A Girl’s Guide to Any Style of Dress
As girls, we know that the word “dress” is deceptively simple. There’s no such thing as just a “dress,” and instead, this word represents dozens of different styles of skirts, bodices, colors, styles, waistlines, necklines and embellishments that are as different from one another as night and day. And sure, a maxi dress and a cocktail dress technically both fall into this same overarching category, but in reality, they couldn’t be more different from one another.
Whether you’re looking to buy a dress for a specific upcoming event and wanting to look and feel your best, or whether you’re just looking to upgrade your wardrobe with some new pieces this season, it pays to understand the world of dresses. It helps you have a better grasp of what’s out there, as well as which styles you like. This knowledge helps you narrow your search and have an easier time finding the pieces you’ll love to wear.
To help you learn more about the fascinating and expansive world of dresses, we’ve put together this guide to dresses — including popular designs and tips on how to style them. Armed with this guide, you’ll be ready to rock any style of dress you choose.
Women’s Dress Styles
Just what is an A-line dress anyway? What about a trapeze dress? And what in the world is a body-con dress? If you’ve ever wondered questions like these, we’ve got your back. Consider this your guide to every style of dress you might encounter the next time you're looking for boutique dresses online.
- The A-line dress: The A-line dress is one of those perfect dresses that looks great on just about everyone, and works for almost any occasion. This style fits closely at your natural waist before flaring out gently to form a slightly triangular-shaped skirt that looks a bit like the capital letter ‘A.’ These dresses can be full-length but are more often knee-length.
- The apron dress: This dress looks similar to an apron, which is where the name comes from. The bodice has a bib-like top that’s held up by ties around the waist as well as straps that are a close cousin to halter-straps. These dresses are also often backless and may be full-skirted or mid-length.
- The babydoll dress: These dresses were originally designed as nightgowns, and they still have that look to them. They feature waistbands that rest just below the bust, flowing, short skirts and short — often puffed — sleeves that result in a childlike and girly appearance.
- The ball gown: These are evening gowns, designed to be worn at the most formal events, such as proms and weddings. Most of us won’t have occasion to wear these dresses in our daily lives, but in those rare moments we do get to wear them, there’s nothing more elegant and fun. These gowns can feature any style of waist or neckline, but their defining feature is their full floor-length skirt.
- The blouson dress: These dresses feature a skirt and bodice that are connected but designed to give the appearance of separation, and almost to mimic the look of a blouse tucked into a skirt. These dresses can be maxi-length or mid-length and are great for formal events such as weddings, parties and elegant dinners.
- The body-con dress: These dresses are highly form-fitting and constructed from stretchy material that's designed to hug your body. They’re usually short to mid-length and can feature any type of sleeves or neckline. These will most often be worn to a party, a dance or a bar rather than around town during the day.
- The cape dress: For sheer drama and style, there’s nothing quite like the cape dress. These dresses feature a cape-like piece integrated into the dress itself and draped over the upper body. The skirt itself can be long or short, and form-fitting or flowy, but this cape element is what sets these dresses apart from all the rest.
- The drop-waist dress: These dresses carry a 1920s vibe, bringing to mind flappers and Gatsby-style parties. They’re easily distinguished by their low and loose waist-line, typically resting at the hip points and elongating the torso. These dresses are usually knee-length or a little longer and end in a ruffled or pleated skirt.
- The empire-waist dress:Empire-waist dresses can feature any type of sleeves or neckline, but are distinctive for their unusual waistline which rests just below the bust, a little above the natural waist. Skirts can be mid-length, but will usually be floor-length.
- The fringe dress: This dress is relatively self-explanatory and easy to pick out of a crowd because it’s decorated with fringe on the skirt and bodice. These dresses are typically short, with straps instead of sleeves, and are often worn to parties, dances and other lively evening events.
- The halter dress: These dresses are well-known for their halter neckline, a style that is created by straps that fasten behind the neck. This neckline can be paired with any type of skirt or waistline.
- The layered dress: Layered dresses are unusual because of the way they almost feature two dresses in one. There will be the primary dress, and layered over top of that will be additional fabric that’s typically flowy, sheer and made to show off the first dress underneath.
- The maxi dress: This is a style we’re likely all familiar with. These dresses are long, reaching down to the ground, but they’re not designed for formal events like ball gowns. These tend to be casual, and perfect for running errands, grabbing coffee or just hanging out at home.
- The midi dress: This term doesn't describe a style of dress as much as it describes the length of a dress. Midi dresses are those that fall somewhere between the knees and mid-calf. They can be body-hugging or loose, strapless or long-sleeved, or any other style. What sets these apart is simply the length.
- The mini dress: Mini dresses are all about short skirts ending at the mid-thigh. Depending on how the rest of the dress is styled, these can be casual and perfect for lunch dates, or formal enough to wear to prom.
- The off-shoulder or one-shoulder dress: These names do an excellent job of describing these dresses. Off-shoulder dresses are typically strapless, with a layer of fabric across the chest and circling the arms, giving the appearance of sleeves that have simply slipped down to your upper arms. One-shoulder dresses are designed with a strap or piece of fabric over one shoulder while the other shoulder remains bare.
- The peplum dress: What distinguishes these dresses is the extra row of ruffles called a peplum that crosses the waist. These bodices are usually attached to a body-hugging skirt. These dresses are often strapless as well, although they don’t have to be.
- The sheath dress: Sheath dresses are designed to gently skim your figure, not hugging it, but suggesting the lines of it. The fabric rests close to the body without clinging and is shaped by darts and princess seams to keep it closely aligned with the natural lines of your body.
- The shift dress: Shifts are loose-fitted garments that women used to wear under their dresses or to sleep in, and these shift dresses bear a striking resemblance to this old-fashioned garment. They’re loose-fitting and typically designed to fall in a straight line from the shoulders directly to the hem.
- The shirt dress: It isn’t hard to see where these dresses get their name. They’re shaped like shirts, often imitating either button-down or t-shirt styles, but are longer than a typical shirt and usually reach the mid-thighs. These dresses tend to be more casual, but can be dressed up for more formal or professional occasions.
- The strapless dress: A strapless dress can have any type of skirt or waistline, but is set apart from other dresses by the fact that it has no straps or sleeves, and is instead held up by the bust alone.
- The sundress: This is a broad category that describes any dress designed to be worn in warm weather. Sundresses can be long or short, but they tend to use bright colors or patterns, light fabrics, and flowy skirt designs. Straps are often thin, and sleeves are short, as the wearer is usually trying to stay cool in hot weather.
- The trapeze dress: When it comes to comfort, nothing beats the trapeze dress. These dresses hang loose from the shoulders down to the hem, with no waistline. These can be long or short, with any type of sleeves or straps. Because they’re so loose and unshaped, they tend to be seen as more informal.
- The wrap dress: These dresses commonly have a v-neck and ties around the waist which are designed to be secured together to form a cinched waist. Rather than being pulled on over the head or the hips, these dresses open in the front and are pulled over the arms before being wrapped around the body and tied at the waist.
How to Style Women’s Boutique Dresses
If you’re like many of us, you might have a sundress, a maxi dress or a strapless dress hidden away in your closet that you’ve never worn because you aren’t quite sure how to style it. If this sounds like you, then now’s the perfect time to change things. Here are our best tips for styling any type of dress.
1. It’s All About the Shoes
Shoes can transform a dress, making a casual dress look more dressy and turning a fancy dress into appropriate day wear. If you’re looking to keep something more relaxed and informal, go for flat strappy sandals or ballet flats. If you’re looking to dress something up, try a high-heel. High heels also work great with mini dresses, while flats are a perfect choice for midi dresses. If you’ve got a dress in your closet and you can’t figure out how to style it, start by finding the perfect shoe and build up from there.
2. Think About the Jewelry
Jewelry is at the center of any discussion regarding accessories, but remember that a little bit goes a long way. When trying to choose the right jewelry for your dress, think about the style of dress and what pieces would best go with this style. For example, if you’re wearing a strapless dress, your throat and shoulder might look empty. A necklace will be the perfect choice here. Does your dress feature short sleeves and bare arms? Try adding a bracelet.
3. Hair up or Down?
The way you wear your hair can also totally transform the character of a dress. The secret to knowing the best way to wear your hair with a particular dress? It’s all about the neckline. If the dress features a higher neckline, especially if the dress has any type of collar, try wearing your hair up. If the dress has more of an open neckline and thinner straps, go for loose hair for a more relaxed and carefree look.
4. Consider Adding a Belt
Plenty of dresses will come with belts, in which case it's probably designed to be worn with one. Other times, you may try on a dress that doesn’t come with a belt and feel the dress just needs a little something to finish it off. In situations like these, try adding a belt. These can do wonders to give a dress a little extra shape and can turn a dress that feels just okay into a dress you love wearing.
5. Dress for the Weather
In the summer, you won’t need to worry about staying warm. When the chilly winds start blowing, however, wearing dresses gets a bit more complicated. After all, no one wants to have bare arms and legs when the temperatures start dropping. Luckily, there are easy solutions. If you’re headed to work, throw on a blazer over your dress. If you’re going for a more laid-back look, try a leather jacket or even a denim jacket. You might also start choosing longer skirts to keep your legs covered. And if you’re sticking with your short skirts? Add a quick pair of tights to stay toasty and warm.
Shop Dresses in Every Style Today
Now that you’ve got a grasp of all the different kinds of dresses out there, it’s time to put that knowledge to the test by doing a little shopping. By trying on a variety of dresses in a wide range of styles and cuts, you’ll quickly learn what styles you love to wear and which ones you don’t. Before you know it, you’ll be styling dresses with ease and confidence.
To get started, browse our selection of dresses here at My Sister’s Closet, your online women's clothing boutique for all the latest fashions at prices that won’t put a hole in your budget. From wrap dresses to maxi dresses, we’ve got such an incredible range of styles to choose from that there’s sure to be something for everyone. No matter what style you’ve got your eye on, we think you’ll find something you like here.
Want to learn more about who we are and how our customer service team can work for you? Don’t hesitate to reach out and contact us to learn more.