Your style says a lot about you. And when you’re invited to a prominent event, you’ll want to take the time to put together the right look. A well-dressed guest draws the right kind of attention that can boost your confidence and make for a memorable experience. But there are hundreds or thousands of options for evening gowns. How do you choose the right one? Here’s what to consider when shopping for the perfect dress.
SHOP BY OCCASION
First, consider the occasion. Not all evening gowns or events match the same dress code. You’ll want to avoid the first faux pas of the event by matching your attire to the type of event you will be attending. If you’re going to the opera, it’s an occasion to dress up in something elegant. If the invitation to your event says ‘black tie,’ it’s an indication of a semi-formal event, making a classy evening gown appropriate.
By contrast, a ‘white tie’ event is an indication of a full formal dress with a full-length evening gown required. If the event is a wedding, the dress code could run the gamut from blue jeans to full formal attire. Be sure to check the invitation or event page for details. Afternoon weddings might call for a shorter dress. But if it’s an evening wedding, you likely won’t be out of place in an evening gown.
SHOP BY SEASON
Now that you are equipped with a general idea of the dress code, you can begin to whittle down your gown options based on the season. While modern fashion rules don’t strictly adhere to the “no white after Labor Day rule,” there are some softer seasonal guidelines to pay attention to.
Spring is a time for soft color palettes and neutral tones. Floral designs are most appropriate this time of year. But the key is to make sure that your gown features a simple silhouette and has a light and airy feel. Short sleeves, three-quarter sleeves, cap-sleeves, and even a sleeveless gown paired with a shrug works in the spring.
The summer can be challenging because it tends to get hot, and you want to maintain a shimmery, dewy appearance without perspiring. Above all else, we recommend a gown made from a breathable fabric. A heavy satin gown at the end of July is a recipe for disaster. Most summer gowns feature strapless or sleeveless tops. But if you need a sleeve to feel confident, opt for a sheer long sleeve.
Fall is a wonderful time of year for everything from pumpkin spice to formal fashion trends. It’s the season that provides the most flexibility in what and how you can wear fabrics and accessories. If you’re dying to make a big statement with something bold and embellished, this is the season to do it. Fall fashion trends love metallic accents and intense earthy tones. It’s also a good time to try out a bold pattern inspired by nature, animals, or Aztec prints.
Indulge in rich, luxurious fabrics with many layers for winter events. It’s the time to embrace plush velvets and fancy silks. You can create a dramatic visual experience by using multi-tonal fabrics in the same color for additional layers. And for the most formal events, don’t forget to try out an illusion neckline that uses a sheer fabric to add additional coverage to a traditionally strapless design.
SHOP BY BODY TYPE
Even though we’ve already narrowed down the level of formality and general fabrics and color palettes, we’re only halfway there in terms of sifting through the thousands of dress options to find the perfect one. Choosing a dress style that is flattering to your body type will make the difference between a great dress for someone and a great dress for you.
THE APPLE SHAPE
An apple-shaped body is widest at the waist with shoulders and hips tapering to give an overall rounded or apple shape. The key to dressing the apple shape is to create an elongated upper body and defined waist. This means that you will be looking at gowns that feature a deep V neckline. Wrap-style dresses make a good choice for apples because they tend to offer both the V-neckline and a defined or belted waist with the added suggestion of concealing layers that draw attention away from the body.
THE PEAR SHAPE
A pear-shaped body is narrow in the shoulders and widest in the hips. These lovely ladies have a booty to boast, but they also need to be mindful not to accentuate their hips. Flowing and flared skirts that don’t cling are a good choice for leaving width up to the imagination. The key to balancing the width of the hips is to broaden the shoulders. Halter tops do a good job of adding visual substance to the upper body. While they aren’t a great choice for many other body types, they do wonders for pears.
THE HOURGLASS SHAPE
The coveted hourglass shape is characterized by wider shoulders and wider hips paired with a pencil-thin waist. It’s long since been used as the iconic image of a woman, leaving many ladies lusting after this particular body shape. So, if you’ve got it, use it to your advantage. The evening gown was invented to encapsulate your profile. Choose a gown that hugs your curves. A high neckline only further elongates your body and accentuates your curves. And an open back is the perfect finishing touch for a little bit of sexy that isn’t slutty.
THE RECTANGULAR SHAPE
If you don’t think you have a shape at all, you’re probably of the rectangular variety. While some would say that proportionate shoulders, waist, and hips are good, they can leave you feeling a little plain. Not to worry, the famous mermaid or trumpet style dress was made for your proportionate dimensions. Actually, on a rectangular shape, we love anything with a narrow waist and flared tail.
THE PETITE STATURE
Okay, so it’s not a body shape, but the size is important too. Petite women are always looking for ways to match the styles of their proportionately tall friends. So aside from some 60s-era platform shoes, what can give a petite lady more height? For one, a high-belted waist gives the illusion of longer legs. Pair that with solid colors and simple designs that allow the eye to keep flowing.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT COLOR FOR YOUR COMPLEXION
Most people have a favorite color or at least one that shows up often in their regular wardrobe. You might notice that you always get compliments when you wear them. It’s true – certain colors can enhance our skin tone while others can wash us out. It all depends on your complexion and undertones.
Skin tones have a range of undertones that give us variety. While some are neutral and can wear almost anything, most of us have either a warm yellow or cool pink undertone with varying intensities. If you have yellow undertones, complement with a cold-colored gown like green, blue, indigo, or violet. If you have pink undertones, look for warmer colors like red, orange, and yellow.
SHOPPING BY DRESS STYLE
Most retailers categorize their gowns by style. While we’ve touched on some do’s and don’ts based on body type, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each dress style can also be helpful in finding your perfect fit.
THE A-LINE DRESS
The A-line is no doubt a classic look. It looks good on just about everybody. The A-line features a fitted top, defined waist, and flared skirt. It works particularly well for women who tend to be top-heavy. The flared skirt provides balance on the bottom half.
THE EMPIRE WAIST
This dress is designed to be classy by leaving most of the body shape to the imagination. It features a high waistline that elongates legs while providing a flowing fit that is perfect for anyone who is a little thicker in thighs. These dresses can be the perfect solution for petite and plus-sized women.
STRAPLESS, STRAPPY, AND HALTER-TOP-STYLE DRESSES
Anything that exposes the arms and shoulders looks best for ladies with small shoulders and toned arms. Unfortunately, if you’re bulkier on the top, thin spaghetti straps can accentuate parts that don’t need extra attention. Busty ladies should be cautious of choosing these styles, too, opting for halter-top styles over thin strappy pieces.
THE WRAP DRESS
The premise of the wrap dress is that it features flowing, layered fabrics that are cinched at the waist. It’s a lot like wearing a formal version of a bathrobe. These dresses pair well with deep V necklines and can be a great way to give an apple-shaped body some definition. They can also work for pear-shaped who want to add the illusion of curves.
EMBELLISHED DRESSES, YAY OR NAY?
Have you seen a dress that is seemingly overtaken with ruffles, feathers, or flowers? Embellishments can be a classy way to create balance. For example, a small-chested person could use a little embellishment on the front of the dress to draw attention away from her lack of curves. The problem is that these dresses are not for everyone, and they can quickly venture into gaudy.
Asymmetrical dresses are designed to catch attention. If you opt for this type of dress, the basic shape should be selected to complement your body style. At the same time, the asymmetrical or cutout detail should be used to draw attention to flawless attributes like a flat, toned stomach. These types of dresses, when well done, can be the statement piece all but eliminating the need for accessories.
THE SHEATH DRESS
When you think of simple and understated, the sheath dress probably comes to mind. It is a straight cut that tends to hug the body. Sheath dresses are the perfect choice to backdrop a ritzy diamond statement necklace. They’re also a great option for versatility, offering the flexibility to go from day to night with a simple change of accessories.
TIPS FOR SHOPPING ONLINE
There is something to be said for being able to lay your eyes on the real deal when shopping. And there really is no substitute for trying a dress on in front of a full-length mirror. But that doesn’t mean that you should write off online shopping for the perfect gown. Of course, you will need to allow plenty of time to receive your dress and have alterations made.
We are far enough into the digital age that online shopping for clothing like evening gowns has become relatively simple and packed with features like 360-degree views. Before you dig into the online shopping process, get your measurements. One key to successful online shopping is to watch the manufacturer’s size charts closely. We also recommend that you choose a supplier that provides accessible customer service. And be aware if you’re buying your dress from another country. There are many skilled dressmakers in China, but there are just as many or more low-quality gimmicks trying to profit off an online sale.
So, above all else, check reviews thoroughly so that you know what to expect. You wouldn’t want to fall into a trap like the tiny sofa that so many shoppers bought on Amazon, thinking it was a full-size piece of furniture. If you’re unsure where to start, there are many dress retailers online. New York Dress (NYD) is a great option with a wide selection of formal gowns ranging in sizes from 00 to 28.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT ACCESSORIES
An evening gown ensemble is never just about the dress. While the right gown is the centerpiece of the outfit, the entire look and feel can be changed with a few accessories. First, accessories are the finishing touch. If you wouldn’t show up without lipstick, don’t skip the accessories either. But that doesn’t mean you need to wear hula-hoops on your ears or bedazzle your neckline. In fact, minimalist looks can be very classy.
It’s really about choosing the right accessories. If you’re wearing a simple dress with a solid color, you can choose one statement piece as an accessory. If you choose to add additional accessories, make sure they don’t compete with the focal piece. Nobody should be wearing chunky earrings, a statement necklace, and a flashy clutch. The same goes if your gown is flashy. For busy patterns and dresses with lots of detail, let the gown be the focal point and keep your accessories modest.
Chandelier and cascading earrings are best for plunging necklines and updos that allow them to be seen. A simple pair of diamond studs can be a good, simple choice for almost any ensemble, offering just a hint of sparkle as you move through a room. A ring can be a good way to add a feminine touch. And a vintage-inspired bangle bracelet is feminine with oomph.
Just remember, when it comes to formal occasions, pairing fine jewelry with your evening gown is always classy. There is a time and place for costume jewelry, but a high formal affair, isn’t it.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON CHOOSING THE RIGHT EVENING GOWN
There’s a lot more that goes into choosing the perfect evening gown than just a matter of personal preference. The most stunning guests at the party understand their strengths and weaknesses and how those attributes translate into choosing a gown. Every detail, from the level of formality and season to the individual’s body type and complexion, plays a role in choosing the right gown.
Professional dress shops and big-name retailers can be a good place to begin your search. At the very least, they will take your measurements and help steer you in the right direction. And, of course, we always recommend consulting your entourage. Hopefully, your besties won’t steer you in the wrong direction when it comes to helping you create the right look for the occasion.
Author Bio: Jonah Levine is the Creative Director of NewYorkDress.com. NewYorkDress.com, established in 2008, is the #1 online source for Evening and Prom dresses worldwide. As Creative Director, Jonah works to create the ultimate online and in store luxury shopping experience with a focus on service and personalization.