In simpler terms, a dress silhouette is what you see in a dress at one glance – the outline of the dress. When designers get around to make beautiful dresses especially wedding 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 .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
This is an outdated silhouette – an extreme 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.
Related posts : Elements of fashion design; Fashion styles; Different types of waistlines; Different types of gowns; Different types of hemlines; Also, check out posts on designing and sewing wedding gowns & the 45 different types of dresses.