As you begin shopping for your dress, you might feel inundated with industry terms and mystifying descriptions. What on earth does a "Chantilly lace strapless dropped waist bodice" mean anyway? Don't let the bridal lexicon overwhelm you. This glossary breaks down the lingo.


From a short bodice to a low flare of the skirt, wedding dresses can vary widely—but don't let all the choices get you bent out of shape. These terms describe the basic shape of the overall dress, and will help you choose the correct silhouette for your body type.

  • A-line: In this style, a fitted bodice gradually flares from the waist and provides a flattering look for most body types.
  • Ball Gown: A fitted bodice flares from the waist into a very full skirt that sweeps to the floor; a romantic and dramatic style.
  • Empire: A tight, short and raised bodice that hits below the bust and gives way to a slim skirt; this versatile style is known for hiding the stomach, emphasizing the bust and creating an illusion of length.
  • Trumpet: This dramatic style hugs the body until the top of the thighs or knees, where it gives way to a dramatic low flare of a skirt; also known as Mermaid or Fish-Tail style, depending on where the skirt flares out.
  • Sheath: A form-fitting dress with no tapered waistline; contours to your natural shape.

Bodice and Waist

The bodice, which ends at the waist, is the centerpiece of the dress. These terms apply to the top of your wedding dress, before the skirt begins.

  • Basque: Flattering for most body types, this tight, form-fitting bodice creates a V-shape chest (the bottom of the V being your waist); offers the much-coveted hourglass shape.
  • Dropped: A straight waistline that stops three to five inches below your natural waistline; adds height.
  • Blouson: A gently gathered waistline at or below your natural waistline; creates a soft fullness.


Your shoulders, arms and bust will determine what neckline works best for your walk down the aisle. These terms apply to the top of your dress.

  • Bateau: Also known as Boat or Sabrina, this style runs straight across, right below your collarbone to the tips of your shoulders.
  • Cowl Neck: Fabric drapes loosely around the neck, creating a romantic, gathered look at the bust; can be designed high or low at the bust.
  • Dipped: This neckline is slightly curved above each breast, but is not as dramatic as the Sweetheart style.
  • Halter: The bodice ends in straps that fasten around the back of you neck; ideal for tall brides with broad shoulders.
  • Plunging: A dramatic neckline that drops to the middle of the chest or lower.
  • Portrait: A wide, soft and shawl-like style that wraps from one tip of the shoulder to the other tip; showcases the collarbone and can extend off the shoulders for dramatic flair.
  • Scalloped: Curves of fabric line the neckline; can be incorporated into other styles, for example, a "scalloped sweetheart neckline."
  • Scoop: This classic neckline will take the shape of a U, and can be either modest or dramatic.
  • Sweetheart: The neckline is shaped like the top of a heart, with a curve over each breast dipping to a V in the middle. Suits heavy-chested brides and will make the neck look longer.


Many wedding dress styles have no sleeves at all. For those that do, these terms may apply.

  • Balloon: Large, full sleeves that start off as a large pouf of fabric at the shoulder and upper arm; can balloon down to the wrist or go slender from elbow to wrist.
  • Bell: Fabric is tight from shoulder to elbow, and then flares out to the wrist.
  • Bishop: Romantic and ethereal, this full sleeve extends at the elbow and finishes off with gathered fabric at the wrist.
  • Capped: Snug, rounded short sleeves that barely cover the arms; often made with lace or other semi-transparent material.
  • Leg of Mutton: A full pouf of fabric sits near the shoulder and tapers to a tight forearm.


The fabric that trails behind you is a stunner on the aisle, but varying types depend on personality and practicality.

  • Brush: The shortest train; attaches to your waist and just barely "brushes" the floor. Despite its simplicity, the brush is offered in several dramatic and exquisite styles.
  • Bustle: Ideal for the practical bride; this long train can will flow behind you during the ceremony, but can be gently gathered to the back of your dress to allow you to walk or dance with ease.
  • Cathedral: A dramatic, lengthy style that will boost your wedding photos, this train cascades down and extends up to six feet behind you. Often comes with a detachable or bustle option.
  • Chapel: Slightly shorter than the Cathedral, extending about three feet behind you; offers both drama and functionality.
  • Court: Slightly shorter than the Chapel, this train begins at the waist and descends just to the floor or one foot behind you.
  • Watteau: The train is attached at the shoulders, rather than the waist.

Hem Length

Short, long—or both? Knowing these terms will help you choose the proper length for your gown.

  • Ballerina: The hem falls right above the ankles.
  • Floor: Simple to remember: The hem appears to touch the floor. Technically, it falls one-half to one-and-a-half inches above the floor—showing just the tips of your shoes.
  • Intermission: The hem falls mid-calf in front and to the floor in back; also known as a "hi-lo" skirt.
  • Mini: A flirty style with a hem that ends right above the knees.
  • Street: A hem that barely covers the knees.
  • Tea: The hem falls at mid-calf, ideal for outdoor, beach or casual ceremonies.


The overall look of a bridal gown is largely based on its fabric. Silk remains the most sought-after, but other fabrics remain classics for specific styles and seasons.

  • Brocade: This heavy fabric containing a raised and sculpted design is perfect for fall or winter nuptials.
  • Chantilly: This delicate mesh lace is typically embellished with flowers.
  • Chiffon: Light and sheer, this transparent fabric is often layered with other fabrics, such as silk, rayon cotton or polyester.
  • Crepe: For brides looking for texture, crepe provides a soft, slightly crinkled surface.
  • Organza: Crisp, nearly translucent fabric that contains a tight weave.
  • Satin: Smooth, heavy and shiny, satin is a long-honored bridal fiber.
  • Silk: Soft and fine silk rules the roost of bridal fabric, and is available in a variety of colors.
  • Taffeta: Add rustle to your movements with this crisp yet smooth fabric.
  • Tulle: This stiff netting adds volume and pouf.