Best Dressed

As a longtime fan of The Learning Channel’s fashion-focused reality show What Not to Wear, I’ve learned one fail-safe lesson from hosts Stacy London and Clinton Kelly: To flatter your figure, accentuate the narrowest part of your body. When I started shopping for wedding dresses after getting engaged in the fall of 2007, I learned that the same rule holds true for wedding dresses.

Brides should consider several factors before hitting the dress shops — their budget, the season and setting of their wedding, and possible dress codes at religious ceremony sites. But once you’re ready to shop, follow these tips from wedding experts for a fit that flatters.

Curvy girls can show off their hourglass figures with a contrasting sash around a small waist, advises The Knot (, the country’s most popular wedding Web site. One style to avoid: Empire waistlines that start just under your bust, obscuring a narrow midsection. However, thick-waisted (or “apple-shaped”) women may find this style flattering. Remember that rule from Stacy and Clinton? The narrowest part of your body may well be the top of the rib cage, so an empire waistline accentuates this while skimming over your stomach. Decorative necklines, textured bodices, and a V neckline also “will draw eyes toward the vertical, not the horizontal,” says Real Simple magazine (

Empire waistlines can work for plus-sized women, too, provided the dress fits just right. Avoid pleating, cautions Real Simple, which is “reminiscent of maternity wear.”

If you’re petite, you’ll look like a tall drink of water in a slim, straight-cut sheath. The biggest concern is overpowering your small frame with a voluminous style. Tall brides, on the other hand, can pull off poufy ball gowns. (This silhouette downplays height, while a clingy sheath plays it up, says The Knot.) A high neckline gives you classic elegance, The Knot adds, but overly embellished dresses may look frilly or cartoonish.

Big-busted brides can pull off a ball gown silhouette with a voluminous skirt. If you’re daring, you can pull off a V neckline, provided it isn’t too severe. (Your wedding day is no time for a wardrobe malfunction.) Watch out for strapless styles with straight necklines: Real Simple warns this “will make your bust appear even larger and more shelflike.”

In contrast, if you’re bigger on the bottom (or “pear-shaped”), a surefire solution is to look for details that draw the eye upward — for example, a beaded neckline. A fitted bodice emphasizes your narrow upper body, and ruching adds volume to a small chest. A classic A-line skirt minimizes your hips and thighs. If you want to downplay your lower half, stay away from straight sheath styles and mermaid skirts that cling all the way down to the knee.

Another rule when you’re dress shopping? Keep an open mind. Two years ago, when I headed to a small, locally owned wedding boutique in my hometown of Columbus, Ind., I spotted a dress that looked promising: an ivory A-line gown with a definite vintage flair. It never would have caught my eye on a Web site or in a catalog, but once I stood in front of the store’s mirror wearing it, I was sold. A few rounds of alterations later, I learned the most important rule of all: “The single most important factor when it comes to clothing is the way it fits,” says Real Simple. “If a gown is perfectly fitted to your body, it will look like it was made for you by a Parisian couturier, no matter what it cost.”

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