than anything else – though it also occasionally speaks to the age of the bride. A gown that reaches the floor implies your wedding is more formal. A shorter gown is a more informal dress, and one that is tea-length might imply that you are having a lovely wedding, but it’s not a traditionally formal wedding. Additionally, it might also speak to the number of weddings you’ve already had. For example, if your mother is getting married to her second husband following the loss of her first, she might decide she would rather wear something tea-length and less formal. The hemline is the part of the wedding dress that sees the most wear and tear on your wedding day, from the photoshoot to the dance floor, and should receive extra care when cleaning your wedding dress.
Wedding Dress Fabrics
One of the most important aspects of your wedding down is the fabric. Every fabric has a story of its own to tell, and many of them can help make your gown more or less formal. A wonderful example we like to make is that you can take any gown in the world and make the same shape and style in different fabrics, and each one will appear completely different than another.
Let’s take a mermaid gown for example. By making it out of lace, it’s going to appear more romantic and feminine. Using beads rather than lace will make it more pageant-like and bold. Making it out of satin will cause it to fit completely different, and it will take on a more formal look. It’s clingier and sometimes sexier.
Satin is the most sought-after fabric. It’s elegant, expensive, and it’s beautiful. It has a language all its own, and many brides want to use this for their own gowns. Chiffon is going to give you a look that’s more whimsical and fun. Organza might be more in the fairytale genre you’re looking for, and charmeuse will give you a slightly more mature look. Learn more about how to choose wedding dress fabrics by season.
Wedding Dress Embellishments
Now that you know all about the many different fabrics one can use for their gown, it’s time to get to know the embellishments that will make the most of everything you are wearing. This is the décor. It’s like putting sprinkles on ice cream. It’s already good, but this can make it better. You can use anything you want as an embellishment if you choose. From fresh flowers to jewelry to beads to lace to everything in between; the sky is the limit and your imagination is your power tool. Using more elaborate embellishment can add a bit of maturity and formality to a gown, but it’s certainly not something you are required to do. Embellishment can add a bit of richness to a simple fabric, and it can add just a little bit of elegance to a simple gown. Beads and crystals can also add a bit of color to a traditional gown, which can tie in nicely with other aspects of the wedding.
Wedding Dress Trains
Do you have a train, do you not have a train, or do you have a removable train? There are so many different feelings about trains, and no one is wrong. This is a transformative piece, and you can change it if you want. You can open it up and allow it to trail behind you and add a beautiful interest to your gown as you walk down the aisle, and you can often hook it to the back of your dress in a way that is beautiful and decorative when you are ready to start dancing.
The length of your train might indicate the formality of the wedding. The longer the train, the more formal the wedding, so to speak. These are chapel and cathedral length trains, and they are traditionally reserved for very formal religious ceremonies. They can be bustled afterward for easy movement. A Watteau or court train is one that starts at the shoulders. It’s almost waterfall-like. They’re not super formal. However, a detachable train is one that’s easily removed following the wedding, and it is one that is very easy to call informal. Keep in mind that having a long train or detachable train can greatly impact the cost of your wedding dress.
Wedding Dress Skirt Details
Finally, we get to the fun part. The skirt is part of the gown, and it’s part of so many other features in the anatomy department, but you can do a lot with a skirt outside of the just the waistline and the hemline and the fabric and the embellishments and the color. For example, you can bustle your skirt. This means you can have a train attached to your gown that adds a dramatic flair while you walk down the aisle. When you’re done with that, you can pin it, button it, or attach it with another means, to the back of your skirt. This is called a bustle, and it adds so much depth and interest to your gown.
You can add a pleat. You can add a slit. You can add a flounce, or a drape, or you can add layers. Anything you want to add to a skirt can change the game completely. It can take a simple gown and add flair and dramatics, elegance, or a little bit of sex appeal. It’s all about what you want and who you are as a bride.
Wedding Dress Colors
There is a lot of history surrounding the color of a wedding gown. White, the most commonly worn color on wedding days, is pure. It’s traditional, but it’s also a tradition that has changed a bit over the years. The idea of wearing a white wedding gown was introduced many years ago, and it was meant to imply that the bride herself is as pure and innocent as her gown. An off-white gown is traditionally used by a bride who is not considered pure.
However, we tend to buck traditions like these, and many brides choose color from all over the spectrum. Some brides would rather wear a soft pink or add color with a lovely black sash. It’s all about what you want to say on your wedding day, and no one can say it but you. Many gowns fall into the white family, but they offer colorful details that add interest. We might also offer our own humble opinion in that the champagne color is one of the most universally flattering colors on most brides.
Now that you know all there is to know about the anatomy of your wedding gown, you are ready to go shopping. Each little detail is important because it adds so much to the overall picture. It might be the difference between a gown you really think you like a lot and a gown you love. It might be the difference between a store-bought gown you love or the slightly customized gown you can create with that blank slate. Happy wedding dress shopping, ladies. This is the most exciting time in your life.