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10 Different Off-Shoulder Dress Styles to Choose From

Person wearing a red off shoulder dress

Sometimes, the sexiest dresses aren’t the dresses that are skintight or super revealing. Sometimes, the sexiest thing you can do is bare a little bit of unexpected skin. Sure it can be hot to show a lot of cleavage or a lot of thigh. But it can also be super sensual to show off your shoulders…and that’s what off-shoulder dress styles are all about. Show off a little sexiness and a little elegance without showing off a lot of your body with a dress that reveals your shoulders. There are many different dress styles to try that will showcase this part of your body. How many of them have you worn…and how many of them are you going to start wearing soon?

Person in a white off shoulder dress sitting outside

Shoulders and Women’s Fashion

Shoulders have actually played a huge role in women’s fashion throughout history. How about the big puffed sleeves of the Victorian Era? During this time, women wore sleeves that were big and puffy around the shoulders and upper arms. The sleeves abruptly tightened at the elbows to fit close down through the wrist. In the 1920s and 1930s, Joan Crawford made waves for wearing dresses with big, elaborate shoulders. 

And of course, shoulders played a huge role in 1980s fashion thanks to padded shoulders and power suits. Women wore wide, big shoulder looks as a sign of their independence and a clear fashion message that they were breaking away from the stereotypes and oppression of the past. It was a huge fashion trend at the time and it’s unavoidable in all ’80s movies and TV shows.

But it was in the 1970s that shoulder-baring fashion became high fashion. That’s when Yves Saint Laurent introduced off-shoulder dresses and silhouettes to the world and gave women another way to show a little skin and show off their style at the same time. 

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Shoulders are always beautiful. They don’t get puffy and they don’t get fatty when you gain weight. You can always show off some shoulder and make a splash with your style. See for yourself how you like the off-shoulder trend and try wearing some styles that will bare yours. 

What is Off-Shoulder Style?

There are many different necklines that will leave your shoulders bare, or very nearly bare. Strapless dresses, for example, leave your shoulders and your collarbone exposed. Halter styles have high necklines but leave fabric off your shoulders so they are fully visible. The wide, shallow boat neckline dos everything but bare the shoulders. This neckline is notably favored by style icon Meghan Markle. 

But off-shoulder styles are distinct and recognizable in their own way. These styles are made to sit straight across the top of the chest and wrap around the shoulders and back in a continuous, even line. There are some variations of this but the top line of the style is essentially the same in all designs. 

Types of off-Shoulder Dress Styles

Many different types of dresses can be off-shoulder dresses, if they’re styled that way. However, some styles are more commonly used for off-shoulder designs than others. Show off your shoulders in all these different styles and have more fun with your fashion. 

Peron in a short off shoulder dress in an office setting

1. Ball gown

Elinadress Women's Long Off Shoulder Prom Dress 2020 Sparkly Sequins Evening Party Ball Gown 140 Black

The ball gown is one of the most popular dress silhouettes for weddings and formal events. The ball gown silhouette fits around the torso, hugging the bust and waist. The bodice of the dress may be plain or highly embellished. At the waist, the skirt of the dress flares out big and wide. The ball gown is a traditional, pretty silhouette that is also called a princess gown. That may be because it was famously worn by Queen Victoria when she wed Prince Albert in the 1840s. Victoria’s white ball gown set wedding dress trends that are still being followed today.

In off-shoulder designs, ball gowns can have many different sleeve lengths. Everything from cap sleeves to short puffed sleeves to long sleeve styles is seen with off-shoulder gown styles. 

2. Bandage

meilun Women's Rayon Strap V-Neck Bandage Bodycon Party Dress (L, Red-2)

Bandage dresses are a type of bodycon dress that completely hugs the body. These dresses are often minidress styles that end above the knee. The name is literal. Bandage dresses truly look like bandages that have been wrapped around the body, fitting tightly all the way through the torso and thighs. In off-shoulder dress designs, bandage dresses bare a little more skin. These dresses are perfect as cocktail dress looks or party dresses. 

3. Bardot

Beachsissi Women Short Sleeve Midi Dress Stripe Print Smocked Chest Bardot Casual Dress Black

The Bardot neckline is an off-shoulder neckline that’s named for actress Brigitte Bardot. She was well-known for wearing this neckline in the 1950s. Any off-shoulder neckline may be called a Bardot neckline, whether it’s an off-shoulder top or dress. 

4. Blouson

Floerns Women's Solid Off Shoulder Long Sleeve Fitted Short Blouson Dress A Black S

Blouson dresses are made to fit loosely around the torso. The waist is fitted but the top of the dress is so loose, it hangs down over this defined rea. Blouson dresses are short dress styles that can be made with a loose- or tight-fitting skirt. Blouson dresses are often made in off-shoulder styles because the bare shoulders add a bit of sexy flair to this loose-fitting style. These dresses are single pieces but they’re made to look like loose, blousy tops and skirts.

5. Maxi

Floerns Women's Boho Floral Print Off Shoulder Split Long A Line Dress A Green S

Maxi dress styles are known for the long, flowing skirt. This is a comfortable, somewhat loose-fitting gown that is made with airy fabric to create a bohemian-style design. Maxi dresses are full-length dresses that can be casual, semi-formal or formal, depending on how they’re made and styled. Maxi dress designs can have any type of neckline or sleeve style, including off-shoulder maxi dress designs.

6. Mermaid

YMDUCH Womens Off Shoulder High Split Long Formal Party Dress Evening Gown Black

Mermaid gowns are a classic pick for formal events. You’ll see this silhouette often on red carpets and at weddings. This is a very figure-flattering style because it hugs every single curve from the bust to the knees, fitting close to the skin. At the knees, the mermaid dress flares out in a wide, dramatic finish. This creates a distinct look that is always in style. Off-shoulder mermaid dresses often have short, cap-style sleeves. 

7. Peasant

Anna-Kaci Womens Casual Boho Long Sleeve Off Shoulder Renaissance Peasant Dress, Beige, Large

Peasant dresses are casual designs that are made with somewhat flaring skirts, fitted waists and voluminous, puffy sleeve styles. Peasant dresses are distinct for their soft, pretty styles that pay homage to traditional rural clothing designs. These dresses are often embellished with small ruffles and lace details. Off-shoulder necklines are common in peasant dress styles. 

8. Ruffle

Women Off The Shoulder Ruffle Party Dresses Side Split Beach Maxi Dress Burgundy US4

Off-shoulder ruffle dresses are one of the most common off-shoulder dress styles. This style is characterized by the ruffle that runs across the top of the dress, extending all the way around the body (shoulders included). This particular off-shoulder cut is seen in a number of different dress styles because it’s easy to create and easy to wear. The ruffle off-shoulder design is usually made with elastic that keeps the neckline of the dress in place.

9. Sheath

White Vintage Rockabilly Dresses for Women 1950s L BP387-5

Sheath dress styles really do fit your body like a sheath. These dresses are form-fitting all over, so your figure has absolutely nowhere to hide. Sheath dresses end at or above the knee. Sheath dresses can be made with any neckline or sleeve length, including off-shoulder look styles. 

10. Sweater

HOMELEX Women's Off Shoulder Sweater Dress Long Sleeve Bodycon Pullover Cable Knit Dresses

Sweater dresses are made in a knit design that clings to the curves of the body. Because the material is knit, it stretches and moves with you rather than fitting tight. Sweater dresses are typically no longer than knee length and off-shoulder designs are very common with this particular style. Off-shoulder sweater dresses are most often made with long sleeves. Sweater dresses are designed for fall and winter to keep you feeling warm during cold temperatures.  

FAQs

Off-shoulder dresses always look great on other people but wearing them for yourself can get difficult. If you’ve still got questions about wearing off-shoulder dress styles, no problem. We’ve got the answers to all the most frequently asked questions about off-shoulder dresses.

Which hairstyles work for off-shoulder dresses?

The whole point of wearing off-shoulder dress styles is to show off your shoulders and neck. This means you want a hairstyle that will show offer this neckline. There are several different hairstyles that complement off-shoulder looks. Any sort of updo will show off the line of your neck and shoulders. A low knot at the nape of the neck is an elegant and easy style to create. You can also do a low side ponytail to display those sexy shoulders.

Can off-shoulder dress styles look elegant?

Off-shoulder styles can look very elegant, depending on how you style them. Wear accessories to make any look more complete. A short necklace or long earrings are a beautiful way to enhance an off-shoulder neckline. Sunglasses are another great way to accessorize your off-shoulder looks. Look to your favorite celebrities on Instagram if you need some new outfit ideas for your shoulder-baring looks.

Can off-shoulder dress styles be formal wear? 

Many styles of off-shoulder dresses can be styled as formal wear. Long dresses always tend to look a little more formal. Pair a long dress with pearls or sparkling jewelry to dress it up a bit. Wear high heels to add an elegant, formal touch and carry a clutch purse. If you want to make your dress look a little fancier, add a wrap. A fur or satin wrap will make any dress look more formal. You can also add long gloves to the outfit. Long gloves always look classy.

How do off-shoulder dresses stay up?

Off-shoulder dresses are specifically designed to be worn off the shoulders so they will be made to stay in place. This usually means that they will have elastic or other special elements to keep the shoulders of the dress down on our upper arms without migrating upward or downwards. 

But if you have a tricky dress that won’t stay in place, try a common hack using thin ponytail holders and safety pins. Attach safety pins to either end of a ponytail holder. Once you put on your off-shoulder dress, pin the dress under your armpit to keep everything in place. The hair band will stretch and flex as needed under your arm. This hack really only works with short sleeve styles and specific off-shoulder style options.

Which bras can be worn with off-shoulder dresses?

If you don’t want your straps to show, you may feel pretty limited in your bra choices when you’re choosing what you wear under your off-shoulder dress style. You can always choose a strapless bra, which is a very standard choice for any dress that doesn’t provide a lot of shoulder coverage. A bandeau, which is a strap that fits around the breasts, is another option, You can always wear a corset, which supports the bust. 

If your off-shoulder design is especially revealing, you can always choose an adhesive seamless bra.  This will stick right to the skin to give you support.          

Do off-shoulder sleeves suit all body types?

It’s really difficult for most people to hate their shoulders. They pretty much look universally good. However, that doesn’t mean that all off-shoulder styles will work with every body type. Off-shoulder dress styles look great on pear and hourglass body shapes, but it’s a little tricker to wear this look with apple and rectangle body shapes because your shoulders may look broad. Stick to slimming off-shoulder designs that have diagonal or rounded necklines. This will create a more slimming effect and look good on any body shape. Sweetheart neckline styles can also be very flattering and create a slimming effect to make shoulders look less broad.

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