What is the Best Wedding Dress for a Petite Bride?
The best wedding dress is one that fits you perfectly!
Shopping for the perfect wedding dress off the rack is difficult. Shopping for the perfect petite wedding dress off the rack is almost impossible.
Even if you are looking at designer brands, shopping for petite styles is usually a challenge. Being petite myself, I understand how difficult it is to find a wedding dress that perfectly fits your smaller frame and flatters your body.
Shopping Tips for Petite Wedding Dresses
Petite sized dresses are not mass produced, but they are usually “mass designed” — meaning a regular sized pattern has just been scaled down to a smaller size, not specifically designed for a petite body type.
Even if the dress is altered to fit your petite frame, most bridal gowns will not be as flattering or stylish as the original design on a taller bride. That’s because the length isn’t the only thing that matters.
Designing wedding dresses for petite women is not the same as designing for regular sizes. Because the ratios of various measurements are different for petite frames, altering a regular sized dress to fit a petite bride almost never produces the proper fit, even with expensive designer dresses.
So while of course I usually advise petite brides to have a custom wedding dress made specifically for you, I also recommend that you visit some bridal shops and try on some dresses. Both to see what you like and what you don’t, and to take some pictures of yourself in different styles so you know what they actually look like on you.
Tips for Choosing a Wedding Gown Style for a Petite Bride
Keeps these ideas in mind when shopping for or designing your dream wedding dress:
Don’t Limit Your Style Choices
While most people think only a few silhouettes or styles are appropriate for petite brides, as a custom wedding dress designer, I disagree. It’s more about ensuring that the details of the fit are just right — which is much easier to do with custom wedding dresses than altering an off the rack dress. (And often less expensive as well!)
Show Your Body Strategically
A petite frame can easily be overwhelmed by too much fabric. Strategically showing some skin and choosing lighter fabrics with movement can create the illusion of length and height. And a high slit is a real stunner that makes it easy to draw attention to your legs.
Focus on Your Best Feature
To bring out your best look, choose your wedding dress to highlight your body’s best feature. This will help you navigate styles, silhouettes and fabric choices with a more focused vision in mind.
Keep it Simple
Avoid ball gowns, enormous trains, and overly embellished veils. Also avoid horizontal lines like tiered skirts which can make you look shorter.
What is the Best Silhouette for Petite Brides?
While many designers agree that there are some gown silhouettes that are better for petite brides than others, there’s really no universal guide for choosing the “right” silhouette. It really does depend on the bride — there are several body types that are typically labelled “petite,” and they are quite different from each other. Some are better for certain silhouettes than others.
But with attention to the right details, a good designer can make most styles work for most petite brides.
Flared skirts, a-line, and simple sheaths tend to be the more popular favorites among designers. However, paying close attention to how the dress flatters your figure is the most crucial aspect of finding the perfect design. And whatever type of silhouette you choose, simple outlines usually work best.
A Flattering Silhouette is All About Proportion
I agree with other designers that fit and flare, a-line and sheath dresses are usually the best for petite women. But sometimes these wedding dress styles may not be the best for a particular petite body type.
The goal is to achieve a look that is proportional and balanced, like an hourglass shape. These styles are well suited for that purpose. It’s not magic — it’s a matter of finding the right balance.
The accurate placement of construction details and embellishments is essential for petite bridal gowns. Petite brides have lot more silhouette and style options with a custom dress because those details can be perfectly placed to create your best shape.
Sheath Wedding Dresses
If you’ve already got a perfect figure, a sheath dress can be incredibly flattering and is great for showing off your natural curves on your big day. This body hugging style instantly gives you the long and lean look required by short brides.
Sheath dresses are usually minimalist in design and made with lightweight material that drapes well, accentuating your figure as you move. It’s perfect for many types of weddings, especially outdoor or destination weddings.
Mermaid Wedding Dresses
For brides who want to show off their feminine curves, mermaid wedding dresses are the perfect choice for creating the ideal hourglass silhouette. Mermaid styles emphasize the bust and the hips, and the moderate skirt size won’t overwhelm a petite bride.
This style flatters most body types and elongates your frame. A waistline strategically placed higher than your natural waistline can help elongate your legs and make you appear taller. However, the most important design element with this style is the placement of the flare to hit just below the knee.
I don’t really recommend a trumpet silhouette for a petite figure because the flare is placed too high on the leg and usually creates too much volume on the bottom, especially for short brides.
Fit and Flare Wedding Dresses
Fit and Flare silhouettes are similar to mermaid styles, but the flare is placed just above the knee. Finding the perfect place in the skirt to place the flare is essential. For petite brides, this will help create the appearance of length.
A-line Wedding Dresses
A-line style wedding dresses generally look good on all body types because they immediately create a figured silhouette. It’s a great choice for brides who are either busty or pear shaped, and for really skinny brides as well, because it creates a defined hourglass shape. Short brides will want to get a more simple a-line design and avoid exaggerated ball gown styles.
Pay attention to the fullness of the skirt and the ratio of the bodice to the skirt. To look flattering a-line styles need to have the perfect ratio. An improperly sized bodice or skirt can make you look shorter.
While some brides will need a more defined waistband to achieve the hourglass shape, I usually recommend an a-line with an undefined waistband to add height for short girls.
Petite Short Wedding Gowns
While I don’t normally recommend short wedding dresses, petite women can wear them most elegantly. If you’re looking for something other than a classic bridal gown for your wedding day, short wedding dresses can work quite well, especially on smaller budget or in an intimate setting. And of course, a short dress is a great choice if you want to show off your legs on your big day.
What are the Most Important Design Features of Petite Wedding Dresses?
Pay attention to these design details when shopping for or designing a custom bridal gown:
The waistline is the most important design feature for petite wedding dresses, as it has the most influence on helping to create the ideal hourglass shape and the illusion of length and height. You should strategically determine the waistline of your dress to find the proper ratio of top to bottom.
For shorter brides, dresses with a lower waistline will make your legs appear shorter. But while many wedding bloggers favor an empire waist dress for petite brides, I don’t universally recommend them.
The empire waist sits high just under the bust with the rest of the dress flowing down to the hem, with the goal of making your legs look longer. For brides with extremely long waists, artificially adjusting the waistline upward like this can create a better sense of proportion. But for some brides, this will actually make you look shorter.
If you have a shorter waist, back and torso but with longer legs, then the waistline of your dress must be exactly placed on your natural waistline. This will help to keep the dress from bunching up.
If you’re short and bigger on the bottm (pear shaped), a soft a-line skirt that draws attention to the bodice will work best for you. For short women with bigger busts, a structured corset top with boning to support the bodice in place will help to create a more ideal shape.
Most brides these days are wearing some kind of additional shapewear to help create the right curves, and this can be built into a custom dress for just the right look.
While a v-neck can elongate a short neck, add length and draw the eye to your face, I do not recommend it for flat chested brides, who tend to look better with sweetheart or halter necklines. Pleating and ruching can be used to create volume on the chest.
Strapless styles work well for brides with a shorter neck, while brides with a longer neck benefit from subtle embellishments to the shoulders and neck, possibly with a choker.
Your facial shape should also be considered when choosing a neckline. Rounder faces look good with a v-neck or plunging neckline, while longer faces prefer a sweeheart neckline. If you have a more square shaped jaw, you should avoid a square neckline and opt for a plunging v-shaped or u-shaped neckline.
While there really is no “proper” length for your dress, the overall effect of the length should be to help create a long and lean shape, with the illusion of longer legs. My recommendation is for a floor length dress (with shoes on), as it tends to be the most elegant.
While many bloggers favor short wedding gowns for petites, I don’t universally recommend them. But if a short dress fits the occasion (like an elopement or destination wedding) and you have great legs, then it can definitely work for you.
If your partner is short, a short dress can make you look taller. If your partner is on the taller side, a short dress will make you look shorter.
Petite brides can be easily overwhelmed by dresses made from heavy fabrics like mikado and heavy satin. Large, full skirts with many layers can make you look shorter.
Medium weight crepe, lace and silk satin are light and drape well, making excellent choices to create soft movement in your bridal gown.
Print and pattern size has to be proportional to your body, so avoid large prints and lace embroideries in favor of smaller, precisely placed details and appliqués. Embellish the dress in places around your face to lift the eye upwards.
Seams and Ruching
Vertical seaming can help to create the illusion of height. Other details like beading, sequins or embroidery can also be placed vertically for a lengthening effect.
Diagonal ruching can help to create a slimming effect in the waist and hide some less than flattering proportions, but it can also add volume and make you look bigger, depending on your body type.
The conventional thinking is that long sleeves on a petite wedding dress make you look shorter, and that short sleeves or sleeveless styles work better for petite brides. That’s not universally true, but long sleeves definitely need to be perfectly fitted and puff sleeves need to be in the right proportion to your body.
How Should I Accessorize as a Petite Bride?
I recommend pointy shoes with slim heels, preferably a nude color, to elongate the legs and create a bit more height. If you’re not used to wearing stillettos, then wedges or platform heels can be a more comfortable choice. However, avoid too much embellishment on your shoes, because you don’t want to draw attention downward. Also, avoid strappy horizontal lines around the ankles as that can make your legs look shorter.
The right belt can focus attention on the waist and make your top and bottom appear more proportional. Your belt should be the appropriate size for your body — I recommend two fingers wide.
Short brides can add height to their appearance with some kind of bridal headpiece like a veil, tiara or headband. Also consider styling your hair in an updo for more height.
My Expert Advice for Petite Brides: Have Your Petite Wedding Dress Custom Made
As I said above, shopping for a petite wedding dress off the rack can be a daunting, frustrating and expensive exercise. That’s certainly not the best way to begin your bridal journey!
While there are designers who do produce wedding dresses for petite brides, you’re most likely going to have to make extensive alterations to an off the rack dress to achieve a good fit.
Going custom allows you and your designer to select and place design details to achieve a perfect fit in a style that really flatters your body and brings out your best look. It’s your wedding day, and all eyes will be on you — so creating your bridal vision with a dress you really love is really important.
While I’ve written about how much it costs to have custom wedding dresses made in another article, let me say here that going custom is not necessarily more expensive. Actually, it’s often less expensive and you can usually get a more luxurious and better fitting wedding dress for a similar price to what you would pay for a designer dress at a bridal boutique. You’ll also have a one of a kind dress based on your own wedding dress inspiration.
And you’ll have a really fun and memorable experience that will make your bridal journey even better.
Why trust Angela?
Angela Kim has worked in fashion internationally for over 20 years. She created Angela Kim Couture in 2017 and now specializes exclusively in custom wedding dress design.