But What Does It Mean?! Other Dress Terms

There are a multitude of terms that apply to wedding dresses, and I could cover them all if I tried (I’m not even sure I’ve heard all of them…).  What I will try to do is tell you what the most common ones mean.  If you want more clarification on something I listed here, or find another “WTF is this” term you want me to define, let me know!


A bustle is the gathering of the excess material of the train of a dress so that you can actually dance in it later on.  99% of the time the dress does not come with a bustle on it since it is so dependent on your personal height and shape.  If it is necessary for your dress, it can be added by your seamstress.  There are a multitude of ways to bustle a dress, but I won’t get into those here.  That will get its own post much later.  Since that’s not something you have to worry about until you get your alterations done, it won’t appear for a couple of months unless I get a request for it sooner.


Boning is the stiff support in the bodice, usually located along the two front seams and mirrored along the back, though extra pieces are sometimes used.  This is found most commonly in corset tops and is in most strapless dresses to provide the shaping, support, and stiffening necessary to achieve their look.  Since this is an internal structure thing, I have no helpful pictures here…sorry!


Want a dress that’s not floor length, but you don’t want a short one, and don’t know what to say?  What you’re talking about is a tea-length dress.  This skirt length traditionally falls about mid-calf, but now widely applies to dresses that aren’t floor length but are below the knee.  Dresses above the knee are considered “short”, and dresses that go above mid-thigh are considered “way too short to be a wedding dress.”


This should have been in my necklines post, but I somehow forgot about it.  The cowl neck refers to any neckline that has a droopey, drapey quality to it.  It’s created by having excess material in between two fixed points, usually the shoulders on a dress (you’ve probably seen some cowl neck sweaters, though those are usually closer to the neck itself).  The degree of drape and excess material varies widely.  While most dresses with a cowl have the feature on the front, you can also find dresses with a low cut cowl back.  Pippa Middleton’s dress was a cowl neck (but I can’t find a good picture of it to post!).


A corset is a tight bodice that laces up in the back.  The lacing allows you to pull each part to the desired tightness, giving you a two-fold bonus.  First of all, you get to decide where the weight of the dress rests and minimize your chance for an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction (your boobs can’t come out if they’re tied in!).  Secondly, it gives you great shaping ability, and can help pull in that little bit of belly pooch and make your waist incredibly small and well-defined.  Just be careful you don’t cinch it up too tightly…it doesn’t matter how snug your boobs are or how amazing you look if you can’t breathe and pass out!


Pickups are a detail found on skirts, usually on fuller A-line or ball gown styles.  They break up the normally straight cuts of the skirt and add some dramatic interest by skewing the attachment of the skirt to the lining somewhat randomly.  Some dresses will have some sort of beading or applique covering the part where the skirt is tacked, so it’s mostly covered by kind of peeks out as you walk or move.  This is done with heavier fabrics so the shape holds (lighter fabrics would just droop).


The term has a variety of forms depending on its application (it’s used in everything from fabric to cookies), but in this case it’s a gathering of fabric made to look like a flower, usually a rose (hence the term).  They can vary in size, shape, number, and detail, but the general principle is the same (the picture I have here is a bit of an extreme case).  While typically on the skirt, they can be found just about anywhere on the dress, and are a popular choice on single shoulder straps.  They are also done on hair combs and clips.


Most of you probably know what ruching is, but you’ll hear it a lot so I’ll mention it anyway.  Ruching comes in various forms, but is essentially the gathering of fabric along one of the seams.  It’s a little less stiff than straight-up pleating and usually has a very slimming effect.  It can be done straight across or at an angle, and is usually executed on the bodice of the dress though it can be extended down through the skirt (you’ll pretty much never find it on just the skirt, though there are exceptions).

Drop Waist

The drop waist applies to most dress shapes and is exactly what it sounds like.  The bottom of the bodice, which typically falls just below your actual waist, actually occurs several inches further down.  The drop waist will usually hit somewhere between crotch level and where scandalous low-rise jeans would come up to.  The drop waist is fantastic for elongating your torso (which is great for people like me who look short).  On the flip side, if you already have a long torso, this can make you look disproportionate.  Because it ends at a wider part of your body (i.e. over your hips) if you have narrow shoulders it can make you take on a less than flattering A-shape (AKA can make your hips look HUGE).  This is a very common waist line on A-line dresses.  This picture shows a more modest drop waist, but you can still easily see it doesn’t hit at the natural waist and makes her torso look much longer (bonus points: this one also has awesome ruching going on!).

Empire Waist

Essentially the opposite of the dropped waist, the empire waist starts just below the bust line.  This is typically found on the “goddess style” dresses.  These dresses are done in flowy, lighter materials that drift away from the body.  This is also a fantastic choice if you need a maternity style dress.  The dress doesn’t usually flare out on its own, but has a great deal of movement to it when you walk or dance.  They usually don’t have much of a train (since the dragging action would pull the entire dress back and against your body, which is the opposite of its intended effect), but can have short ones or watteau or panel trains.


Posted on December 1, 2011, in Attire, Wedding Planning Isn't For Sissies and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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