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What are the Different Types of Wedding Gowns?

Amy Pollick
Updated May 17, 2024
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A bride shopping for wedding gowns has a dizzying array of choices before her. There are as many different types of wedding gowns available as there are women to wear them.

One way to sort wedding gowns into understandable categories is by how formal they are. The formality of the wedding will determine a lot about the style of the wedding gown. The time of day and even the season of the wedding will also influence a bride's choice. Weddings are usually classified as formal evening or daytime, semi-formal and informal. These categories are flexible, but provide a good starting point.

Formal evening weddings are the most elaborate, and it follows that wedding gowns chosen for such an event are very formal, as well. Heavy satins, peau de soie and shantung often make an appearance in these wedding gowns, and the trims and laces will be more elaborate. A bride may also choose a longer train for a formal evening wedding, and her veil will usually be longer as well.

At a formal daytime wedding, a bride will usually choose a formal gown, but perhaps one that is lighter-weight, especially in warm weather. She may wear short sleeves with gloves. Lightweight shantung or taffeta are popular fabrics for formal daytime wedding gowns. The bride's train will be shorter than for an evening wedding, perhaps chapel-length. A chapel-length train extends roughly three to five feet (1 to 1 1/2 meters) from the hem of the dress. Her veil may be fingertip length or floor length.

Semi-formal wedding gowns for evening or daytime will usually be less elaborate than the very formal gowns. They may be made from a less elaborate fabric, such as chiffon, and will not feature as much lace or beading. They may be long or short-sleeved, and if they have a train, it will usually be a sweep or waltz-length train, extending one to two feet (about half a meter) from the hem. The bride's veil will be shoulder to fingertip length, as a rule.

Informal wedding gowns are usually shorter dresses or suits. They are generally hemmed from knee to mid-calf length and look more like a cocktail or party dress. These wedding gowns may have some beading or lace trim, and may be made of any good suit fabric, satin, shantung or beaded chiffon. Brides usually do not wear veils with informal gowns, opting instead for flowers in their hair or perhaps a hat.

Wedding gowns may feature "ballgown" skirts held out with crinolines, or they may be close-fitting sheaths. Some sheaths have detachable trains, while others are topped with bolero jackets over a strapless top. Halter, tank and strapless gowns are popular in the United States right now, but 20 years ago, high necks and leg-o-mutton sleeves were all the rage. Wedding gown fashions change, just as other women's fashions do. A bride can expect to pay from US$600 and up for a formal wedding gown, less for an informal gown. Most brides begin shopping for wedding gowns up to a year before the wedding, in order to have all alterations and preparations made in plenty of time.

One perennially popular wedding gown option is for a bride to wear her mother's, grandmother's or aunt's gown. If the gown can be altered and cleaned without damaging the garment, this may be a beautiful way to remember a loved relative.

Considering the number of choices available, any bride should be able to find the wedding gown of her dreams.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Amy Pollick
By Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at WiseGeek. With experience in various roles and numerous articles under her belt, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers across various platforms on topics of all levels of complexity.
Discussion Comments
By naturesgurl3 — On Aug 03, 2010

@LittleMan -- I understand what you're saying about how some women go crazy over couture wedding gowns, but really, it's our special day!

I'm not saying that you have to get the most expensive wedding gown ever to have a beautiful wedding, but I think that if the bride really wants that gorgeous gown, the groom should try to understand.

It really is an important event, and although I'm not saying that women should turn into bridezillas, but the grooms should also keep an open mind.

By closerfan12 — On Aug 03, 2010

I'm really glad that there's a growing movement of pretty maternity wedding gowns.

Whereas maternity wedding dresses used to be all clunky and chunky, now you can find some really beautiful, elegant dresses for every bride -- even with a bun in the oven!

By LittleMan — On Aug 03, 2010

Now I may be putting my foot in my mouth, but really ladies, do you need a $600 dress that you're only going to wear once?

I understand that it's your special day, but will a discount wedding gown really kill the magic?

I say, stop stressing over getting the perfect designer wedding gown, and just choose a nice, elegant wedding gown that makes you feel pretty -- regardless of the brand name!

Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at WiseGeek. With...
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