Bridal Gown Terminology – with pictures

Not gonna lie, even as I’m typing this my brain is a bit on overload. There are SO many options to consider when searching for your perfect bridal gown. A lot of what will look good on you depends on your body shape and skin tone, so keep that in mind when searching for a bridal gown.

Here, I’m going to lay out all the important terminology that you’ll need to know before stepping into a bridal shop. The minute you walk in they will begin to ask questions about what silhouette you want or what neckline you’d prefer. Of course they can help guide you based on your figure but it’s important to have an idea in mind of what you think you’re looking for.

HOWEVER! I must point out… just because you think you want to wear a certain style of gown… that does not mean that it will flatter you like you think it will. So, trust the professionals when they make recommendations. I promise you won’t regret it. That is, you know, what they do.

Take this FUN Wedding Dress Quiz to see what Gown is Right for You!

Alright… let’s dig in…


This is the terminology that will automatically ring a bell for you because these are the ones that are tossed around most frequently when talking about bridal gowns. The silhouette literally refers to the shape of the gown.

A- Line: this tends to be a flattering fit for most body types, making it one of the most popular silhouettes! The shape of this gown resembles the letter “A” as it is fitted around the waist but then widens from the waist to the hem.

a-line silhouette bridal gown

Ballgown: this is your princess dress! Think Cinderella or Belle. It is fitted in the bodice and then poofs out from there. Although showstopping, it can be overwhelming on small figures.

ballgown silhouette bridal gown

Mermaid: great for someone with an hourglass figure! It shows off all those curves in all those proper places. Supremely fitted all the way to the knee where it then bellows out with varying volumes.

mermaid silhouette bridal gown

Mini: seriously, think Minnie Mouse. It’s like her dress! Above the knee.

mini silhouette bridal gown

Modified A-Line: a less dramatic version of the tradional A-line with a more natural flow from top to bottom, while still being divided.

modified a-line silhouette bridal gown

Sheath: this bridal gown is straight from top to bottom and is flattering on tall and petite women, alike. Since it is rather shapeless… it is not the most forgiving gown on the list.

sheath silhouette bridal gown

Tea Length: kind of like the mini but longer. The dress hits below the knee.

tea length silhouette bridal gown

Trumpet: quite similar to a mermaid gown but not quite as fitted and the flare begins mid-thigh rather than all the way at the knee. This bridal gown tends to look good on those with fuller hips.

trumpet silhouette bridal gown


This is pretty well known terminology too because we all know about halters, v-necks and strapless gowns. There are quite a few that will be new to you though cause they certainly were for me! Bear with me here. There’s a lot of them!

Asymmetric: they really could have just called this a one-shoulder gown and everyone would understand…

asymmetric waistline bridal gown

Boat Neck: very simply follows the collarbone from shoulder to shoulder and has a very modest appearance.

boat neck bridal gown

Halter: we all remember these from hot summer days! Same look, just in the form of a dress. Very good choice for athletic builds or those with strong shoulders.

halter neckline bridal gown

High Neck: just like it sounds, almost like a turtle-neck but MUCH more appealing. These bridal gowns typically have sleeves but can also be sleeveless. A real statement!

high neck bridal gown

Illusion: these have been very popular as of late. A great option for those who want to show off their back, collarbone and shoulders without wearing a strapless gown. There is a fine, nude mesh that keeps everything in place. Hence the illusion…

illusion neckline bridal gown

Jewel: a great option for those with a small bust or anyone looking for something more modest and less showy. Similar to the boat neckline but with a swoop under the neck.

jewel neckline bridal gown

Off the Shoulder: simple, little sleeves that are off-the-shoulder and onto part of the arms.

off the shoulder neckline bridal gown

Portrait: yes, it’s just like the off-the-shoulder sweaters we all love but more fitted because it’s a bridal gown of course. Similar to the one above but with more fabric.

portrait neckline bridal gown

Queen Anne: traditionally features a higher collar at the back and a scoop, V-neck or sweetheart neckline at the front. More recent designs have dropped the high collar the the back. It’s not named after royalty for nothing!

queen anne neckline bridal gown

Scoop: an ideal neckline for almost anyone! Has a scooping u-shape that can be cut at varying levels to show more or less.

scoop neckline bridal gown

Square: I really don’t need to explain this one, do I? With the help of the straps, it forms a square. Ta-Dah!

square neckline bridal gown

Straight Across: this doesn’t need explaining either. So I’m not.

straight across neckline bridal gown

Sweetheart: arguably the most popular of all necklines. It droops in the middle to make what looks like the top of a heart. Looks great on anyone with nice cleavage, but not too much! Save some for the bedroom!

sweetheart neckline bridal gown

V-Neck: just what you’d think but the angle at which it V’s can vary tremendously. I’ve seen some go down to mid torso while others are much more reserved.

v-neck bridal gown

Check out Hannah’s GORGEOUS V-Neck gown HERE


This refers to where the dress gives you the illusion of a waistline. Pretty simple really, but there are still a lot of options! A lot more than I thought there were! Let’s dive into thoseā€¦

Asymmetrical: very similar to a drop or exaggerated drop waistline except one side is higher than the other making an angle. These tend to be quite modern.

asymmetrical waistline bridal gown

Basque: a very slimming option with a waistline hitting lower than natural, making a v-shape at the bottom. Reminds me of a ballerina outfit.

basque waistline bridal gown

Drop: the waistline of this bridal gown does just that, it drops well below your natural waistline, more mid-hip. It is very good at accentuating a great figure.

drop waistline bridal gown

Empire: this waistline hits where the bust line meets the stomach and the fabric then flows to the hem. A really great option for girls with larger hips or those who want something very modest.

empire waistline bridal gown

Exaggerated Drop: just what you’d think. It’s a drop waist but even more so! Typically seen on a trumpet or mermaid gown.

exaggerated drop waistline bridal gown

Inverted Basque: while the basque has a bodice that creates a v-shape pointing down, the inverted basque has a bodice that has a v-neck pointed upwards towards the bust line.
inverted waistline bridal gown

Natural: you guessed it. This one does not give you the illusion of a waistline somewhere else, it simply accentuates your natural waistline. A really great option for most women!

natural waist bridal gown

Princess: also called no waist because it literally does not give a defined waistline at all. Beautiful on the right figure but not very forgiving.

princess/no waist bridal gown


Last but not least, this is referring to the literal sleeve (or no sleeve) that is on the dress. I thought there would be like 2 kinds. Nope, wrong again.

3/4 Sleeve: just like the shirts we all love with a sleeve that hits midway between the elbow and the wrist.

3/4 sleeve bridal gown

Cap Sleeve: a very small addition to what would normally be a strapless gown, giving a little something extra.

cap sleeve bridal gown

Long Sleeve: sleeves that are long, duh.

long sleeve bridal gown

Short Sleeve: this option adds enough sleeve to cover the triceps/biceps but is not as modest as a long sleeve bridal gown.

short sleeve bridal gown

Spaghetti: super thin delicate straps that can help add support and confidence that a strapless gown can leave others wanting.

spaghetti strap bridal gown

Strapless: the most popular type we see. Can be straight across or have a sweetheart neckline.

strapless bridal gown

Sleeveless: a design that could easily have sleeves but doesn’t.

sleeveless bridal gown

Holy guacamole. We have reached the end. Finally. Whether you actually remember this terminology or not, this can act as a great reference point should questions arise. The pictures are always helpful!

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