A Girl's Glossary of Wedding Dress Terms

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Image Gallery: Wedding Gowns So many choices and so much to understand. See pictures of wedding gowns.

When you start shopping for a wedding dress, you'll probably be introduced to a whole new lexicon of terms for specialty fabrics, gown shapes and embellishments. The exotic world of wedding dress design can be fascinating, fun and -- confusing. This compendium of dress and textile terms will be a handy reference as you start sourcing the most important garment you may ever wear.


Dress Styles

single mannequin wedding
It's hard to get just what you want when you don't know what to ask for.
©iStockphoto/Natalia Bratslavsky

The dress style you choose may be classic, trendy or have elements of both. Chances are, the basic construction will be similar to one of the styles below:

  • A-line -- A fitted bodice that has a modest flair in the skirt, A-line wedding-dress designs are among the most popular sold today. This is a universal classic that suits almost any body type.
  • Ball gown -- This is the fairytale princess dress style you remember from Lady Diana's wedding and Grace Kelly's ceremony a few decades before. It has a long, flowing skirt and a fitted bodice. It has lots of fullness, created with petticoats or hoops.
  • Blouson -- Blouson designs are, as the name implies, blousy. They're gathered at the waist or an inch or two below.
  • Drop waist -- Sporting either a loose or fitted bodice, drop-waist gowns add styling that accentuates the area just below the waistline or the waist itself.
  • Asymmetrical -- Dresses with features like one shoulder strap or layering that creates an uneven, spatial arrangement or silhouette.
  • Empire -- Distinguished by a high waist, hitting just below the bust. The empire styling elongates the body, minimizes pear-shaped figures and can conceal a disproportionately large or small bust.
  • Mermaid -- Also called a trumpet or fishtail design, the mermaid dress hugs the body and begins to flair, usually at the knee. The flare can be modest or exaggerated. This design accentuates a woman's figure and shows particularly well on tall, athletic women.
  • Mini -- A gown with a hemline that falls at or above the knee.
  • Princess -- Created from unbroken vertical panels, this style can take a classic A-line shape or have a more exaggerated flare. It's considered a slimming design that will suit most body types.
  • Sheath -- Unconstructed, long and slim, the sheath is body-hugging and doesn't have a fitted waist.


Dress Features

womans back wedding
Pick the basic dress style and then choose its components.

Once you've chosen a basic dress style, the components, like the neckline, sleeves and hem length may vary.

Bodice and Neckline


  • Boat neck -- This style rests along the shoulder points, revealing the collar bone. It's also known as a bateau.
  • Cowl neck -- Loosely draped fabric, styled either high or low at the neck and bust characterize this component
  • Drop shoulder -- A look consisting of bands or sleeves that start below the curve of the upper arm
  • Halter -- The top is angled at a diagonal along the outer bust and neck to fasten behind the neck
  • Jewel -- A neckline that follows the curve at the base of the neck and does not include a collar
  • Portrait collar -- This drop-shouldered look consists of a folded, sometimes exaggerated collar
  • Sabrina -- This style is characterized by a straight neckline beginning well inside the curve of the shoulder
  • Scoop neck -- This neckline can be daring or modest with this component but ends in a curve instead of a point.
  • Spaghetti straps -- A neckline characterized by very slender, supportive straps at the shoulder
  • Square neck -- This neckline has a horizontal line across the front of the bodice terminating in sheer vertical straps or shaping on either side. Viewed from the front, it looks like a cutout in the shape of a square or rectangle.
  • Strapless -- As the name implies, this look leaves the shoulders bare. This style is supported by the structure of the bodice.
  • Sweetheart -- A component characterized by a curve over each breast to dip into a shallow or deep V like the top of a Valentine's heart.
  • V-neck -- This neckline is defined by the shape of a plunging or shallow letter V.

Hem Length

  • Ballerina -- At or just above the ankle
  • Floor -- Brushing the floor or slightly above
  • Hi-lo -- Also called an intermission hem, it hits at mid-calf in front and is floor length in back
  • Mini -- Above the knee
  • Street -- Just covering the knee
  • Tea -- Terminating a few inches above the ankle


  • Bell -- Snug to the elbow and then flaring to the wrist
  • Capped -- Very short, closely fitted and slightly rounded
  • Dolman -- Joined to the bodice above the elbow and tapering to the wrist. Also called a bat sleeve
  • Kimono -- Sleeves extending into the main column of the dress and lengthening deep and wide to the wrist
  • Puff -- Gathered or pleated at the shoulder. Depending on the amount of volume involved, can include: Juliet, bishop, leg-of-mutton, balloon, poet and pouf
  • Three-quarter length -- Terminating between the elbow and wrist
  • Tulip -- Overlapping fabric that creates a series of petal shapes



Wedding gown fabrics serve a number of functions, from creating stiffness to support an overskirt, to adding sheen or an attractive drape to a sleeve, bodice or train. You may run across some fabrics you've never heard of before, or fabrics you recognize but don't understand very well. This short list will help you to begin to identify some common wedding textiles:

  • Batiste -- A fine, sheer and delicate cotton or cotton/linen blend
  • Brocade -- A heavy, woven fabric with a raised or sculpted design, typically only worn during cool seasons
  • Chantilly -- A fine, mesh lace that often features floral designs outlined with silk threads
  • Chiffon -- Sheer, mesh fabric that can be made from silk, cotton or polyester
  • Crepe -- Lightweight, soft fabric that appears slightly crimped or crinkled
  • Crepe de Chine -- A thinner variety of the crepe fabric described above
  • Crinoline -- A stiff foundation fabric that's used as an underskirt with a ball gown style wedding dress
  • Organza -- A sheer, fine, translucent and textured fabric made from silk, polyester or nylon
  • Satin -- Shiny fabric that's usually very smooth and densely woven. It's available in many different weights and color.
  • Shantung -- Rough-textured woven silk or synthetic fabric that crushes easily
  • Taffeta -- A high-end, woven fabric with a slight sheen that's often reserved for fine garments. It's available in two varieties: Piece-dyed taffeta, which is soft and often used as a lining material, and heavier, stiffer yarn-dyed taffeta used in evening gowns and wedding dresses.
  • Tulle -- Sheer, stiff mesh made from rayon, cotton, silk or nylon
  • Velvet -- A fabric with a distinctive pile, velvet can be made with silk, cotton or a number of blends. It's typically a cool-weather choice.
  • Voile -- Very lightweight, semi-transparent fabric woven from cotton, linen, synthetics and cotton blends

Once you can recognize the basic wedding dress designs you'll begin to see different elements, like sleeve styles, as separate components that can be mixed and matched to create unique and dramatic effects. That and an awareness of your body type and personal preferences will help you identify the perfect gown for you.


Lots More Information

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