DRESS SILHOUETTES (16 most important ones)

Learn about the different types of dress silhouettes and what they mean in selecting the perfect dresses for you particularly wedding dresses.

In simpler terms, a Dress Silhouette is what you see in a dress at one glance – the outline of the dress; The outside line of the garment. This post lists the most important dress silhouettes you will find in clothing. 

Meaning of silhouette in fashion – Overall outline of an outfit or a garment

When designers get around to make beautiful dresses, they have the silhouette in mind first and foremost. It is the most basic thing about a design. You design the silhouette first and then design the rest of the style elements. 

When you select a dress, you may be naive enough to base it on the way it looked on a model or your favourite actress. But after one or two such mistakes, you stop and decide on your dress based on the right dress silhouette for your body type.

Obviously you will be going by your personal preference and your sense of beauty when selecting a dress, but a basic knowledge about silhouettes and some general guidelines on choosing them are not amiss to know.

Popular dress silhouettes 

1. Sheath silhouette

Sheath silhouette is a form-fitting silhouette from the top to the bottom of the garment. The way this silhouette hugs the body makes it an unforgiving style for those without a perfect figure. A defined waist is a prerequisite for looking good in this silhouette. This style is usually fitted with slits in the hem for ease of movement.

Sheath dresses are a prime example of this silhouette. Fitted jeans, pencil skirts all belong to this silhouette.

sheath dress

2. A line silhouette

This silhouette is fitted in the bodice and flares slightly in the skirt making it look like a capital A.

The A-Line silhouette works well for most people ; A garment in this silhouette is narrow at the top and widens towards the hem in a gradual manner smoothing out awkward lines and curves of the body and hence flatters most body shapes. Read more about an A-line silhouette here. 

A line dress silhouette

3. Straight Column silhouette 

The dress which belongs to this silhouette will have a rectangular shape as it has almost the same measurement for the bust waist and hem. It is also referred to as a Rectangular silhouette / tubular silhouette.

A shift dress is an example of this type. A person with a thick waist and wide hips will love this silhouette as it hides these flaws very comfortably.

In a gown,  this silhouette may also show up fitted in the bodice and with a column-style skirt without any flare, going straight down to the floor. This is very often seen silhouette in summer clothes. Clothes of this silhouette are best made with fabric that drape very well, which are lightweight.

silhouettes for dresses

4. Hour glass silhouette

This silhouette is characterized by a fitted waistline. This very popular silhouette emphasizes the curves of the feminine figure. You can design this silhouette with the help of waistbands, belts, darts. Corsets tops and bustiers with a flared skirt can emphasize the waist and create this silhouette.

This is one of the most coveted of all silhouettes but mostly suitable for people with a narrow waist. You need a somewhat slim waistline to do justice to this silhouette. A pear-shaped body suits this silhouette more than an apple body shape or an inverted triangle provided the wearer doesn’t have a very thick waistline.

dress silhouette

5. Bell silhouette

Bell or Ballgown silhouette is fitted in the bodice till the waist and then flares generously to the hem to make a bell-shaped skirt. This silhouette is typically found in traditional dresses/ party gowns; a very popular choice of for wedding dresses by young women about to be married. 
The flare of the skirt in this silhouette is mostly achieved by layers of fine fabric. A petticoat with many frills of crinoline under the gown also helps to create this silhouette.

bell dress silhouette

6. Trumpet silhouette

This silhouette which is also called the mermaid silhouette is very similar to the sheath silhouette, the difference being that it flares generously from the knees like a ball gown. The tight fitting of this silhouette till the knees makes it very difficult for movement but it is undoubtedly a very beautiful silhouette and hence worth the sacrifice.

wedding dress silhouettes

7. Shoulder Wedge silhouette

This is a silhouette with an emphasis on the shoulder. This silhouette is made so with the help of design additions like shoulder pads or with sleeve types like the butterfly sleeves or puff sleeves, giving extra emphasis to shoulders.

This silhouette, as it comes with an almost masculine width to the shoulder, lends a very thin look to the hips and waist.

The silhouette can be a lifesaver for a person with a slouchy figure as it gives a square and healthy look to the shoulder and makes the wearer look younger.

This silhouette is very much suited for someone with a thick waist as the silhouette creates the look of a narrower bottom area compared to the top. You will have to make sure that the shoulder shape and size is in proportion to the wearer’s size.

Most tailored coats have a shoulder wedge silhouette. A raglan sleeve and its variations like the batwing sleeves and dolman sleeves will also create a wedge shape as it adds bulk under the arm. Fabric suited for making garments in this silhouette is heavyweight fabric and crisp fabrics like organdy. Knits are good for dolman and raglan sleeved dresses.

shoulder wedge silhouettes

8. Trapeze silhouette

This silhouette which is similar to an A-line silhouette but with a more pronounced flare near the hem is shaped like a trapezoid or rather a tent. Basically speaking it looks like a triangle, flaring as it does from under the armhole. This silhouette works as a short dress rather than as a full-length dress, as it can overwhelm the figure.

trapeze dress silhouette

9. Extreme-volume silhouette

This is a silhouette you see on long oversized jackets and maxi dresses, capes, and wraps. The voluminous silhouette is the most used style in outerwear. The kaftan with many layers of fabric is an example of this silhouette.

It is very easy for the figure to be overwhelmed by the volume in this silhouette. The figure of the person is very important when considering this silhouette for a particular person.

extra volume fashion silhouettes for dresses

10. Asymmetrical silhouette

This silhouette has a diagonal hemline. This effect can be achieved by varying the colours, fabrics etc other than cutting the hem of the garment in asymmetrical lines

Aymmetrical dress silhouette

11. Empire silhouette

This is a silhouette with a raised waistline; that is the waistline is made above the normal waistline. This dress silhouette flares out from under the chest line. This is the most suitable style for a figure with a thick waistline.

Usually the effect is achieved by making the dress in two panels, the skirt panel starting just under the chest

Read more about empire line silhouette here.

empire dress silhouette

12. Egg shaped silhouette

This silhouette has a shape that is fitted in the top and bottom and loose in the middle of the figure. The tulip skirt is an example of a garment with an egg-shaped silhouette. Others are blouson tops and bubble skirts.

13. H-line silhouette

h line silhouette

This silhouette was introduced by fashion designer Christian Dior. It is a straight silhouette with a vertical line at the waist resembling the H alphabet. Though the silhouette is straight, it is quite body fitting. 

14. Y-line silhouette

This silhouette was also introduced by Dior. This is the exact opposite of an A line silhouette. It is tight along the lower part of the body in contrast to the top part which is designed wider or flared out. 

15. S-line silhouette

s line silhouette

This is an outdated silhouette – an excessive version of the hourglass silhouette which was a result of using body contouring fountaion clothing like the corsets that thrust the bust forward and pushed out hips resulting in an S shape. The silhouette was emphasized with the help of bustles on the back of gowns

16. Droppped Waist silhouette

dropped waist silhouette

According to the placing of the waistline, the silhouette can change. A waistline placed way below the natural waist is a dropped waistline in fashion language. The flapper dresses popular in the 1920s sported the dropped waistlines.

A very important element that can change the way these silhouettes look is how it fits a body – there are several levels of fit – a garment can be tightly fitted, semifitted, fitted, slightly fitted, and loosely fitted. Another factor is the fabric you are using – silhouette can vary a great deal according to the type of fabric.

If you use a stiff fabric like organdy the outside line of a garment can look different than if you are using a drapey fabric like chiffon.

Related posts : Elements of fashion design; What are different clothing styles; Different types of waistlines; Different types of gowns; Different types of hemlines; Also, check out posts on designing and sewing wedding gowns & the Dress names for women. 

Related posts

wedding veil styles

Subscribe to get weekly notifications of posts in your email

Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

17 thoughts on “DRESS SILHOUETTES (16 most important ones)”

  1. Thank you so much Sew Guide.Very well explained and what awesome educational tool specially for all the bride and special occasions party and most of my customers .

Your opinion is important. Leave a comment