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Article by: Pat Giuliano

What do you do when you’ve tried on many wedding dresses, but can’t seem to find “The One”? If you’re tall and slim, well you could wear just about anything, and look great. It’s not so easy though when you’re a bit shorter, hourglass shaped, or even pear shaped. Not to mention being over a size 16, now that’s a challenge.

The way to tackle this is by first establishing the best silhouette for your figure. I will outline the best design options for different figure shapes, with the aim of helping brides who are not a standard size (in my opinion, that’s about 90% of us!)

Hourglass shape: This is where the bust and hips are in proportion, and there is a defined waistline. Typically a girl who is hourglass shaped is a size 14 or over, with a full bust and shapely hips. Contrary to popular opinion, girls of this shape are very often paranoid of their bust and would love to reduce its size! Also of concern are the shapely hips. Girls, I have great news for you! The majority of styles look great on hourglass figures, provided you stick to a few basic rules.

DO wear strapless gowns, they look fantastic on shapely girls! You will obviously need extra support in the bust area, but it is worth the effort. The best look is strapless at the neckline, with an A-line skirt. Also a straight-through gown is best, as opposed to a two-piece gown. The two-piece will tend to cut you in half, which can accentuate the hourglass shape.

If you’re not keen on strapless, a V-neckline is extremely flattering on a full bust. The V-shape should be fairly low (as low as you’re comfortable with), as a higher neckline actually makes the bust appear even bigger. A particularly flattering look is an off-the-shoulder V-neckline. A scooped, off-the-shoulder neckline is also very appealing.

The best silhouette for the skirt of the dress is A-line, and can be quite full. As for whether you should have a train at the back or not, that is a matter of choice.

The current styles which have lots of draping or ruching on them, are an excellent choice for an hourglass-shaped bride. Despite what many may think, draping is very good at disguising the not-so-good bits, which we all want to hide.

DON’T go for straight or bias-cut designs! They are strictly for the tall, slim, or generally size 10 girls. The only case in which these designs would work on an hourglass figure is if the girl is reasonably tall. I recently made a bias-cut cowl neck wedding dress for a size 14 girl, who was about 5 ‘ 11” tall, and the style worked really well on her. But on the whole, bias cuts are a no-no for shapely girls. They are too clingy and will only accentuate the parts that you would rather hide.

Also, avoid gathered or pleated skirts, as they add bulk around the hips.

Pear-shaped figure: Similar rules apply as the hourglass shape. The idea here is to balance the top half with the bottom half of the body.

DO wear strapless and A-line gowns, as they are an excellent choice for a pear-shaped girl. The off-the-shoulder scooped or V-neckline is also a very good choice, with an A-line skirt, as it helps to balance the figure. Two-piece gowns are a good choice for this figure shape, as the bust is smaller than the hips. You can have quite an elaborate corset bodice with an A-line skirt, and it creates the illusion that the figure is in proportion. I know this sounds odd, but it really works!

As with the hourglass figure shape, pear-shaped girls can certainly wear gowns with draping and ruching, provided it is with an A-line skirt silhouette. The best draping option here is diagonal draping as it is the most flattering. Go for detailing in the bodice, as it will serve as the focus of the dress.

DON’T choose straight or bias-cut designs. They look awful on a pear-shaped girl, no exceptions! Even tall pear-shaped girls should steer clear of bias-cuts and straight designs, as they simply cannot hide your hips.

Also, stay away from halter-neck gowns as this design actually gives the appearance of even bigger hips. Steer clear of full gathered or pleated skirts as well, as this look adds bulk to the hips.

The short, petite bride: If you’re shorter than 5’5”, and quite petite as well, you have a different set of challenges to deal with. Most people may think you can look good in just about anything, and you probably could. Your challenge is to choose the design silhouette that will look most flattering, given that you are small-framed.

DO wear off-the-shoulder gowns, scooped necklines, shoestring straps, and A-line skirt shapes. The best skirt shape is, in fact, a slight A-line, not too full. If the skirt is very full, you can almost look lost in the dress. The exception to this is the Cinderella gown, which is extremely full and can look very romantic and stunning on some girls. But this look isn’t for every petite bride. Being petite does mean you may need some padding in the bodice of the dress, to fill you out a bit. You do have many design options that would suit you, but beware of the ones that don’t work.

DON’T choose slim, straight gowns as you will disappear in them. If you prefer a straighter look, a good option is the mermaid skirt, which is fitted to the mid-thigh, then flares out.

Bias-cuts may fit you OK, but could have the effect of being too minimal as a wedding dress. One option is to have a full cathedral length veil, which acts as an addition to the dress. This can serve to make you look more like a bride! I find that many girls who are petite and want a slim styled dress don’t want a veil, but once they try one on, they fall in love with the look it creates.

The larger bride, over size 16: Girls who are a size 16 or over will probably struggle to find the perfect gown for them. To be quite frank, most designers put such girls in the “too hard” basket, and thus avoid making gowns in larger sizes as much as possible. It is a bit more challenging to find the right style for you, but with the right guidelines, you can truly look fabulous. You do need to be realistic about what will work for you, and realise that the size 10 model in the magazine will look good in anything. So just picking out a dress from a magazine that you love is most likely not going to work for you.

The idea is to choose designs that flatter your good bits, and hide your not-so-good bits. Here are some suggestions.

DO choose designs with minimal detailing, the less fuss the better. For example, a scooped, off-the-shoulder neckline, fitted to the hips with a slightly A-line skirt with or without a train is an excellent choice for a larger girl. You could have a V-neckline, and sleeves if you prefer (I know larger girls prefer some sort of sleeve, a small cap sleeve is a nice look). Two-piece gowns are often a good choice as well. But beware of the style if choosing a two-piece.

The best option is to go for a fitted bodice with some detailing on it, for example, light beading, or a light all-over lace, and an A-line skirt. Draped styles also look good, provided the drapes are diagonal, not horizontal.

DON’T go for full gathered or pleated skirts as it adds bulk to a larger girl. Straight styles can look good on a larger girl, provided she is reasonably tall. A short size 18 girl would be best advised to avoid straight styles though. Also strapless gowns mostly don’t suit large girls as the shoulders are usually sloped. If you have square-ish shoulders though, you could select a strapless gown (I know that most larger girls would never even consider a strapless gown though!) The main consideration with a strapless gown is the support needed to keep it up, which generally means it needs to be quite tight-fitting.

The best advice for larger girls is to choose a fabric you love and go for a simple, uncomplicated design. Choose nice trims or features to enrich the gown without making it fussy. For example, light beading on the neckline and hem; piping trim on the neckline; buttons and loops at the back; perhaps a contrasting fabric (like lace or organza) on the train.

In conclusion, I believe that every bride can and should look her best on her wedding day. Many, many girls nowadays are having their wedding gowns made, simply because they cannot buy a dress off-the-rack to fit or even suit them. Having your wedding dress made is certainly the best way to go, if you are not a standard size. Using these guidelines, you can certainly make the most of your assets, to ensure you look your absolute best on the biggest day of your life, your wedding day.


Pat Giuliano Couture
Pat Giuliano is a Melbourne based designer - couturier specialising in exquisite bridal gowns, bridesmaids dresses, and evening wear.

Website: www.patgiuliano.com.au

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