68 Types of Dresses (Epic List – A Dress for Every Occasion)


Read the exhaustive guide to dresses of the world to find the design for your event and body type. From shifts to tent dresses, wedding gowns to cocktail dresses, you can find it in this guide to the types of dresses.

Woman wearing a dress

Introduced to the world of fashion modeling at the age of 17, the array of types of dresses surprised me. From full-length formal gowns to micro mini dresses, dresses run the gamut from teeny tiny to flowy toe skimmers.

Dress sales generate $41 billion in sales each year in the US alone. The worldwide dress market seems unfathomable. Women in every country wear dresses. Since fashions vary by culture and climate, a multitude of types of dresses exists.

If you want to learn the different types of dresses names with pictures, you have come to the right place. Fashionable dresses come in a multitude of shapes, styles, fabrics, materials, and colors.

The Dress Defined

So, what makes a dress, a dress?

The term dress refers to a one-piece garment that covers the torso and a portion of or all of the legs without dividing the material that covers the legs into pant legs. The lower portion of a dress forms a skirt. As you can imagine, clothing designers seize upon the versatility of this garment. In present-day fashions, nearly one hundred types of modern dress exist.

Types of Dresses

From that basic design of one piece of material comes many variations. Hemlines vary from micro-mini to maxi dresses, including minis, midis, semi-formals, tea length, and full length. The cut of the skirts includes the A-line, the bell, the pencil, the slip, and the cigar. The sleeves can vary from none at all as on a halter or tube style to full-length sleeves. Between that are off-the-shoulder, shoulder, Bardot, short sleeves, pouf or bell sleeves, three-quarter length, and thumb or fingerless mitten sleeves.

Various cultures contribute their own designs, crossing not just borders, but oceans to reach foreign shores with their looks. Designs from Chinese, Japanese, French, Italian, Indian, and various Caribbean cultures have become popular the world over and currently crowd American garment racks.

Just when you think designers have exhausted every possible idea, they debut something like the meat dress, styled from actual cuts of meat. Feather dresses have been a thing, too. In the 1960s and early 70s, newsprint dresses became all the rage. Made of newspaper material they did not last long, but they proved entertaining if you were stuck for something to read while on the subway. Tissue dresses also may as well be for disposable wear, but every designer attempts to create something new and different. Gaultier created the conical bra shape for his bodices while Nicole Moan uses ceramics for the corsets of her designs and their matching purses.

Typical materials include silk, satin, cotton, polyester, muslin, Lycra, lace, leather, and pleather. Embellishments may include mesh, eyelet, beads, sequins, embroidery, or ribbon.

  1. A-Line Dress
  2. A-Line Dress

    The term A-line dress refers to a timeless style that uses a fitted hip design. The skirt flares gradually fas it nears the hem. It provides a feminine look ideal for a pear-shaped body type.

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  3. Apron Dress
  4. Apron Dress

    The term apron dress refers to a sleeveless dress with an attached bib and skirt that resembles an apron.

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  5. Asymmetrical Dress
  6. Asymmetrical Dress

    The term asymmetrical dress provides an ideal option for semi-formal or formal events since it works for both. One length of the hem hits a formal length while the shorter one typically reaches a semi-formal length. It may have an asymmetric sleeve length, too, such as the one-shoulder dress. Due to the vast variations, most body types can typically find an asymmetric design that suits their frame.

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  7. Ball Gown
  8. Ball Gown

    The term ball gown or gown refers to a floor-length formal dress. Designed for black tie or white tie events, the dress silhouettes vary from flowy to pouffy skirts.

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  9. Bardot Dress
  10. Bardot Dress

     The term Bardot dress refers to an off-the-shoulder style first worn by actress Bridgette Bardot. The sleeve rests just below the shoulders and typically uses no ruffle since it represents Bardot’s sophistication and sensuality.


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  11. Blazer Dress
  12. Blazer Dress

    The term blazer dress refers to a business style for women that resembles a man’s blazer but in the length of a dress. These double-breasted dresses pair well with dress heels for a smashing office look.

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  13. Cocktail Dress
  14. Cocktail Dress

    The term cocktail dress refers to a dressy frock that blends formal dress elements with a more casual dress length. The cocktail dress hemline may hit at the mini or midi length, but commonly skims the knee or just above it.

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  15. Dirndl Dress
  16. Dirndl Dress

    The term Dirndl dress refers to a European traditional peasant dress with lace on the back or the front.

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  17. Halter Dress
  18. Halter Dress

    The term halter dress draws its name from the neckline and bodice which use a sleeveless, strapless top secured by a tie around the neck. Similar to an off-the-shoulder look, this dress works well for those with lovely shoulders.

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  19. Midi Dress
  20. Midi Dress

    The term midi dress refers to the length of the dress. Its hemline falls at the knee or just below it. The designer can use any sleeve length, neckline, or waistline with this style, so you can find a midi for every body type.

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  21. Off-the-Shoulder Dress
  22. Off-the-Shoulder Dress

    The term off-the-shoulder dress refers to a specific sleeve design that leaves the shoulder bare of material. The sleeve falls onto the bicep and may contain a ruffle. This feminine look works well in late spring or summer.

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  23. Bodycon Dress
  24. Bodycon Dress

    The term bodycon dress or body stocking dress refers to a fitted dress of stretchy material such as Lycra. Designed for women with an hourglass figure, it accentuates a toned, curvy body.

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  25. Empire Waist Dress
  26. Empire Waist Dress

    The term empire waist dress refers to a design created in the 18th century that gathers the dress material under the bust to accentuate the slimmest part of the torso. This works well for petite women since it creates the illusion of height. Since it focuses on the area just beneath the breasts, it can also work to make a heavier woman appear slenderer since the material beneath the bust line flares out and swirls around the hips without fitting snugly.

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  27. Mini Dress
  28. Mini Dress

    The term mini dress refers to a shift dress with a hemline above the knee. Considered scandalous when introduced in 1965 when worn by model Jean Shrimpton, the mini now provides a common option for women with long legs to showcase their lengthy legs.

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  29. Maxi Dress
  30. Maxi Dress

    The term maxi dress refers to the length of the dress. Like the midi and the mini, it can use any sleeve, bodice, or waist design in combination with its long skirt. The maxi typically reaches the ankles but may skim the toes.

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  31. Pencil Dress
  32. Pencil Dress

    The term pencil dress refers to a straight-line frock with a nipped-in waist and a below the knee hem. It works well for athletic builds or long, lanky body types.

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  33. High Low Dress
  34. High Low Dress

    The term high low dress is a form of asymmetrical dress. They are typically longer at the back, and shorter at the front. This shape works with casual dresses as well as ball gowns. It is the perfect style for anyone who wants to show off their sexy pins, and they’re best paired with high heels or platforms, so the back of the dress doesn’t drag on the floor.

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  35. Kimono Dress
  36. Kimono Dress

    The term kimono dress refers to a traditional Japanese gown popularized more than one thousand years ago. Talk about a fashion look that stands the test of time! The kimono features long, loose sleeves and a wraparound closure. Typically belted at the waist, the modernized design features a slit skirt.

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  37. Peplum Dress
  38. Peplum Dress

    The term peplum dress refers to a fitted and flared dress that has detailing under the bust or at the waist. The shape of the hip area on these dresses gives the illusion of longer legs.

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  39. Sheath Dress
  40. Sheath Dress

    The term sheath dress is form-fitting, it has a straight cut and is nipped at the waistline, with no visible seam. It sits at the knee or just above and is ideal for a business event or a night out. This dress style is perfect for those who want to put their gorgeous curves in the spotlight, as it flatters those with an hourglass figure.

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  41. Sweater Dress
  42. Sweater Dress

    The term sweater dress refers to a dress length sweater. This knitted dress can fit loosely or tightly and hit the mini, midi, or maxi length.

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  43. Shirt Dress
  44. Shirt Dress

    The term shirt dress refers to a loose-fitting frock that resembles a man’s collared dress shirt. It features a button-down front and may have a nipped waist. Its hem length varies.

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  45. Slip Dress
  46. Slip Dress

    The term slip dress refers to a frock styled similar to an undergarment. These typically come in satin with spaghetti straps and with a V-neck. They may also use lace as an adornment.

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  47. Smock Dress
  48. Smock Dress

    The term smock dress refers to a loose-fitting jumper style frock that may use any sleeve or use a strapless design.

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  49. Mermaid Silhouette Dress
  50. Mermaid Silhouette Dress

    The term mermaid silhouette dress refers to ball gown style with a long, straight line from the top to mid-calf or thigh. At this point, the fabric flares out into a wide skirt that evokes a mermaid’s tail. This dress type works well for an hourglass or pear-shaped body type.

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  51. T-shirt Dress
  52. T-shirt Dress

    The term T-Shirt dress refers to a pullover frock, typically with a round neck, that resembles a long T-shirt. It fits loosely and works well for most body types since it provides a roomy, comfy fit.

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  53. Tea Length Dress
  54. Tea Length Dress

    The term tea-length dress refers to a length of semi-formal gown. Designed for wear in the late afternoon or early evening events, it features a full circle skirt with a mid-calf hemline. This length proves suitable for late afternoon or early evening wedding, a formal tea also called high tea, or for a semi-formal event such as a typical sorority function. You may choose it as an option for a high school prom as well.

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  55. Pinafore Dress
  56. Pinafore Dress

    The term pinafore dress refers to a strapless and collarless dress with shoulder straps. You can wear it alone as a sundress or with a top or turtleneck sweater beneath it to extend its wear into chillier months.

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  57. Denim Dress
  58. Denim Dress

    The term denim dress refers to a frock made of the same material as blue jeans. Some denim dress takes the form of a shirtdress, others a pinafore style. This casual look works well for an afternoon of shopping or the kids’ soccer matches.

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  59. Tube Dress
  60. Tube Dress

    The term tube dress refers to a strapless, form-fitting dress similar to a body stocking dress, but without the sleeves. The tube dress works best for those with an athletic or slim build since it accentuates every ounce of the individual.

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  61. Qipao Dress
  62. Qipao Dress

    The term Qipao dress refers to traditional Chinese garb first worn in the 17th century’s Manchu rule. This high-necked silk dress features a high slit on one or both legs on a straight skirt. The sleeve type varies, but the Qipao always showcases a delicate embroidery on its front.

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  63. Long Sleeve Dress
  64. Long Sleeve Dress

    The term long sleeve dress refers to a frock with sleeves that fully cover the arms from shoulder to wrist. Nearly any style of dress can feature long sleeves, including formal gowns, so you can stay both warm and fashionable during winter.

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  65. Bell-Sleeve Dress
  66. Bell-Sleeve Dress

    The term bell-sleeve dress refers to a frock with flared, puffed sleeves that extend to the mid-forearm or wrist. This causes the sleeve to resemble a bell.

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  67. Shift Dress
  68. Shift Dress

    The term shift dress refers to a boxy, sleeveless, short dress that hangs from the shoulders. Designed for those with an athletic or willowy build, it became popular in the 1960s.

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  69. Strapless Dress
  70. Strapless Dress

    The term strapless dress refers to a fitted bodice and bust dress that has no sleeves or straps. Its tight fit across the bust holds it in place. Designer Mainbocher debuted this style in the 1930s. You can wear a leotard or skivvy or T-shirt beneath it to avoid showing skin or to remain warm on a chilly day.

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  71. Sun Dress
  72. Sun Dress

    The term sun dress refers to a dress with either no sleeves or spaghetti straps. It features a wide neckline and a tight fit at the waist. These types of dresses typically have a full skirt.

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  73. Low or Drop Waist Dress
  74. Low or Drop Waist Dress

    The term low or drop waist dress refers to a loose-fitting dress with the skirt seam being somewhere near the hip rather than at the waist length.

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  75. One Shoulder Dress
  76. One Shoulder Dress

    The term one-shouldered dress refers to an asymmetrical dress design with only one shoulder covered by fabric. This ranges from a single strap to a full-length sleeve. You can find this design commonly on a cocktail dress or formal gown.

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  77. Handkerchief-Hem Dress
  78. Handkerchief-Hem Dress

    The term handkerchief hem dress refers to an asymmetrical design with several handkerchiefs sewn into the skirt and flowing down its bottom length. The hem length can vary, as can the neckline.

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  79. Bandage Dress
  80. Bandage Dress

    The term bandage dress uses the bodycon silhouette but resembles shapewear. Created by French designer Hervé Léger in the 1990s, the dress appears to be formed from a knitted tape similar to what doctors use to wrap a sprained ankle.

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  81. Pouf Dress
  82. Pouf Dress

    The term pouf dress refers to a feminine design popularized in the 1950s for its puffy full skirt and nipped waist. Princess

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  83. Silhouette Dress
  84. Silhouette Dress

    The term princess silhouette dress refers to a type of ball gown with a tight-fitting bust/bodice and waist with a flowy skirt such as a princess might wear. Many Disney cartoon characters wear this design. In real life, it works well for a woman with lovely shoulders and toned arms.

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  85. Tunic Dress
  86. Tunic Dress

    The term tunic dress refers to a loose-fitting dress ending near the hips or near the knee, usually with slits on the side seams.

     


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  87. Tent Dress
  88. Tent Dress

    The term tent dress refers to a shapeless full dress popular in summer. It loosely hangs from the shoulders and provides a comfortable, baggy fit that lets airflow. Its length varies. This look works well for those with a heavier build since it skims over the body. You cannot see fat deposits when wearing a tent dress.

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  89. Wrap Dress
  90. Wrap Dress

    The term wrap dress refers to a frock that wraps across the front of the body and uses a front closure and a tie or belt at the waist to secure the fabric in place. It works well for athletic body types to make it seem as if the individual has an hourglass figure. 

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  91. Yoke Dress
  92. Yoke Dress

    The term yoke dress refers to a frock with a shaped bib on top of the bodice, but which separates from the bodice. A dress can feature a back or front yoke or both.

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  93. Princess Seam Dress
  94. Princess Seam Dress

    The term princess seam dress refers to a design with a princess seam down the bodice.

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  95. Blouson Dress
  96. Blouson Dress

    The term blouson dress refers to a design with a fitted/clinched waist which will cause the top portion to have a billowing effect like a woman’s peasant blouse.

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  97. Peasant Dress
  98. Peasant Dress

    The term peasant dress refers to a dress originally worn by the peasants in Europe, with raglan sleeves or very loose sleeves.

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  99. Baby Doll Dress
  100. Baby Doll Dress

    The term baby doll dress refers to a short, swingy dress featuring a fitted bodice and/or bralette. Typically, a mini dress length makes an ideal party dress.

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  101. Debutante Dress
  102. Debutante Dress

    The term Debutante dress or deb dress refers to a simple white gown worn by debutantes on the occasion of their first ball. They pair the look with white kid gloves and matching shoes.

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  103. Skater Dress
  104. Skater Dress

    The term skater dress refers to a style modeled after the dresses that female figure skaters wear in competitions. It features a fitted bodice and a circular, very flared, A-line skirt.

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  105. Camisole Dress
  106. Camisole Dress

    The term camisole dress refers to a style of slip dress. It consists of a camisole with an attached skirt. You can layer it over a t-shirt or top.

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  107. Granny Dress
  108. Granny Dress

    The term granny dress refers to a loose-fitting design featuring long sleeves and embellished with flounces or ruffles. It usually includes a high collar.

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  109. Harem Dress
  110. Harem Dress

    The term harem dress refers to a full-length design of a flowy fabric that features a skirt that flares at the top and narrows as it reaches the hem.

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  111. Swing Dress
  112. Swing Dress

    The term swing dress refers to a design with a fitted top that flares beginning at the waist. The hem typically flows to the knee or just above it.

     


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  113. Tutu Dress
  114. Tutu Dress

    The term tutu dress refers to a design that incorporates a ballet tutu, a short, gathered skirt of tulle with an attached bodice.

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  115. Little Black Dress (LBD)
  116. Little Black Dress (LBD)

    The term Little Black Dress or LBD refers to a mini or midi cocktail or party dress in solid black. Typically, fitted, the LBD comprises one of the must-haves of the modern woman’s wardrobe. See more types of little black dresses here.

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  117. Coat Dress
  118. Coat Dress

    The term coat dress refers to a design that models its cut and style on an overcoat look. It copies the lapels and openings of an overcoat and may use a tie or belt as a closure.

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  119. Corset Dress
  120. Corset Dress

    The term corset dress refers to a design with a fitted corset around the bust to shape the upper body and waist.

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  121. Balloon Dress
  122. Balloon Dress

    The term balloon dress refers to a dress with a turned inward hemline that causes the bottom edge of the skirt to resemble a blown-up balloon.

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  123. Bouffant Dress
  124. Bouffant Dress

    The term bouffant dress refers to a ruffled full-length formal gown.

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  125. Kaftan Dress
  126. Kaftan Dress

    The term Kaftan refers to a very loose-fitting maxi dress that features a billowing bodice, side seams, and loose sleeves. The design works well for those severely obese or who live in extremely hot climates.

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  127. Pillowcase Dress
  128. Pillowcase Dress

    This refers to a dress made for children or teens from a single large pillowcase with fabric straps used as shoulder straps or a necktie.

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  129. Party Dress
  130. Party Dress

    The term party dress refers generically to cocktail or other semi-formal dresses designed for wear at parties and special events such as New Year’s Eve.

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  131. Draped Dress
  132. Draped Dress

    The term draped dress refers to a design with a very full pleated and gathered skirt with one or both sides held back by a clasp or tie.

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  133. X-ray Dress
  134. X-ray Dress

    The term X-ray dress refers to a see-through dress typically of organza, lace, or chiffon. It may come with an attached slip dress underneath or you may need to wear a slip of your own choice beneath its translucent fabric.

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  135. Cape Dress
  136. Cape Dress

    The term cape dress refers to one of the types of dresses with an attached piece of fabric to it. The cape dress attaches a cape to the design much like the yoke dress attaches a bodice yoke.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Some common questions come up when considering dresses to make or buy. This FAQ addresses those questions, including a brief history of dresses covering when designers developed each of the types of dresses. Designers still make every one of these necklines and hemlines.

What are the different types of dress necklines?

There are many different necklines. The most common of these, the scoop or round neckline, takes on a C or U shape depending on how deep the neckline plunges. The other necklines include the crew, jewel, square, V, Boat/Bateau, scoop, collared, gathered, strapless, cowl, diamond, keyhole, sweetheart, off-the-shoulder, halter, ruffled, wide-square/Florentine, halter neckline with straps, strap, décolleté, one shoulder, paper bag, Queen Elizabeth, court, horseshoe, racerback, Queen Ann, wide square, mitered square, scallop, slash/slit, asymmetrical, illusion, cardigan, yoke, banded, bib, and high.

What is the lower part of a dress called?

The area of the dress from the waistband to the hem gets called a skirt. Depending on the hemline, a skirt may be micro-mini, mini, midi, or maxi. Other terms exist for these lengths. For example, a tea-length skirt is a length of midi skirt.

What types of wedding dresses are there?

Wedding dresses take many forms. You could have a wedding dress that reaches the floor such as a ball gown or one that takes on a cocktail length. A traditional American or Western European wedding dress is white in color.

The bride typically wears the dress with matching accessories designed to work with the dress. These include a train, a long piece of material, typically satin (taffeta), that trails behind the bride, and a veil that covers the face and neck but allows the bride to see through it. Usually of mesh or lace, it matches the lace used on the dress.

Where to Buy Dresses

Shopping for dresses can take some time. If you find it tough to find a dress that fits you properly, you might want to shop in person. Sometimes, that cannot happen though. You can use one of the many personal shopper services available to have someone else shop according to your style likes and ship you a certain number of options in your size. ThredUp offers this service as does Stitch Fix, and Gwynnie Bee. If you swear by shopping on Amazon and dearly want your Amazon smile charity to receive your donation from shopping, you can use the Amazon personal shopper service.

Perhaps you get a kick out of shopping. You do not mind hitting the local mall or visiting your local stores to peruse the garment racks and try on the outfits. Remember to take the shoes with you that you want to wear with the dress. If you shoe shop at the same time, select a pair of heels or flats suitable for the type of dress you will purchase and take them with you into the fitting room. If the fitting room only has a single mirror, step outside it to use the three-way mirror to examine each outfit from multiple angles.

Many department stores and women’s clothing stores have e-commerce options now. You can shop at Macy’s, Nordstrom, Foley’s, Belk’s, Kohl’s, JC Penney, and Sears online. Regardless of your budget, your style, or the size you wear, you can find a dress online. J. Crew, Eddie Bauer, and Land’s End also host online shops. You can easily have your favorite items shipped directly to your door.

You might also consider using a designer for a bespoke dress. This option makes sense if you have a hard to fit body. Many female athletes run into this problem since most designers do not cut clothing for those of very athletic builds or for those of short stature or the extremely tall. This makes purchasing a dress a tough proposition for female athletes whether gymnasts or basketball players. The bespoke everything craze has made purchasing made-to-order items much easier and more affordable. Purchasing a bespoke design can also provide you with a more versatile option. You can have multiple sashes, belts, or scarves designed as a part of the dress, allowing you to switch out the accessories and make the dress seem like a different outfit. Purchasing a matching blazer or suit jacket can also add to the versatility. A designer can create a skirt with zippers on the inside, hidden by a seam on the outer side. When unzipped, you can break away one length of the skirt, providing a maxi, midi, and mini choice all in one skirt. Zip out liners let you wear a dress during all four seasons. These options make the investment in a bespoke dress much more affordable since the resulting dress provides three different length options and a business office look when paired with the blazer.

A Brief History of Dresses

The history of dresses dates back to ancient Egypt when women like Queen Cleopatra adorned themselves in full-length gowns of light fabrics such as linen or other sheer fabrics. These breathable fabrics kept them cool and dry in the busy times of 51 BC. Although the style of the dresses remained plain, women in that culture adorned them with gold or semi-precious stones.

A couple of decades later, the Greeks improved upon the Egyptian design, using linen as well, but adding silk as a fabric of choice. Their method of draping or wrapping the fabric toga style required no sewing.

Light fabrics and simple designs requiring little to no sewing remained popular for centuries. Women simply wanted to throw something on and go. The times changed though and by about 1450 royal courts in Europe began commissioning fashion designers to create ornate outfits for them. With a vastly different climate than Egypt or Greece, women of Europe dressed for warmth. Layering became popular, as did heavier fabrics. This period added ribbon and other embellishments to the dresses, sewing them to the garment as opposed to cuffing them over it as the Egyptians had.

As medieval times developed, so did court fashion, the original haute couture. Anne Boleyn, one of Henry the VIII’s many wives, favored velvet dresses. Women during this period wore square necklines and piled on the necklaces to exhibit family wealth. Gaudy ruled. Long scarves as a loose belt or accessory also proved popular.

By 1650, two trends became popular that would remain in fashion forever. The true waist design used neither the empire waist which actually hit just below the breast nor the high waist of the early medieval times. With this waistband where a woman’s waist actually falls, designers paired the first hoop skirts. Rather than the round shape they eventually took on, the earliest hoops were oval. They caused the dress to flare out to either side and that fashion trend caused women to have to sidle through doors sideways for decades since their skirts became wider than the doorways they needed to pass through.

After another hundred years passed, in the time of Marie Antoinette, court fashions reached the height of their opulence. The design reigned in the dress width though, improving a woman’s ease of movement. Of course, women of means remained the only ones for whom fashion mattered. Those who worked for a living, such as parlor maids, housekeepers, etc. wore uniforms and unlike today, fashion did not yet reach those whose work required uniforms.

A tiny upstart country of only a few colonies at the time began to influence fashion though. Although it only had 13 colonies, the nation that would become known as the United States of America melded citizens from France, England, Spain, and Scotland, and Ireland. While in other areas of the world – the Old World, as it became known – remained separated by borders, cultures, and customs, they all blended in the new world. With each country’s fashion influence combined with the constant work it took to forge a new nation, women’s fashions simplified. Even affluent debutantes of the time, like future First Lady Martha Washington, wore an open-fronted dress covered with a contrasting-colored petticoat. In the colonies, women young and old chose a simpler fashion with less opulence and greater fluidity and movement.

By 1790, the upstart USA influenced fashion, helping bring back the empire waist. A high, draped neckline finally did away with the need for pounds of jewelry, and that increased freedom of movement. Hemlines still had a while to drag the floor though.

The Egyptian and Grecian influence resurged in the 1800s. Muslin became the “it” fabric. Cap sleeves became all the rage as did ruffles on an empire-waist gown for formal attire. By 1820, full skirts regained popularity although designers made them less full than the hoop skirts popular during the mid-1600s. One fashion statement caused quite a stir – the off-the-shoulder dress.

By the 1850s though, the hoop skirt made its comeback. This time, the hoop began small and broadened as it reached the floor providing a bell shape. This meant the woman could lift the skirt and hoop, and squish it into themselves, making them able to pass through most doorways in a normal manner. The dresses became adorned with embellishments such as large flowers or beadwork. In the following decade, the skirts remained full, but a bustle in the back poked it out over the woman’s buttocks while the front remained nearly flush with her legs. Sitting down became far from an easy task.

Toward the end of the 1800s and the dawn of the Victorian era, dresses became straight up and down designs with high necks and long sleeves. Hide the shoulders and everything else. Most women wore either black or white. Fashion became serious as women modernized. Although known for prudery, the Victorian age gave rise to another important era that would forever influence fashion – women’s rights.

During the mid-1800s in the US, some vital notions and ideas took shape. They influenced the future of fashion and life. Women should have equality to men, most importantly, they should have suffrage, or the right to vote. As the Victorian era ended and evolved into the Edwardian era, women convinced more people of their societal importance. As hemlines finally rose above the ankle in 1910, women readied themselves for a new era.

It all happened in 1920. Women in the USA received suffrage. The fashions changed to suit this modern woman and hemlines rose remarkably. The flapper girl became all the rage. She frequented night clubs. She drank and smoked. She worked. She voted. The flapper with her short midi skirt and sleeveless dress, not a gown, became the talk of the town. This intellectual in a drop-waist dress could Charleston with you one minute, then discuss politics over a drink. Satin and silk dresses became popular again, but the stock market crash in 1929 radically changed fashion in the USA and the world over.

The crash ruined many businesses. The wealthy suddenly had nothing and those they had employed had less. Fashion became less about parties and opulence and more about work clothes. The 1930s brought about new patterns for clothing based on the now large range of necklines, sleeve lengths, and hemlines. The dress also received new competition since the 1930s introduced pants for women.

War in the 1940s brought rationing but influenced women’s wear again since women now comprised most of the workforce. With most First World countries at war, the males of adult age fought. Women took over the efforts at home, running munitions plants, businesses, hospitals, schools, and much more. The women’s business suit came into vogue and never really went out of it. A-line skirts with a belt and blazers atop their dress suited the 1940s businesswoman. Once the war ended, ruche fabric and other playful touches joined the business suit and other dresses.

The 1950s introduced the popularity of tea-length dresses, especially for formal or semi-formal events. The House of Dior exerted the greatest influence and established itself as a lasting fashion icon brand.

The 1960s brought the sheath dress, made famous by then First Lady Jackie Kennedy. While the wealthy followed her lead, teens and 20-somethings chose the mod look with its mini-skirt lengths paired with chunky heels.

Short remained the length for decades. The 1970s through the 1990s used the mini length as their model for ideal fashion. The 80s added shoulder pads to virtually everything except bathing suits. Women began taking over boardrooms and felt the need to dress like a linebacker. The 1990s went minimalist in dress looks and length. The micro mini length became so popular Drew Barrymore wore it on the red carpet. The only place to find a full-length gown was a Cher concert or a fundraiser formal.

The backlash to that came in the early 2000s with the maxi dress. The schleppy look paired BoHo fabrics with an ankle-skimming skirt. Some women just said no and by 2015, the mini made it back. The new century also brought a fun vintage period in which designers brought back in some variation veritably every look imaginable. It’s your dress, so it’s your choice.

References