Why does a groom need to know about wedding dresses? It’s not like there isn’t already enough for you to worry about. Ball gowns, sheath dresses, A-line and tea length– it’s a ton of stuff to get straight in one’s head–even for your bride, and she is spending a lot more time thinking about it than you are. So why should you devote and brain space to learning about wedding dresses?
On the day of your wedding, guests will be focused on three things, in this reverse order: your epic and glorious love story (third); the food (second); and first—the dress, always the dress. Whether fashion interests you or not, as a groom participating in the wedding, you are sharing a spotlight with the stars of the show, your bride and her wedding dress. Given the strong emotions invested in the dress, and the high stakes placed on choosing the proper one, it would be nice for you to know enough to be able to hold a conversation about it with the bride-to-be.
Also, as we’ve pointed out elsewhere, the bride’s choice of dress will help determine what you wear to the wedding, what the rest of the wedding party wears, and to a certain degree what even the guests wear.
So now you’re in wedding prep mode—your fiancé will begin dress shopping, you might get asked questions, or be used as a sounding board, so educate yourself. Don’t be the guy humoring your fiancee and blindly agreeing to whatever she’s considering. Do you want her spending the rest of her life regretting some capped sleeves that you could have talked her out of? No one’s saying you have to be an expert, but man M up, educate yourself, and get an opinion on sweetheart necklines–or GTFO.
The dress will be expensive
Wedding dresses are expensive, and that is not your fiancés fault. Herchampagne tastes aren’t negating the agreed-upon beer budget. This is the fault of the wedding industrial complex that prays off the patriarchal insistence that a women’s most important moment in her life will be as a bride, and doubles down on the common practice of over charging for traditionally feminine products (see: pink tax), and is then re-enforced by the media. Didn’t think there would be quite this much feminism in this a groom’s wedding dress guide, did you? Well, you thought wrong. The point is, if the dress is white and fancy, the price skyrockets—so make peace with that. Now let’s learn about what styles your bride may shell out the big bucks for.
The four basics of wedding dress style are: silhouette, sleeve, neckline, and embellishments
When it comes to knowing about dress styles, the first decision a bride will likely encounter is silhouette — this is, essentially, the shape of the dress. Is it puffy, sexy, simple, short, long?
Next, any of the aforementioned shapes could be paired with a number of sleeve or strap options, options such as: strapless, sleeveless, short sleeved, long sleeved, spaghetti straps, cap sleeves, and on and on.
Then there’s neckline, which have options such as: plunging, scooped, sweetheart, square, one shouldered, and more.
And finally, there’s details like beads, brocade, lace, and trains.
These are the basic elements that make up a wedding dress, certain combinations of these elements are what make a dress look romantic, bohemian, sleek, sexy, bad (as in good), or bad (as in bad). These options will be what your bride considers when shopping.
Likely, the biggest decision will be the silhouette, this is because it reflects the style and personality of the bride and the wedding.
If your gal is pretty laid back, she likely won’t want to spend this special day in a big dress that makes her feel like a cupcake. If your wedding is in an upscale reception hall, a shorter hem may feel out of place. If you’re marrying a provocative woman who can start a conversation simply with her presence, you probably won’t see her in a classic A-Line walking down the aisle. (What’s an A-Line you ask? Well, read on.)
These are the more classic, and the more commonly seen, dress shapes, great for both standard and upscale weddings. Truly the diamond rings of dresses.
Perhaps the most classic style is an A-Line, universally flattering, this style is slim on top with a skirt that gradually flairs. The A Line dress is a nice Italian restaurant for date night, it’s “At Last” by Etta James, it’s Johnny Walker — it’s the absolute time-honored crowd pleaser that won’t let you down. There’s also a modified A Line, that reads a little more modern because the skirt is a bit tighter in the area right before it flares, for a little more wiggle wiggle…classy wiggle wiggle that is.
A ball gown has a fitted bodice with a dramatic skirt, think: Disney Princess. If your beloved has spoken of a “fairytale wedding”, this might be what you’ll see coming down the aisle. This is a dress that demands attention, brings drama, and owns a room—it’s usually purchased by a woman that demands attention, brings drama, and owns a room. If your bride wears a ballgown then by God man, swirl her across that dance floor, she needs that swirl!
In stark opposition to a ballgown, is the clean and minimal sheath. This is a slim cut dress that follows the body’s natural shape. It’s simple, and usually a little bit sexy. This is for a woman who, in her day to day life, dresses purely to amplify her natural charms. It is truly the sparkling white wine of dresses, clean, simple, with a little fizzle, and like a white wine which can be sweet, dry, fruity, or crisp, the sheath can really be transformed through added details, like beads, lace or accessories, or simply left pure.
This one’s not hard to guess. No, your bride will not be wearing a bikini top and a tail, nor will she sell her voice for a chance at true love to a sassy sea witch whose character was actually drawn to look like famed drag queen: Divine. (Actually, maybe she will, I don’t know your fiancé).
A mermaid style means that the dress is slim through the bodice and hips, then the skirt flares out around the knees, similar to the style of a mermaid tail. This dress is glamorous in an old Hollywood, Billie Holiday sings the blues kind of way, while simultaneously invoking the sex appeal of a Sofia Vergara-type. There’s also a trumpet style dress which is somewhere between a modified A Line and a mermaid, meaning the skirt flares at the mid thigh rather than at the knee.
Having little to do with wasted empires like the Roman Empire (because they drank a lot…wasted empire…you get it), this dress means that the waist line is higher than most other dress styles, being nipped in just below the bust-line, causing the skirt to start flowing from higher up. This silhouette is very popular for maternity dresses (though not exclusively), so if you’re having the ever popular shotgun style wedding, this could be very flattering for your bride. Or if your bride plans to eat a food baby amount of cake at the reception, this will also work.
A tea-length dress has a skirt that hits just below the knees, because, as I’m sure you guessed, you wouldn’t wear a floor length dress to tea, that’d be nuts—but why am I telling you things you already know? This style tends to have a retro feel to it, it’s a bit of a quirky choice, that can read unique without a big fuss or statement. If your lady is into the tea-length look, I wouldn’t be surprised if you had say, met her at a She and Him concert, or hey, maybe she loves the vibes of the early 60s (the fashion, not the sexism), or maybe her calves constantly overheat and she needs to air them out, no judgement, cool those calves babe.
A bride with more contemporary leanings may be be more inclined to stray outside the box of common bridal wear, this type of bride may also have a lot of thoughts on the wedding industrial complex and will have appreciated my earlier paragraph alluding to pink taxes and the patriarchy.
A jumpsuit is like a dress, only the bottom is pants. Easy peasy. The wedding jumpsuit is a growing trend among young hip brides, see: Solange Knowles. This is for the cool offbeat bride who believes looking chill and funky fresh is worth the struggle it will take to pee after every flute of champagne, (or whatever it is that cool jumpsuit girls drink at weddings).
If your first dance is to something very indie, expect the jumpsuit. If your wedding is in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, expect the jumpsuit. If your first date was at a movie theater that served cocktails themed to the movie playing, and all the movies at the theater featured Timothee Chalamet, expect the jumpsuit. And finally, if her sister is Beyonce, expect that jumpsuit.
Separates are multiple pieces, like a shirt and skirt, or a suit. Separates, like the jumpsuit, are a growing trend, this is also a popular look if the style of the wedding is more casual. Separates could be a lot of different looks, a top and a long skirt, a three piece suit, a skirt, top and cape, the possibilities go on and on. Therefore this could be for a bride who just wants to keep her look and the ceremony low key, or this is for a bride who wants to stay unexpected, and surprising. Either way, If your girl’s style icon is Tilda Swinton, and her club jam is “Picasso Baby”, then you may want to be prepared for separates. It’s a look that’s both low maintenance and attention grabbing.
This style is a skirt that is shorter than a tea length, it falls above the knee. Again, this is likely for a more casual ceremony, and it also most likely means that your bride has great legs and she needs to show ‘em. So tell her to Naomi Campbell down that aisle, STRUT GIRL, STRUT.
Most necklines are fairly self explanatory, (i.e. scoop, square, one shoulder), however, there are a few types where the explanation is not immediately obvious:
A Sweetheart neckline goes across the chest then dips at the center of the bust to form a heart-like shape.
A Queen Anne neckline refers to a high collar in the back, with a scoop or v neck in the front of the dress.
A Bateau neckline follows the curve of the collar bone almost to the tip of the shoulders, and is cut straight across.
A Jewel neckline is rounded just below the collarbone.
A Halter has straps that wrap around the back of the neck with a deep arm hole.
An Illusion neckline means that a piece of sheer fabric, sometimes embellished, covers the chest when the main fabric of the dress has a lower neckline.
A plunging neckline, plunges–boy howdy does it plunge.
As with necklines, there are sleeve choices that explain themselves quite easily,( long, short, sleeveless), but there are other styles you may not know.
A Cap sleeve is a very short sleeve that hangs from the shoulder but has no fabric under the arm.
A Flutter sleeve has a ruffled effect or the fabric falls in folds over the upper arm.
A Bell sleeve is a full sleeve that opens and flares at the cuff, and is bell-like in shape.
An Illusion sleeve, like the illusion neckline, uses sheer fabric rather than the fabric the majority of the dress consists of.
A bishop sleeve is full through the arm, then cuffs at the wrist.
A puff sleeve is a short sleeved style that puffs at the shoulder, however, if the sleeve is long with a puff at the shoulder it is called a Juliette sleeve.
Now that you know more than you’ll likely ever need to know about silhouette, neckline and sleeves, you should give thought to embellishments. Clean and embellishment-free dresses have never been more popular: chalk it up to millennials loving minimalism, and Meghan Markle’s dress.
That said, popular wedding dress embellishments include lace, ruffles, appliqué flowers, beads, and brocade (a rich fabric, usually silk, woven with a raised pattern).
And of course, there are the extras, the very wedding specific details of trains (the fabric that trails behind longer gowns) and veils, the delicate fabric headpiece sometimes used to cover the face.