The Definitive Guide to Mother Of The Bride Dress Styles

Looking for mother of the bride dresses? Read up on everything you need to know about the different styles to be sure you are fully prepared.
mother of the bride and daughter walking down the aisle

Finally, you are a Mother of The Bride, a title we are sure that you have been quietly waiting for since your daughter was a little girl. But, along with all the excitement comes a whole lot of planning. 

From flowers to caterers, suits to cake tastings, none is saying that being a mother of the bride is a walk in the park. 

You have probably spent hours helping your daughter pick out her perfect wedding dress, but now it’s your turn to find your perfect wedding day outfit. 

mother of the bride and daughter walking down the aisle

As Taylah Brewer from The Trend Spotter says ‘as the mother of the bride, you’ll naturally want your dress to appear polished, stylish and perfect. After all, it’s not every day that one of your children gets married’. 

But, with so many different style options out there, mother of the bride dress shopping can be a rather intimidating prospect. This is why we are here to help. 

This guide will show you all of the different styles of dress you will encounter on your search for the perfect outfit. From tea-length to the mermaid, we have broken down all your possible style choices. 

From letting you know the differences in the structure and cut of the dresses, where the styles originated from, to what dress code and body types they are best suited for. We have everything you need to know to help you find your dream mother of the bride dress, no matter your style body type, or age.  

To find out what your body type is click here and for more advice on dressing your body type check out this article

This article is part one of the series, for the remaining styles check out part two. 

1. What really is an A-line dress?

drawing of an a-line dress

‘The term A-Line is used to describe a dress, skirt, or coat with a triangular silhouette, narrow and fitted at the top and widening out from the bust or waist in a straight line to the hem.’

‘More specifically, it is understood to mean a structured garment, which stands away from the body to form the sides of the A. The fronts of A-line garments are often cut in one piece, with darts for fitting, and the skirts often have no waistband.’ 

Where did this style come from? 

The phrase first entered the vocabulary of fashion via the couturier Christian Dior’s collection for Spring 1955, which he named ‘A-line’. 

Susan Ward describes the major influence this collection had as: ‘in the 1950s, the international fashion pressed look to Paris, and Dior in particular, to set the direction fashion would take each season. Dior obliged by organizing each new collection around a specific idea, and giving each a name that described or evoked that idea.’  

‘In 1954 and 1955, he designed three closely related collections, based on the shapes of the letters H, A, and Y, which marked a move away from the strongly emphasized, nipped-in waist that had been the dominant silhouette since his 1947 "Corolle Line" (or "New Look") collection.’

1947 - Dior New Look

‘The most influential of these was the "A-Line" collection, characterized by narrow shoulders and a smooth, trumpetlike flare toward the hem; the elongated waistline, either high under the bust or dropped toward the hips, formed the crossbar of the A. The signature look of this collection (the "most wanted silhouette in Paris," according to Vogue, 1 March 1995, p. 95) was a fingertip-length flared jacket worn over a dress with a very full, pleated skirt; while it was clearly an A-shape, this silhouette was quite different from what was later meant by "A-line."

The a-line style remained popular in the 1960s and 1970s but was seen less in the 1970s dues to the fashion for boxier, masculine-inspired silhouettes. The style was revived in the late 1990s by the retro trend. But by this time the term was used more loosely to describe any dress wider at the hips than at the bust or waist, as well as a number of flared skirts. “True’ a-line shapes on the pattern of Dior and Saint Laurent saw a revival in the early 2000s. 

What body types are best suited to the A-line style? 

Phase Eight Collection 8 Sybil Layered Mermaid Hem Dress, Petal

Find this dress here

Unlike the wrap dress, which relies on your waist being naturally smaller than the rest of your torso, an a-line dress is fitted to compliment your waist, whatever its size. This is why Janet Easter calls it 'the holy grail for every body shape’. 

‘The magic in this shape is that it can minimize the midsection, hips, and thighs, and draw attention to the bust half at the same time (depending on the neckline).’ This is because of the style is fitted at your natural waistline then gradually widens towards the hem ‘to create a triangular shape that fans out slightly.’ 

‘This flattering shape pulls double duty: it draws the eyes to the waist for pear(larger on bottom) and heart shapes(larger on top), which de-emphasizes the hips and it also adds the appearance of curves for those with boyish or boxy body-types.’

Should you be looking for mother of the bride dresses a-line? 

La Femme Evening a line mother of the bride dress

Find this beautiful mother of the bride dress a-line here

An a-line style can be the perfect mother of the bride option for many women. Such a flattering style will flatter most body types, creating a feminine silhouette. It is a classic style that is appropriate for many different venues and dress codes, from formal evening weddings to more relaxed day time affairs. 

To work out which colour would be the best for your mother of the bride dress, check out this article. 

2. What is an Asymmetrical dress? 

asymmetrical dress drawing

The ‘key characteristic of the asymmetrical dress is a slanted hemline or neckline, with the most common design featuring a one-shoulder bodice.’

‘The degree to which the slant occurs in the skirt section of the dress can vary greatly ranging from a subtle slant in one direction to more severe slants which go both ways to create a peak in the centre.’

Where did the style come from? 

Asymmetrical dresses first really came to the forefront of fashion back in the 1970s when the ‘top American designer Roy Halston released a series of dresses featuring the style. Halston took the concept of elegant cocktail dresses and blended them with Grecian gowns to create this eye-catching design.’

Roy Halston Frowick dress

The style of dress was at the height of fashion by the 1980s, with a range of couture designers offering these type of dresses. But, by the late 1990s, the fashion for it was replaced with more traditional cocktail and slip dresses. 

It then re-appeared on the ‘catwalks and was worn by celebrities such as model Kate Moss in 2010, leading the asymmetrical dress back into the fashion arena.’  

‘Today top international designers such as Calvin Klein, Alexander Wang and Patrice Catanzaro are amongst those who breathe life back into the style whilst a wider range of prominent figures such as Michelle Obama and Christina Applegate favourite this style of dress.’

Who is best suited to wear asymmetrical dresses? 

Chi Chi London Aiyanna One Shoulder Dress, Navy

Find this dress here

Asymmetrical dresses can work on many different body types. This isn’t so much because the asymmetrical nature of them makes them universally flattering, but rather because they are available in many different styles. 

If you have a pear-shaped body type then you would look amazing in an empire line asymmetrical dress. Or if you are boxier why not try a drop waist asymmetrical dress? 

With so many different cuts to choose from, the only thing to consider when thinking of an asymmetrical dress is, is it my style? 

Alexa Pencil Dress violet purple

Find this one-shoulder dress here 

Are they a good mother of the bride dresses option? 

Raishma Embellished One Shoulder Dress, Champagne

Find this one-shoulder mother of the bride dress gold here

Ray Lowe from Refinery 29 offers some really great points as to the pros of asymmetrical dress: ‘the best asymmetrical dresses are ones that are familiar with an edgy twist - a lifted leg hem, a mismatched sleeve, a one-shoulder strap. They’re easy to wear, require little-to-no styling (they speak for themselves), and give a little oomph to a piece that already exists in your wardrobe.’

Asymmetrical dresses can be a fabulous mother of the bride dress, being somewhat unexpected, you are sure to be seen as a glamorous mother of the bride. 

Dartington Asymmetric Midi Dress

Find this beautiful dress here

Their availability in so many different styles also means that they can work well with many different venues and dress codes. The only thing it is worth thinking about is how much you love the style. 

3. What is a Ball Gown? 

drawing of a ball gown

A ball gown is defined as ‘floor-length dress to be worn to a formal, black tie and white tie occasions. It is the most formal (and fancy!) type of dress, and traditionally has a full skirt and fitted bodice.’ 

It was traditionally a type of evening gown that would have been worn to a ball or a formal event. Most versions would be off the shoulder with a low decolletage, exposed arms, and a long bouffant style skit. They would have been worn with a formal shawl, jewellery and opera-length gloves. (To help you work out your Mother of the Bride accessories click here and for some jewellery specific advice see this article.)

‘Because of their dressy nature, ball gowns are usually crafted in luxurious or expensive fabrics like silk, taffeta and velvet, and may be trimmed with pearls, precious gems or intricate, hand-stitched embroidery.’

‘However, with the rise of fast fashion and the desire by more people to emulate the looks of the runway and the red carpet, gown-style dresses are also available in more affordable fabrics and styles from stores like Macy's, Bloomingdales, Cache and more.’

Where did the ball gown come from? 

The evolution of the ball gown can be traced back to the 1850s, where women would have worn dresses of a similar style that were called evening dresses. They shared similar elements of the ball gown; low-cut necklines, a tight bodice, a large skirt and (sometimes) bare arms.’ 

1890s ball gown

Circa 1890.

This style changed much over the coming years, due to the invention of the sewing machine and the use of chemical dyes becoming more common. The style of skirt changing from larger, to smaller frequently over the next few decades. 

By the end of the century, the fashion of hourglass shapes then takes over. The narrow waist is achieved by having a cone-shape skirt that was narrow at the waist and gained fullness near the bottom.’ 

Previously, ball gowns were worn for private events and parties, but in the mid-20th century, private events turned into public ones. So the ball gown as we know it today was brought into public awareness. 

This particular style is or dress, the modern ball gown, ‘is typified by Christian Doir’s “New Look” which debuted in 1948.  De La Renta (and his eponymous brand) has been a trend-setter in the world of elegant, fashionable gowns ever since.’

Doir ball gown photo emerald green

Which body type is best suited to a ball gown? 

This style is a great choice for mother of the bride dresses plus size to petite

The style works wonderfully for tall women wishing to de-emphasize their hight or those wanting to hide their hips. 'It tends to look great on thin and full-figured ladies alike, or those who tend to carry their weight on their lower half.’ 

It is a style of dress that works well for everyone, but here are some body types that particularly benefit from the style. 

Pear-shaped women look great in strapless ball gowns as the fuller skirt disguises the hips. Choosing with detail on the bodice is also a great way of balancing out a pear-shaped figure. 

Women with a rectangle or column-shaped figures, as the fitted bodice, cinched waist and a fuller skirt help to create curves. 

For inverted triangles as the fuller skirt adds volume to your narrower hips. 

Should a ball gown be your mother of the bride dress? 

women in navy blue mother of the bride dress

Find this beautiful mother of the bride dress navy here

When else do you really get the chance to wear something so wonderfully dressy as a ball gown? Why not jump on your opportunity (if the wedding itself it a fancy affair of course).

The only suggestion we have is to check with your daughter first, you don’t want to be both turning up in ball gowns.  

4. What is a blouson dress? 

drawing of a dress

As Anikka Becker ‘The cut may be seen in a blouse, jacket, or dress the waist is fitted and the bodice - the part that fits over the torso - billows out and ‘blouses over a belt, drawstring, or elastic at the waist. Fabric loose drapes the tors but defines the waist. It works with a full or fitted skirt. It flatters just about every body shape.’ 

What is the history of this style? 

 ‘The word first arose in the fashion industry between 1900 and 1910, derived from the French word blouse, and means, you guessed it, ‘billowy, like a blouse.’

‘The first use of the style in women’s clothes was in blouses that had a drawstring inside the bottom of the hem to adjust the fit. The cut was a favourite of Great Britain’s Princess Mary (1897-1965).’

‘The short, unencumbered blouson became the military pilot's leather ‘bomber’ jacket in World War II and made the silhouette a symbol of the hero.’ 

‘In the 1950s James Dean epitomized cool in the red nylon, blouson cut motorcycle jacket he wore in Rebel Without a Cause. Today in menswear ‘blouson’ is used to refer specifically to a leather motorcycle jacket.’

Short Sleeve Blouson Beaded Gown

Find this and other mother of the bride dresses blouson here

‘But in womenswear, the blouson emerged in its most varied and charming manifestations. We draw inspiration from the drama of designer Sybil Connolly to the tailored look of Pierre Cardin to the freshness of the incomparable Audrey Hepburn. In all its manifestations, the effect is a practical piece with a lovely, insouciant look.’  

Who suits this style of dress? 

The reason that this style has remained so popular in women’s wear throughout the years is due to its flattering nature. The loose-fitting elements mean that it is able to disguise any areas that you won’t want to draw attention too. While the waist-defining cinch means that you are able to create to enhance natural curves. 

Is it an appropriate mother of the bride style? 

BHLDN (Mother of the Bride) lena dress

Find this dress here

A blouson dress is a fabulous mother of the bride option as it gives a feminine, ethereal impression. Perfect for summer weddings, on the less formal side. 

5. What is a Colum Dress? 

drawing of column dress

The column dress is a term that is pretty interchangeable with the sheath dress. It is typically a slim-fitting dress which features a straight cut with very little additional shaping.

‘The narrow shape of this dress style means that it does not nip in the waist or have additional fabric to skirt over the thighs or derriere. The bodice of the dress can vary from having long sleeves to short sleeves or even simple spaghetti straps whilst the skirt can end well-above the knee, on the knee, at the ankle or the floor depending on the choice of dress. Fabric is not a key characteristic of the dress so anything from jersey fabric to damask or silk is feasible.’

Where did the style come from? 

Similar to the sheath dress the column dress entered the fashion arena in the 1950s and was a stark contrast to the dress styles of the 1940s. During the 40s, predominantly the war years, fabric was rationed and clothing had a sober look. However, when rationing was over, many women were after a new look and one such look was the column dress. The style has changed little over the following decades, making it a well-worn design even today.’

‘Amongst the series of celebs that wear the sheath or column dress are former Spice Girl and WAG Victoria Beckham, Gossip Girl actress Blake Lively, Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker and also the Duchess of Cambridge (aka Kate Middleton).’ 

Harriet Column Gown

Find this dress here

For advice on who this style suits and if it is a good mother of the bride choice refer to the section on sheath dresses. 

6. What about drop waist dresses?

drawing of a drop waist dress

When questioning what a drop waist dress is, think 1920s, as this style is also known as the flapper dress. 

It is a style that is characterised by the dress’ low waistband which usually falls more in line with the hips than at the natural level of the waist. This style of the dress gives the illusion of lengthening the body and tends to have a width at the hips.’ 

Drop-waist dresses and skirts remove any emphasis from the natural waistline, instead of drawing attention to a woman's hips.

Where has this style evolved from? 

The drop dress style was created from the influence of the style of the 1920s ‘flapper girls’. 

‘Flappers’ were a generation of young Western women of the 1920s, ‘who wore skirts, bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behaviour.’ 

‘Flappers were seen as brash for wearing excessive makeup, drinking, smoking cigarettes, driving automobiles, treating sex in a casual manner, and otherwise flouting social and sexual norms’.

"Where there's smoke there's fire" by Russell Patterson, showing a fashionably dressed flapper in the 1920s.

"Where there's smoke there's fire" by Russell Patterson, showing a fashionably dressed flapper in the 1920s.

‘Flappers ar icons of the Roaring Twenties, the social, political turbulence and increased transatlantic cultural exchange that followed the end of World War I, as well as the export of American jazz culture to Europe.’ 

‘Flapper dresses were loose and straight and would leave arms uncovered and dropping the waistline to the hips. Skirts rose to just below the knee by 1927, allowing flashes of leg to be seen when a girl danced or walked through a breeze, although the way they danced made any long loose skirt flap up to show their legs. To enhance the view, some flappers applied rouge to their knees.'

The style of dress can be seen as as a rebellion against the ultra-feminine look of the Victoria era, and Christian Dior’s new look. The flapper style was the opposite of the hourglass shape that had been so popular. The dresses also allowed for the women to wear them without corsets, giving much more comfort and freedom. 

This style remained popular throughout the 1920s, the hemline usually ending just below the knee by 1920. But, ‘by the late 1930s, there was a trend back towards more formal dress styles and the drop waist was no longer favoured in the world of fashion.’ 

"Where there's smoke there's fire" by Russell Patterson, showing a fashionably dressed flapper in the 1920s.

Actress Norma Talmadge

The style was then regarded as pretty much having gone into fashion obscurity until 2012 when the 1920s fashion revival bought this style of dress, along with a few other choice styles from the 20s back to the forefront of fashion.’ 

‘Actress Camilla Belle was spotted wearing a Gucci flapper dress to the LACMA's Art and Film Gala last year whilst American model come actress Jenny McCarthy was also snapped wearing a Gucci drop waist design at the Elle Fashion Awards. Friend's star Jennifer Aniston has been spotted in a glamorous black drop waist dress whilst actress Eva Mendes was wearing a fully sequined piece typical of the original 1920s styling too.’

Who will best suit this style of dress? 

Gina Bacconi Malina Embroidered Maxi Dress, Light Grey

Find this dress here 

The silhouette has a low, horizontal waistline that is likely to fall near the level of the upper hips. This means that the dress will lengthen the look of your torso - which is what makes this style quite hard to pull off. 

‘But for those with a boxy or boyish shape. This was made for you! The column-like top will fall straight over your form and the low waistline won’t tug or pull at your hips’.

‘The placement of a waistline on skirts and dresses can do wonders -- or be disastrous -- for a woman's shape. Different waistlines highlight different parts of the body, meaning some styles flatter some women better than others. When trying to decide which waistline style works best for your body, choose styles that emphasize your natural shape well.’

Is a dropped waist dress a good choice for a mother of the bride dress?

Chesca Iris Beaded Dress, Blue

Find this drop-waist mother of the bride dress here

 We think that a dropped waist dress can be the perfect mother of the bride dress for an evening wedding. A touch of that 1920s glamour will be a compliment to any wedding with a more formal dress code. 

The only thing to keep in mind is that this really isn’t a style for every body type, so if you don’t think that it will help you to look your best, there are so many wonderful styles out there, maybe leave the drop waist for another occasion. 

7. What about an Empire style? 

drawing of an empire line dress

 This style is sometimes called, the empire silhouette, empire line, empire waist, or just empire. 

It is a style of clothing in which the dress has  ‘fitted bodice ending just below the bust, giving a high-waisted appearance’. There is traditionally a gathered skirt which is long and a loosely fitting that skims the body and elongate the figure. 

Where did this style come from? 

The empire waist dress, as we know it now, can be seen to date back to the late 18th century France, ‘here the word “empire” refers to the period of the First French Empire; Napoleon’s first Empress Josephine De Beauharnais was influential in popularizing the style around Europe. 

The style began as part of Neoclassical fashion, reviving style from Greco-Roman art which showed women wearing loose fitting rectangular tunics which were belted under the bust. ‘In high society, women wore these less constricting, flowing empire waist dresses in shades of white, which denoted their high social status since they were so easily dirtied.’

The adoption of this style led to a drastic contrast between 1790s fashions and the constricting and voluminous styles of the 1770s (with a rigid cylindrical torso above panniers). The change is probably partially due to the French political upheavals after 1789 (which encouraged the recovery of ancient virtues and discouraged the type of ostentatious ornately luxurious display formerly common in aristocratic fashions)

This style of Greecian dressing also brought with it the adoption of uncovered hair, meaning women would often wear Greek-style ribbons or fillets instead of bonnets or other coverings. 

The later years of the 18th century saw the style coming into fashion in Western and Central Europe.  ‘By the turn of the century, such styles had spread widely across Europe. In France, the style was sometimes called "à la grecque" after the decorations found on the pottery and sculpture of Classical Greek art. ‘

 Fashionable Morning and Evening Dress as Worn in Portrait of Mademoiselle Caroline Riviere by Jean-Auguste-Dominique IngresOctober, 1807 Illustration, 2. Getty Images

 Fashionable Morning and Evening Dress as Worn in Portrait of Mademoiselle Caroline Riviere by Jean-Auguste-Dominique IngresOctober, 1807 Illustration, 2. Getty Images

‘English women's styles (often referred to as "regency") followed the same general trend of raised waistlines as French styles, even when the countries were at war. The style was very often worn in white to denote a high social status (especially in its earlier years); only women solidly belonging to what in England was known as the "genteel" classes could afford to wear the pale, easily soiled garments of the era.’

‘The Empire silhouette contributed to making clothes of the 1795–1820 period generally less confining and cumbersome than high-fashion clothes of the earlier 18th and later 19th centuries.’

‘The 1960s saw a revival of the style, possibly reflecting the less strict social mores of the era, similar to when the unconstricting 1920s "flapper" styles replaced the heavy corsetry of the early 1900s.’

‘Today, the empire waist dresses are still a popular and fashionable choice for formal occasions and weddings, and can still be  seen on the runway and red carpet because of their flattering-yet-comfortable fit.’ 

What body type is the style best suited for? 

Mustique Pencil Dress

Find this beautiful pencil dress in powder blue and other colours here

This style of dress is flattering to many different body shapes. ‘The outline is especially flattering to pear shapes wishing to disguise the stomach area or emphasize the bust. The shape of the dress also helps to lengthen the body’s appearance.’

Is this a good mother of the bride dresses choice? 


rose swing empire dress

Find this beautiful rose swing empire line dress here. For more swing dresses click here.

An empire line dress is a wonderful mother of the bride choice. It can be perfect for day and evening weddings, especially those that are semi-formal as it gives a flattering, breezy but classic and elegant look. It can also be great for more formal weddings depending on the fabric of the dress.

Check out our next article to learn about more styles of mother of the bride dresses. Or find more advice on being a mother of the bride here.

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