The Ultimate Guide to Mother of the Bride Dress Styles, Part Two

Following our last post, we are breaking down everything there is to know about dress styles. To help you decide which will be your perfect mother of the bride dress.
woman walking in dress carrying flowers with writing over the image 'the ultimate guide to dress styles'

In our last article, we broke down the differences in mother of the bride dresses. Focusing on dress styles of the first half of the alphabet. 

This article focuses on the remaining dresses, breaking how the specific elements of each, the variations on the cut, where the style has evolved from over the years. As well as outlining which body type it would suit best.

All to answer the question, which styles are perfect for mother of the bride dress and which of them should you wear to your daughter's wedding? 

What is a sheath dress?

drawing of a sheath dress

This is a style that is 'form-fitting that creates a streamlined silhouette hitting at or above the knee’ 

‘Sheath dresses are fitted, straight cut dresses often nipped in at the waistline with no waist seam. When constructing the dress, the bodice and skirt are joined together by combining the skirt darts into one dart; then aligns the skirt darts with the bodice waist dart. The dress emphasizes the waist as its skirt portion is fitted.

The style can come in many different forms, patterns and lengths, it is often cut to have short sleeves and to reach the knee length

Where did this style come from?

‘While the sheath dress conjures up visions of the 1950s and 60s, this style has been around for much longer - thousands of years longer.’ 

The style has taken on many different iterations throughout history. ‘The earliest example coming from ancient Egypt, where sheaths were worn frequently - in the artwork of the time anyway. Women were often depicted in tight-fitting tubes of fabric with straps attached.’ 

Egyptian - Female Tomb Figure - Walters 2215

Egyptian - Female Tomb Figure - Walters 2215

Although the knowledge of how much women actually wore this style is still unknown and debate, as these dresses would have been very difficult to move around in. ‘A women certainly would not have been able to walk, kneel, or perform most other actions shown in these artworks while wearing such restrictive clothing’. The frequent appearance of the sheath dress in ancient Egyptian art shows their existence. 

The style made its second appearance in the late 19th century. They were dubbed the ‘princess sheath’ as the particular silhouette featured princess lines and a tight fit. They fitted waist showed off the corseted figure that remained popular to the Edwardian Era. 

Dress attributed to Callot Soeurs, on display as part of the "Jazz Age" exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland, Ohio, in the United States.

Callot Soeurs Dress, on display as part of the "Jazz Age" exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland, Ohio, in the United States.

The 1930s and 40s saw another resurgence of the style, ‘this time looking much more similar to the style we know today. Particularly popular in the 1940s, as fabric rationing during wartime called for simpler, more fitted garments.

The sheath fit this requirement while allowing the wearer to retain a sense of glamour’. ‘By this time, Coco Chanel’s ‘little black dress’ had become widely popular as well, and the concept of versatile simplicity that came with it paired well with the sheath cut.’ 

The Ladies' home journal (1948)

The Ladies' home journal (1948)

The 1950s are 60s were prime sheath years and the ‘version worn during these two decades are what we tend to envision when we think of this dress.’

‘Quintessential 1950’s style came in two forms. The first was Dior’s classic “New Look,” featuring a tailored bodice, nipped-in waist and full skirt. The second look was a similar, but much sleeker sheath dress version. Dior created the “Vertical Line,” a more feminine and less boxy sheath than it’s 1940’s predecessors. The bodice and waist remained fitted, but the skirt also hugged the body from the waist down.’

‘The fitted sheath was much sexier and more sophisticated when compared with the sweetness of the “New Look,” and was favoured by stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Page.’

What body type does a sheath dress suit best? 

Alpa Print Dress in waterlily

Find this beautiful dress here

If you have any questions about what body type you are, this article is a great way of working it out. Or, if like many women you find it difficult to work out your body type, this is a really great way of figuring it all out with only your measurements. 

‘Sheath dresses look best on those with hourglass or triangle shapes as the slightly more form-fitting silhouette highlights your proportions.’ 

Are sheath dresses the perfect mother of the bride look?

Breton Pencil Dress in indigo

Find this wonderful dress in indigo and other colours here

Sheath dresses make a timeless mother of the bride look, that will work with many different venues and dress codes. 

The classic mother of the bride outfit is a sheath dress with a jacket, make it more current for this winter by wearing a sheath dress in a metallic colour or some embroidery for a more classic but still current element. For more advice to help you find the perfect mother of the bride colour for you, have a look at this article. 

What is a shift dress and how does it compare to a sheath style? 

drawing of a shift dress

Put simply, a ‘shift dress refers to a short dress that hangs straight down from the shoulders with clean, simple lines.’ Meaning it is a bit more flow-y over your hips and waist. 

Typically, a shift dress is sleeveless, though some styles have short sleeves or off-the-shoulder variations. Above all, a shift dress should hang loosely from the body without aa fitted cut. Shift dresses typically feature little to no embellishment - again, minimalism is key with a shift dress.’ 

The difference between a shift dress and a sheath dress is probably the trickiest distinction ever between dress styles. Both are simple, uncomplicated dresses that fall straight down from your shoulders. The real difference is that the shift dress is less fitted than a sheath dress! 

Both dresses convey clean simplicity and tend to land short to mid-length. But while a shift dress is loose and comfy, sheath dresses are formfitting. Shift dresses are comprised of panels made to hang with a vertical line, whereas sheath dresses follow the curves of the hips, waist, and bust’. 

Where did the style come from? 

The style became popular in with the flapper movement of the 1920s as the 'changing social norms meant that young women could choose a style of dress that was easier to move and dance in.

1920s woman in shift dress

The shift dress marked a departure from previously fashionable corset designs which exaggerate the bust and waist while restricting movement.’ Several designers, most notably Coco Chanel were designing garments in this style. 

This shift dress then went out of fashion during wartime and the post-war era ‘where western women’s fashion was typified by Christian Dior’s New Look, while again feature an exaggerated bust, hips and waist at the expense of comfort.’ 

Mondrian dress Saint Laurent 1966

Mondrian dress Yves St Laurent 1966

Making a comeback in the 1960s, popularised by Hubert De Givenchy’s design for Audrey Hepburn’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s dress. Coinciding with the start of second-wave feminism which brought in a renewed desire for freedom and versatility. ‘The shift dress then is an apt term for a style of dress that symbolized a shift in thought around womenswear.’

What body type is best suited to a shift dress? 

Gina Bacconi Ledora Crepe Dress With Beaded Cape, Neutral

To view this dress click here

Shift dresses look best on those with a column or straight, rectangle, apple, or boxy shape, who can more easily pull of a looser fit without looking like they’re drowning.’

Is the style suited to the mother of the bride role?

Melika Velvet Dress

This beautiful velvet dress is the perfect option for mother of the bride dresses winter available in 7 other colours.  

Shift dresses are versatile pieces, more on the simple side.  They would be a lovely option for mothers of the bride who are attending a summer wedding, on the more casual side of the dress code spectrum.   

The forever popular mother of the bride dresses tea length

drawing of a woman wearing a tea length dress

So, what are tea-length dresses?

‘According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a -tea-length dress is one whose hemline falls “above the ankle and below the knee.”

Originally, the tea hem fell just above the ankle, but the modern tea-length dress is more likely to hit 3 to 4 inches above the ankle, in the mid-calf region.  The tea-length hem can be contrasted with the cocktail dress, whose hem usually falls somewhere mid-thigh to just above the knee.’ 

Tea-length dresses can sometimes be referred to as tea gowns or tea style of the dress remains the same. ‘Some people refer to it as a cross between a full-length evening dress and a miniskirt, as the moderate hemline defines this unique garment’. 

Where did the style come from?

Tea gown with 18th century inspired back pleats, ca. 1905, Callot Soeurs, silk damask, lace V&A

Tea gown with 18th century inspired back pleats, ca. 1905, Callot Soeurs, silk damask, lace V&A

The use of tea-length dresses dates back to the mid-1800s. The early tea gowns had a mix of influences from Asain styles, particularly the Japanese kimono, a garment worn by women during the wedding and other formal ceremonies. The style is also said to show the approaching Renaissance style of long and flowing sleeves. 

The tea style of dress became very popular in 19th century Britain. It was seen as ‘a hybrid between a wrapper and a ball dress’. A wrapper dress was essentially a bathrobe: a very informal garment worn over minimal undergarments (i.e. no corset). A Ballgown was the epitome of luxury and design. Bring them together and you have a tea gown. 

Dior Tea dresses

Dior's tea dresses in storefront, Stockholm 1957

Due to this mix between very informal garments and more structured pieces, 19th-century etiquette viewed tea dresses as ‘inappropriate’ for public display, and so were typically worn by women either hosting or attending private parties or events.

‘A tea gown was essentially a very luxurious item: ‘indispensable to a well-appointed wardrobe’ for sure, but by no means necessary for a lady of reduced circumstances, who could still go and visit in society without one’. 

They also became a wonderfully popular option, not only due to there beautiful appearance but due to the ability to be able to wear them without a corset. 

Tea Dresses Today

Chesterton Swing Dress in red

A perfect mother of the bride tea dress! Have a closer look here

Tea dresses have come a long way since the early garments of the 1800s and 1900s. They are now made from dozens fo different fabrics, designs, hem lengths and styles. ‘This enormous selection has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for fashion-savvy women of our generation.’ 

The way the styles have transformed over the years means that it is a very versatile piece of clothing. ‘Tea-length dresses may be worn for any dressy daytime affair, from weddings and receptions to graduations, too, yes, formal tea parties and fancy lunches.

Shayla Swing Dress

See this tea-length dress here

Glamour also recommends the tea-length hem for any evening occasion, including proms - the hem length is perfect to accommodate a night of dancing. Tea dresses are particularly suitable for outdoor occasions and events held during the summer.’

A great way of making sure your mother of the bride dress tea length is appropriate for an evening wedding is by pairing it with the right accessories. For have a look at these for advice on mother of the bride accessories and mother of the bride jewellery

Mother of the Bride dresses tea length can be a wonderful choice, treading that fine between formal but not too dressy perfectly. Although they are a quintessential summer outdoor wedding option the variety of styles means that they can be perfect for a winter wedding too.

Chesterton Sleeveless Dress in deep purple

Another wonderful mother of the bride tea dress. To see more dresses like this one, take a look here

Their popularity in the 1950s gives them a really nice vintage feel, add a petticoat underneath if you want to highlight this. For some vintage-inspired dresses click here.

If you love those this is a style for you, if your daughter’s wedding is more on the fancy side you can really dress up a tea-length piece by adding some killer heels. ‘Go dramatic with show-stopping colourful shoes or complement your gown with vintage-inspired ones.’ For more advice on mother of the bride shoes check out this article. 

Layla Plain Dress in blue

To see this tea dress click here 

Mother of the bride dresses tea-length are a pretty universally flattering style for women from petite to plus size. But they work especially well for women with pair shaped or hourglass bodies. This is because they define the waistline, with the tighter top and fuller skirts works to define the natural feminine curves. 

 What is a trapeze dress and why do people get it confused with a-line? 

drawing of a tent style dress

The style (sometimes called tent dresses) gets its name from a trapezoid and features a cut that is narrow through the neckline, armholes and bodice, before flaring out into a tent-like shape. ‘It is widely regarded as a forgiving dress style for how it lays on the body, the floaty trapeze is architectural and airy at once’ 

One of the reasons that the trapeze style becomes confused with the a-line is due to both styles having a triangular shape. But, unlike the a-line whose triangular shape beings at the waistline, the trapeze silhouette ‘beings at the shoulders and flairs our over your form’

Where did the style originate from? 

Another reason for the common confusion between the terms a-line and trapeze is due to their connection to the house of Dior. 

The trapeze style was defined and popularized by Dior’s successor, Yves Saint Laurent, with his ‘Trapeze Line’ of spring 1958, which featured dresses flaring out dramatically from a fitted shoulder line’.

1958 trapeze dress. Yves Saint Laurent for Dior.

1958 trapeze dress. Yves Saint Laurent for Dior.

 The ‘Trapeze line’ was Yves Saint Laurent’s first, and he used it to ‘set himself apart from the master. Instead of Dior’s signature cinched waist, he created a more fluid silhouette under which the body disappeared. The trapeze line was born. Saint Laurent made his mark with less fabric and a lighter approach that changed the course of fashion. It was a success.’

What body types are best suited to the trapeze style?  

1960s sewing pattern

’60s trapeze dress sewing pattern.

Elle Canada describes the trapeze dress as being able to work on virtually every body type, some are more well-suited for this forgiving shape than others.

Tall women can carry the look off easily: a petite woman risks looking swallowed up if the silhouette isn’t tailored to her size. A pear-shaped body is especially flattered in a trapeze style, as this cut shows off a slender upper body and skims over wider hips. Similarly, the trapeze has the potential to camouflage a tummy thanks to its width in that area.’ 

Elle Canada is definitely correct with this description of the dress as being one that is ultra-flattering to many women. But, we thought because you want your mother of the bride dress to be perfect we would break this down a little more.  

This is definitely a silhouette that is ‘best for long, lean and somewhat body shapes are you won’t drown in all the fabric and shapelessness, but rather the dress will hang and flow beautifully.’ 

Alexander McQueen SS99

Alexander McQueen SS99

For women with very large shoulders be aware that this style is likely to accentuate these, as the tight, often halter neckline draws attention to this part of your body. 

The trapeze style can be a really great playful mother of the bride dress. Available in many different materials, meaning it will work for both a more formal or more relaxed event. 

 Although as the mother of the bride, we recommend that you keep the length of this style at least to the knee. As it has the potential to move and fly up a lot when you are dancing, or outside exposed to the elements. 

A few things to bear in mind for wearing and styling this dress. 

‘In contrast to a formfitting frock, the trapeze dress is essentially shapeless from the bust down. To keep the look flirty and avoid a frumpy appearance, be sure the hem hits above your knee and is tailored to fit your top half. Complete your ensemble with pumps or strappy sandals in warm weather, or rock tights and heeled booties in the winter for aa cosy and leg-lengthening effect.’ 


trumpet dress and drawing of skirt

A trumpet or mermaid dress is a style that has a straight-line skirt that flares toward the hem. ‘This fit and flare style hugs the bodice all the way to the mid-hip and then widens gradually to the bottom. It’s a variation of the mermaid, but flairs just below the hip instead of below the knee. 

‘As the name suggests, the gradual flare of the skirt resembles the shape of the musical instrument's bell.’

Where did this style come from?

trumpet dresses pattern for sewing drawing

The birth and evolution of this style are somewhat unknown. 

The 1930s introduced bias cuts and artificial fibres. Along with the Empire cut, over the years the sheath, mermaid, A-line, and trumpet shapes became popular. Also, the dropped waist and princess styles were popular, depending on the era. Grace Kelly is noted for wearing understated evening gowns.

It is viewed to be an evolution of the fit and flare style which has been around in European history since the 11th century.  

Who does this dress flatter most?

Nova Fishtail Dress in purple

Have a closer look at this dress here

This style of dress is great for mothers of the bride who want to create the look of having more defined curves. If you have a rectangle or athletic shape ‘this understated silhouette effortlessly ads curves with just a touch of drama.’

Is this a good mother of the bride dress?

Seed Brecon Dress in blue

To see this dress have a look here and for more trumpet dresses see here

This can be a wonderful mother of the bride dress, being a special occasion, elegant look. 

The only recommendation we have when choosing your mother of the bride dresses trumpet is to check with your daughter first, as this is a very popular style for bridal dresses, as you probably don’t want to end up matching with your daughter on her wedding day!

What is a Tunic dress?

drawing of a tunic style dress

A tunic is a dress, usually simple in style, reaching from the shoulders to a length somewhere between the hips and the knees. 

They are usually rather baggy meaning they are a reliably comfortable style 

Where did this style come from?

Marble Torso of a Youth wearing a long tunic from the Temple of Athena Polias, Priene, British Museum

Marble Torso of a Youth wearing a long tunic from the Temple of Athena Polias, Priene, British Museum

The name derives from the Latin tunica, the basic garment worn by both men and women in Ancient Rome, which in turn was based on earlier Greek garments that covered wearers' waists.’

‘The ancient Greeks and Romans were early fans of the tunic, and the loose-fitting garment remains popular in modern times. A tunic is a popular wardrobe choice in hot, tropical regions because it's loose-fitting and comfortable and helps you stay cool. Tunic can also refer to a membrane or tissue that covers something, like an organ or part of a plant. Some plants like tulips and onions have a protective tunic covering the outside of their bulb.’


Assyrian garments

Drawings of Assyrian garments 

There are many examples of tunics being worn through history from ancient civilisations up to the present day. For more information about this history of tunics click here

Which body types are best suited to the tunic style and is a good mother of the bride choice?

Warehouse Foil Spot Print Mini Dress, Black/Gold

For this occasion wear, tunic dress click here

As the tunic is usually loose-fitting this means that it is a versatile garment and ‘can be worn in a variety of ways by individuals of all body types.’ 

Although tunics can be worn by any body type, their loose, shapeless nature mean that they aren’t particularly flattering on many of the more curvy body types, which benefit from some structure around the waistline. 

Tunics are also usually much more casual garments, and it is for both of these reasons that we don’t suggest them as great mother of the bride dresses.

Studio 8 Lavinia Jacquard Dress, Green

To see more than just the shoulder of this tunic dress click here

So What is a Wrap Dress? 

image of a sewing pattern for wrap dresses

‘A wrap dress is a dress with a front closure formed by wrapping one side across the other and knotting the attached ties that wrap around the back at the waist or fastening buttons.’

‘This forms a v-shaped neckline and hugs the wearer’s curves. A faux wrap dress resembles this design, except that it comes already fastened together with no opening in front, but instead is slipped on over the head.’  

Where did wrap dresses come from? 

There is some disagreement as to where the wrap dress style originated from. 

The American fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg claims that she ‘invented’ the wrap dress in 1972/73 and it is still a huge proponent of the style to this day.

Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress

Diane von Fürstenberg wrap dress, Spring-Summer 2014, modelled by Liu Wen

But, this claim has been disputed. Richard Martin, a former curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, noted that the form of Furstenberg’s design had already been “deeply embedded into American designer sportswear tradition’ with her choice of elastic, synthetic fabrics distinguishing her work from earlier wrap dresses.’ 

‘During the Great Depression, house dresses called “Hooverettes” were popular which employed a wrap design.’ A similar style can also be seen in Britain from the 1800s, in the form of a wrapper, which was an informal style of a bathrobe. 

Wrap dresses were designed by Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1930s and by Claire McCardell in the 1940s, whose original ‘popover’ design became the basis for a variety of wrap-around dresses.

patterns for wrap dresses 1950s

When looking closer into the history of the wrap dress, we think that it is fair to say that although Diane Von Furstenberg hasn’t created the concept of the wrap dress completely, she is responsible for its modern form.

Hear what the designer herself has to say on the topic: ‘the wrap dress is the most traditional form of dressing: it’s like a robe, it’s like a kimono, it’s like a toga. It doesn’t have buttons or zippers. What made it different was that is was jersey; therefore, it was close to the body and it was a print.’ (her first wrap dress had an animal print design). 

What body type does this style best suit?

Seed Orla Dress in Pink

Find this dress in pink and 13 other beautiful colours here. And for more wrap dresses click here

Again, for this topic, the wrap dress is a style that splits peoples opinions continuously. 

When asked if she wore her signature wrap dress Furstenberg replied: ‘occasionally, and more now than then. I would say the wrap dress is better when you are a bit curvier.’

It is commonly regarded as a style that suits any woman of any shape and size. 

Millbrook Tie Dress

Why not have a closer look at this dress?

The reason that most stylists refer to the wrap dress as so universally flattering is due to the effect tie waist ‘that cinches on the slimmest portion of the torso, the wrap dress gives an ultra-slimming effect.’ 

There is a problem that arises with the previous statement, as it relies upon the assumption that all women have a waistline that is slimmer than the rest of your torso. Although this is true for many body types, hourglass, pear, and triangle. If you have an apple or rectangle body type, this might not be the style for you.  

It is true that when ‘paired with a v-neckline, the dress enhances your bust and slims over the hips, a great option for those with a pear shape or those looking to add curves. If you have a shorter torso, opt for a plunging neckline for a lengthening effect.’ 

Would you like some more advice on which styles are best for your body type? Check out this article

Are Mother of the Bride wrap dresses a good choice?

Glitterati Sparkle Dress in black

Find this amazingly glamorous dress here

So, when it comes to wearing a wrap dress to your daughter’s wedding what you need to be conscious of is the formality of the event, venue and dress code. 

The whole basis of the wrap dress relies on its structure, the tie waist holds the whole dress together. This is what makes it so flattering, giving a defined waist and enabling for some beautiful necklines too. 

But, this is also what gives the wrap dress it's a more relaxed impression. It really is a dress that you can throw on and go. 

This might be great for some weddings, more informal affairs that are going for a breezy get together feel. Giving you a more relaxed but pretty option you are sure to wear again.  

Seed Motcombe Dress

Have a look at this wrap inspire style here

But, if your daughter is after a fairy tale night, full of black-tie outfits, then a wrap dress might seem a little out of place. Although if you do have your heart set on the style, paying attention to the fabric and colour can transform a more relaxed style into more formal attire. You could also dress it up with some eye-catching jewellery, maybe a hat and occasion worthy footwear

If you have already got your mother of the bride wrap dress picked out, make sure you trying dancing in it first, just in case the wrap doesn’t hold as tightly as you would have liked! If you love the style why not try one of the picture faux wrap dresses to get all the benefits of the style without any of the worries. 

What style do you think you would wear as a mother of the bride? Let us know in the comments below. 

To see mother of the bride dresses click here

Let us know what you think, and which would be your go-to mother of the bride dress style in the comments below. 

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