White dresses are associated with big events, big moments, big entrances. Very special gowns are often worn in white. Christening gowns, first communion dresses, wedding dresses…white dress styles seem to appear for all the biggest and most important events. But white dresses aren’t meant only for special events. There are lots of different types of white dresses and all of them can make an impact in any situation. Learn about different white dress styles, how to wear them, when to wear them and why they are so stunning when worn well.
The Meaning of White
Science tells us that certain colors have meanings. After all, haven’t you ever gotten “the blues” or been mad enough to “see red?” Have you ever been so frightened of something that it made you “yellow” or felt yourself practically “turning green” with envy? Colors are associated with moods, holidays, seasons, events and feelings. White is no exception.
White is often associated with purity, innocence, cleanliness or religious devotion. White is bright, shining, crisp and clean. It’s fresh, it’s dazzling, it stands out. White is considered to be the perfect starting canvas and often, it’s used to make other colors stand out and become more vibrant.
Types of White Dress Styles
Any type of dress can be white if it’s made with white fabric. For some dresses, you can bleach them to be white. However, this is a tedious process that doesn’t always turn dresses pure white. And while any dress can be white, there are some dress styles that appear in white more often than others. Which types of white dresses best suit your style and your body shape? How many of these common white dress styles have you worn…and which ones are you going to try wearing in the future?
1. Fit and flare
The fit and flare dress style is a shorter dress style, usually around knee-length or a few inches above, and it’s best known for being flattering on all body types. The fit and flare is designed to make your waist look smaller, emphasize your bust line and help give you more of an hourglass shape even as it helps to camouflage your rear end and thighs. Now you know why this dress looks so great on so many different types of bodies! In dazzling white, a fit and flare dress can become head-turning.
Fit and flare dresses are made with all types of necklines and sleeve lengths. It’s the fitted bodice and flaring skirt that define this dress. The fit and flare is named because it fits around the torso and then flares out from the hips to create an hourglass shape.
2. Maxi White Dress
Maxi dresses are lightweight, flowing dresses that are associated with bohemian, or boho, style. They’re often made with airy fabric. Maxi dresses are made with long, full skirts that are ankle- to floor-length. They can have any type of bodice, from loose to fitted designs. It’s the long skirt and airy look the defines maxi dress style.
This is a casual dress and in white, it’s perfect for any summer outing. A white maxi dress looks great on the beach or poolside. Maxi dress styles look good on any body type because the long, full skirt shows off the hips while obscuring the rear end and thighs. For many, the maxi dress is a favorite style.
Mermaid dresses are an extremely popular formal gown syle. This dress silhouette is sexy, elegant and a little bit fun, which makes it perfect for any formal or black tie occasion. Mermaid dresses hug the body from the bust to the knees, hugging your chest, waist, hips and rear end. From the knees, the skirt flares out in dramatic fashion to create a hem that almost looks ruffled. This is a very distinctive style that is seen at all special occasions, on the red carpet and at any formal event.
In bright white, mermaid dresses can create a truly stunning impression. If you really want to show off your figure, a white mermaid dress will most certainly do the trick. Mermaid styles are not flattering on all body types because they are so form-hugging. Women with pear-shaped or round bodies might not find the mermaid dress to be very flattering.
4. White Pencil Dress
Pencil dresses are about knee-length and they are form-fitting all over. The pencil dress is most notable for its skinny skirt, which fits very slim and snug on the hips and thighs. Pencil dresses make good office wear because of the longer length, but the body-hugging fit makes this style great for cocktail hour as well.
These dresses can be worn for date night, to dinner with friends, to a business meeting and anywhere else where you want to make a splash with your style and your figure. In white, pencil dresses have a stunning effect.
Pencil dress styles are good on curvy body types because they are so figure-flattering.
Sheath dress styles are popular office wear because they are sleek and elegant. Sheath dresses are straight dresses that fit snugly around the body to accentuate and show off every curve. Sheath dresses can be any length, from mini to knee-length. Sheath dresses are designed with multiple neckline and sleeve styles. In bright white, sheath dresses are good for office wear, lunch dates and all sorts of other occasions. These dresses can be styled any number of ways to be casual wear, semi-formal wear or even formal wear. Sheath dress styles are a type of bodycon dress, body-conforming, which means it fits tightly around every curve.
6. Shift White Dress Style
The shift dress is a straight style of dress that hangs right down the body from the shoulder to about the mid-thigh, though it can go as long as knee-length in some designs. The shift does not fit tight anywhere but it is not loose, either. It sort of skims over the figure. This is an extremely flattering dress style because it hides the waist and the tummy, areas you might not always want to show off. In white, shit dresses can be worn as casual, semi-formal or formal wear.
The shift is sleeveless and fits close, if not tight, making it the definition of a “little white dress,” the counterpart to the little black dress. Little white dresses are perfect for day events of all types and they look great when you want to make a style statement. Shift dresses are typically a mini dress style.
7. Shirt Dress
Shirt dresses are made to look like long shirts. These are casual dresses and may look like T-shirts, with a classic crewneck collar and short sleeves. Or, they may look like button-down, collared shirts. Shirt dresses can be worn loose or they can be worn with a belt to accentuate the waist. Shirt dresses look especially good in white because it sets off the shirt design. White is considered to be a classic, traditional color for both T-shirts and button-down shirts. This is almost always a short dress style.
8. Tea-length Dress in White
Tea-length dresses are a classic that harkens back to the late 1940s and 1950s. Tea-length dresses fall right around mid-calf and have a wide, full skirt that flares out from the waist. This is paired with a snug-fitting bodice that may have any type of neckline or sleeve length. The tea-length dress is flattering because it helps to create the look of an hourglass figure thanks to the flaring skirt.
The modest length makes the tea-length dress perfect for all occasions, even formal events. This dress was so popular in the 1950s, tea-length dresses still have a certain vintage charm to them that makes them a style mainstay. You just can’t go wrong with this style of dress. Because of its length, tea-length dresses are also a midi dress style.
Tunic dresses are short, mini dresses that fit somewhat straight and loose around the body. Typically, they are made with long sleeves and an open, shallow V-neck collar. These dresses are notable for their casual, bohemian style. Tunic dresses are often seen in white and off-white designs, which are usually embellished with embroidery, ribbons, beadwork or some other decoration.
The short length adds a little bit of sexiness to this dress style, while the looser fit is very forgiving on the figure. Tunic dresses are perfect for casual wear of all kinds but they are probably too casual to pass as office wear.
10. Wrap White Dress Style
Wrap dresses are worn in any length and they’re distinct for the way they wrap around the body, crisscrossing in the front. This design emphasizes the bustline, the waist and the hips, helping you make the most out of your shape. Wrap dresses are known for being flattering on any body type. These dresses actually grow and shrink a little with you as you gain and lose weight because of the wrap style. Since you wrap it around yourself, this dress will always fit as long as you have enough fabric to cover your body. Wrap dresses are often made with long sleeve designs, though they are made in a variety of styles, including off the shoulder looks.
These dresses make for great office wear. They can also be formal wear, semi-formal wear and casual wear, depending on how you style them. In stunning white, a wrap dress looks very elegant and dazzling. This is a beautiful dress for any occasion and as far as womens dresses go, this is one of the most forgiving and body-flattering styles you can wear. It’s probably the best white dress for a woman who isn’t sure which silhouettes will suit her shape. Wrap dresses are a perfect party dress style.
The White Wedding Dress
There is perhaps no white dress more famous than the white wedding dress. It’s such a big tradition for the bride to wear a white dress on her wedding day, no one else at the entire event is supposed to wear a white dress. That goes for all members of the bridal party but it also goes for every single guest, too. But how traditional is this tradition, and which white dress styles make for the best wedding dresses?
Throughout most of history, wearing a white wedding dress actually was not the custom. Women throughout the centuries typically wore their best gown when getting married, with most women not even having a special gown made for the event. Queens, however, are a different story.
Queens do have wedding gowns made, as did Queen Victoria when she got married in 1840. Victoria was Queen of England outright and she was marrying a handsome prince. To celebrate the event, she wore a huge white gown that would still be considered beautiful today. It had a tight-fitting bodice and a very wide, full, flaring skirt.
In fact, Victoria’s white wedding dress helped to cement two dress traditions: wearing white as a bride and the famous ball gown silhouette. Many consider the ball gown to be the perfect dress for wedding style. However, brides wear dresses in many other cuts and colors.
Since Victoria, many other royal English brides have worn impressive white dresses. Princess Diana’s dress with its long train is still famous. Kate Middleton wore a stunner of a white gown when she wed future King of England Prince William. And Meghan Markle opted for elegance in her simple white wedding dress during a lavish ceremony celebrating her marriage to Prince Harry. Royals have long represented the pinnacle of celebrity style and wedding dresses are no exception. Royal brides often set the trends for all other weddings that will follow them.
Types of Wedding Dresses
Wedding dresses don’t have to be white, though this has become the tradition. They also don’t have to adhere to any specific style. Brides wear all kinds of different wedding dresses, from short to long, from elaborate to simple. However, some silhouettes are seen much more frequently than others when it comes to wedding dresses. Do you prefer one of these common wedding dress styles?
The A line dress is seen at many formal events, including weddings. You see it on the red carpet often, too. That’s because this dress is big and eye-catching, especially in a bright white. The A line gown is named for the way it flares outward from the hips, growing wider and wider until it reaches full length. A line dresses are long gowns. They are named for their shape because the silhouette of the gown does resemble the letter A.
The wide skirt and flaring design make A line gowns flattering on all body types and it gives these dresses a fancy look that lends itself well to formal wear. A line wedding dresses are always in style.
The ball gown is arguably the most popular dress silhouette for wedding dresses. This is the dress style Queen Victoria herself wore when she first popularized the use of white for the wedding gown, a tradition that thousands of brides have since followed. The ball gown has a tight, fitted bodice. The skirt of the gown flares out very wide from the waist with voluminous skirts that are often made in layers to make the dress even bigger and fuller.
Because this style was worn by Victoria or perhaps because it looks so fanciful, this dress style is also sometimes called a princess gown. Usually, the ball gown is made with a strapless or spaghetti strap style that reveals the shoulder area.
Picking a Wedding Dress
Many other white dress styles are popularly worn by brides. Mermaid and tea length dresses are also common wedding dresses. Long sheath styles and many mini dress styles are also seen. It all depends on the bride’s style and the formality of the wedding itself. Any dress can be a white dress and it’s up to the bride to find the dress that’s just right for her.
The number of white dress styles you can wear is just about limitless since any dress can be a white dress. But it takes a certain expertise to wear a white dress well. Get the answers to the most common questions about wearing white dresses and get to know how to style yourself in white just like an expert. There’s a lot to know. Luckily, we have a lot of answers about the different types of white dresses.
What events call for white dresses?
Up until about the 1990s, the rules of wearing white were pretty strict. For a long time, it was a fashion mistake to wear white after Labor Day until Memorial Day, which made white off-limits from about September until June. Then, the rules stated that you couldn’t wear white shoes during this time period but white clothing was okay. After all, winter white looks just amazing.
These days, however, the rules of fashion are made to be broken. There are just a few remaining standards when it comes to wearing white. You can wear a white dress anywhere you want with just a few exceptions. White is fine for the office, for evening wear, for dinner dates and for all kinds of casual and semi-formal to formal occasions. However, you still should refrain from wearing white to a wedding unless you are, in fact, the bride. Wearing white to a funeral or a solemn event, such as a memorial service, is not strictly taboo but it’s a little tricky because it may send the wrong message. However, when styled and worn well, white dresses can look very appropriate even at more somber events.
By the way, you aren’t obligated to wear a white dress for a white tie dress code. White tie is actually the most formal of dress codes. This means that women should wear a full-length evening gown. However, it doesn’t have to be white.
White dresses are often worn for various special occasion events. The most famous of these is weddings, of course, but there are many other times that may call for the wearing of a white dress.
What’s the difference in dresses between white and ivory?
Colors are tricky, you know? Because seriously, does anyone actually know what chartreuse is? How about vermillion? What the heck is that? It seems like white should be pretty simple. But if white is white…then what’s ivory? It’s time to finally figure out what the difference is between white and ivory, if there even is one. So…is there?
If you were to hold a white dress up next to an ivory dress, you would see a difference. White is bright and dazzling. It reflects a lot of light; so much, in fact, that ivory is a softer and somewhat darker shade, with yellowish undertones. Ivory looks a bit like aged white, if that makes sense. Ivory may also be billed as “eggshell.” It simply looks like white but with more creaminess, more richness. It is very difficult to tell the difference between the two, so it’s quite easy to mix up the shades.
Are there different shades of white? Which one should you be wearing?
Isn’t white just…white? Well, if you’ve ever tried to buy light bulbs then you know it can get a lot more complicated than that. There are actually different shades of white and not all of them will look good on you. The secret to wearing white dresses is to find the right white for your skin tone.
For the main part, there are two kinds of white: warm white and cool white. It’s the same way with lightbulbs, right? If you have a cool skin tone, which means your skin has a bluer undertone, then you can wear bright, cool whites. This is the white that almost looks blue in very bright light. That’s because this white has a blue undertone to it as well, and that’s why it’s so suited to cool skin tones.
If you have a warmer skin tone, which means you have a more greenish or yellow undertone, you should look for a warmer white. This white has a more yellow undertone and looks a little softer than cool white.
If you don’t know what type of skin tone you have, just test it out. Go to a store and pick out two similar white dresses, one in a cool white and one in a warmer white. Try each on and you’ll see which one is more flattering to your natural coloring.
How do you keep a white dress looking clean and white?
Most people don’t wear white because it’s just so hard to keep clean. White looks dirty if you get even a speck of something on you. And if you spill food or drink on yourself, forget about it. Keeping white clean and cleaning it properly to keep it bright white is a little trickier than just throwing everything in the washing machine with bleach. When it comes to keeping your white dress styles clean, it’s going to take more work than that.
There are some tricks that can help you keep your whites nice and bright. First, stain-treat any white clothing before you wash it if there are visible food and drink spills or grime. Run the fabric under cold water to rinse it as much as you can and apply stain remover to the fabric before you wash it.
If whites start to look yellowish or grayish, add about a half cup of white vinegar to the washing machine when you wash them. Wash whites only with other whites. When you do, add a little bit of baking soda to the washing machine every time. This will keep whites white and keep them from getting that gray or yellow tint to them.
Can you wear a white dress as a wedding guest?
Though some rules of fashion are made to be broken, this one isn’t. It’s still considered to be a huge faux pas to wear white if you are a wedding guest. At a wedding, the color white is reserved for the bride. Even if you’re very sure that the bride herself is not wearing a white dress, you should still refrain from wearing this color as a guest. In every other place or event you go to, however, you can wear a white dress.
Is it acceptable to wear a white dress to a funeral?
Though it’s most common to wear black, you can wear white to a funeral if this is your preference. Style it with darker or neutral shoes and accessories and perhaps add a dark sweater or jacket on top of it. In some countries, it’s actually the custom to wear white to the funeral, rather than black.
What color shoes can you wear with a white dress?
Finding the right shoes to wear with a white dress isn’t always easy. It seems that you should be able to match literally any color to white but this isn’t the case. Metallics, pastels and jewel tones typically pair very well with white. Navy, black and brown are a little more difficult to match to white. Play with different combinations to see which colors work best for you.
Will your white wedding dress still stand out if you have white bridal party dresses?
Many brides choose to put their bridal party in white dresses. Bridal party dresses are often less elaborate than the bride’s dress, so the bride still stands out as separate from the rest of the bridal party. Remember that Kate Middleton had her sister, Pippa, wear a white gown, so clearly it doesn’t hurt to have a bridesmaid in white. Years later, Pippa Middletown marched down the aisle in a gorgeous lace dress in an A line silhouette. It’s still the second most famous white dress she’s ever worn.
How do you style and accessorize a white dress?
Accessorizing a white dress can be a lot of fun because it is a blank canvas for you to play with. You can play around with different colors to create a great overall look. A white dress looks great with metallic and colored jewelry but it can be difficult to wear pearls or white jewelry. You want to avoid wearing a lot of white accessories with a white dress, including white shoes, so you don’t end up looking like a bride.
Wearing black with a white dress can also be tricky but it does create great contrast. The trick is to include some black in the outfit itself, not just in the shoes and jewelry. Pair it with a black belt, a scarf or a jacket. This will pull the look together. You can also play around with a denim jacket or a leather jacket for a more casual look.
When it comes to picking shoes, you can wear just about anything you like. Flat sandals work great with casual dresses like maxi dress styles, tunic dresses, T shirt dress styles and other casual designs. You can play around with different type heels as well, from sandals with heels to stilettos.
When is the best time of year to shop for a white wedding dress?
In order to make sure the dress fits and to get all the wedding planning done, experts recommend finding a wedding dress six to nine months before the date of the wedding. You’ll need time for alterations and to choose the rest of your wedding decor. You want the entire wedding and reception to look good with you and your dress, after all.
If you’re looking to get the best selection of wedding dresses, many shops will begin stocking new styles in January. These are gowns that are arriving in shops ahead of April fashion week, so this will be a time when the latest styles are available.
Are white dresses flattering?
Anyone can wear a white dress. This is a flattering look if you choose a type of dress that flatters your figure and a shade of white that will suit your skin tone. The way you style the dress also matters. For example, if you look better in warmer colors because of your warm skin tone, style your white dress with accessories and additions in shades of red, pink, yellow and orange. When it comes to dressing to flatter yourself, stick to silhouettes that look good with your body type and color shades that match your skin tone.
Should the flower girl at a wedding wear a white dress?
Many brides choose to put their flower girls in white, and often in dresses that are similar in style to the bride’s wedding dress itself. Another option is to put the flower girl in a dress that’s similar to the dresses worn by the bridal party. If you’re not sure, go online and look at pictures of wedding parties. What do you like more: the flower girl in a white dress or in another color dress? What you like in other people’s pictures will be what you like in your own.
How can you wear a white dress with sneakers?
It’s actually pretty common to see white dresses paired with sneakers. This is actually a common sight in cities where people do a lot of walking. There are lots of ways to make this look cute. First, choose sneakers that aren’t clunky or bulky. Choose simple styles that fit well. If you’re wearing white sneakers with a white dress, add a jacket in a different color or use accessories in different colors to break up all the white. Another cute option is to wear colorful sneakers that will play against the white of the dress.
How do you know if your white dress is see-through?
So, there’s another problem with wearing white dresses: they can be a lot easier to see through than dresses in literally any other color. You may think you’re looking stylish and then step out of your house only to learn way too late that actually, everyone can see right through your dress. Some indoor lighting won’t show you what happens when you walk outside and some indoor lighting is very soft. When you end up in another indoor environment with harsher lighting, your dress practically disappears.
Solve the problem by wearing the right undergarments. Your bra, underwear and anything else you’re wearing should be a neutral color. Don’t wear white undergarments because then you really could look naked. Neutral undergarments in shades of beige, on the other hand, will cover your bits but won’t show through a white dress. You can also wear shapewear, which will give you some coverage, or a slip. This will keep light from shining through your dress and revealing too much of you.
Why are white dresses worn for first communion?
The First Holy Communion is a Catholic ritual that marks the occasion of the first time a child receives the sacrament of the Eucharist. This is also known as Communion, that moment during the church service when the worshippers receive small amounts of food and beverage that symbolizes the blood and body of Christ. First Holy Communion usually happens around age seven.
For this event, girls wear white dresses. The color white is a symbol of purity, so the dress is very important. The communion dress is usually knee- to calf-length and may be simple or ornate, depending on the child and their caregiver or caregivers. Often, white veils are also worn as part of the outfit though sometimes, white hair accessories are used instead. Dresses are typically conservative in style and made with sleeves, as bare arms are not appropriate. Gloves are sometimes worn as well, though this is usually left up to the church to decide.
Girls celebrating their quinceanera also typically wear white dresses. This is an important event in Mexican, Caribbean and Latin American cultures that occurs when a girl turns 15. The quinceanera is a rite of passage that marks her beginning as a young woman and is no longer a girl. White dresses are worn here again to represent purity. However, not all cultures wear white dresses. They are the most common for the quinceanera but in some cultures, other colors are worn instead.
Is it traditional to wear white dresses at graduation?
Look at graduation photos from the late 1800s and early 1900s and you may begin to notice that in many of them, the women are wearing white dresses. Some schools actually required female graduates to wear white gowns at the graduation ceremony. At the Oak Park and River Forest High School in Illinois, this was a tradition for more than a century. Students did not revert to the more traditional cap and gown until 2019. [Source: Oak Park River Forest Museum]
White dresses were also required wear for graduates at Spelman College beginning in 1900. To this day, students are required to wear white clothing for special events at the college, including graduation. Their dress code specifics that clothing but be “true white,” not off-white, not cream, not ivory but true white. [Source: Spelman College]
This may have been a tradition because, again, white represents purity. Graduating students are in a sense children who have now become adults. They are going out into the world. The white is a visual symbol of their innocence of adult life. Most schools these days allow students to wear what they want in any color they choose for ceremonies like graduation, but there are still pockets of this tradition to be found.
Will wearing a white dress make you look washed out?
Can wearing white make you look washed out? This is a phenomenon that happens when the light from your clothing is reflected onto your face and hair, which can dull your natural coloring. This makes you look paler overall, which may not be what you’re going for. So if you wear a bright, dazzling white that draws a lot of light toward your face and hair, this can make you look paler.
The way to combat this is first, wear the right shade of white. This will help to flatter your skin tone rather than wash you out. You can also wear accessories close to your face that will add color right where you need it and counterbalance the whiteness of your clothing. Colorful earrings, a necklace or a scarf will bring color in around your face to help you avoid getting washed out.
- Almanac – Why Are Wedding Dresses White?
- Brides – This Is the Best Time to Buy Your Wedding Dress
- Emily Post – Attire Guide: Dress Codes from Casual to White Tie
- Encyclopedia Britannica – quinceañera
- The Knot – The 52 Best Celebrity Wedding Dresses of All Time
- The Knot – White vs. Ivory: What’s the Difference?
- Live Science – How 8 Colors Got Their Symbolic Meanings
- Love to Know – Rules for Wearing White
- Martha Stewart – 6 Tips for Choosing a Flower Girl Dress
- Our Everyday Life – The Proper Attire for a Girl’s First Holy Communion
- Tide – Laundry Tip of the Day: How to Keep White Clothes White
- What Every Woman Needs – My life, my style: In the mood for a white wardrobe
- WhoWhatWear – Is Your White Dress See-Through? Wear These Underneath
- WikiHow – How to Wear White Dresses
- Woman & Home – What color suits me? How to pinpoint the most flattering shades for you