I love dresses. They are the most perfect garment ever created. You can wear one to a casual event, a hot date, or a formal ball. Different dress styles have different fit problems, regardless of your body type. If a certain type of dress never worked for you, it's probably because that style has limitations that keep it from fitting you. And as you should know if you've been following this series: It doesn't matter what style the dress is: If it doesn't fit correctly, it won't look good.
Popular Dress Types
A word on dress taxonomy: there is incredible variety in dresses, and designers are always ringing the changes on traditional types. That's all good. For example, empire dresses are traditionally long and flowing. But they can be strapless, form-fitting like a sheath, or have different necklines. A sheath dress with an empire seam could be called either a sheath or an empire dress. If the dress you are interested in fits in more than one category, use the criteria for both of them as appropriate.
Empire dresses are flowing dresses with a seam sewn directly below the bustline (called an "empire seam"), which acts as a very high waist. This looks great if you have larger breasts because the style shows off large busts without adding width to the waist and hips. Beware of empire seams that sit too high on your bust. They can't be fixed. If the seam of a dress cuts into the bottom of your boobs, send it back or leave it on the rack. If you don't, you'll spend most of your time in the bathroom trying to make it look OK.
Incidentally, the snob pronunciation of Empire is the French way (ahm-PEER), because it was created during Napoleon's day.
- Fit and Flare dresses feature a fitted upper body cinched at the waist (the "fit"), and a full skirt (the "flare"). This is a good choice if you have smaller breasts. If you like the style and have larger breasts, look for ones made with stretch fabric because otherwise, fit and flare dresses will be too tight. If you have a big butt and generous hips, they provide a very comfortable fit thanks to the flare.
Sheath dresses are classic and timeless. They are form-fitting at every point and are usually designed with a structured sleeve. Unfortunately, because they are so form-fitting, they are prone to armhole, shoulder, and waistline fit issues. Here are some:
Shoulder: A well-structured shoulder is the most important feature of a sheath dress. The whole dress is built around it! Like jackets, the shoulder seam should stop at the end of your natural shoulder, not continue past it and droop down your arm.
Armhole: If the armhole doesn't fit, not only will it be uncomfortable, the entire fit of the dress will be off. If the armhole is too high, it will dig into your arm and armpit. If the armhole is set too low, when you raise your arm, the entire dress will come with it! Not a good look. The armhole on a sheath dress should be no lower than one inch below your armpit to allow your arm to move freely.
Waist: Most sheath dresses have very fitted waists. If the waist seam is in the wrong spot, it will be painful to wear. You want the waist seam to hit right at your natural waist for maximum comfort and fit. This applies to all dresses with fitted waists: Never buy one that doesn't hit the exact, proper spot.
- Shift dresses are almost always sleeveless and cut to fall in a straight line down from the shoulders. Unlike sheath dresses, they aren't fitted to the body. This makes them easier to wear, but they don't show off your figure as well. Most shift dresses have darts at the bust to add definition. If the darts are in the wrong place, the fit will be poor and possibly too tight.
- Strapless dresses are the hardest to wear. Women always blame their bust line when their strapless doesn't stay up, but that's not the problem. Strapless dresses that don't stay up are poorly made at the torso and the waist, where most of the support is supposed to come from. It doesn't fit you if you need to keep pulling up your strapless all night. If you already own a strapless that you don't want to wear because it won't stay up, you might be able to rescue it by wearing a long-line bra. These bras dip low in the back and have a corset-like bodice for support. These bras stay up even for large-breasted women and can lend a hand to that poorly constructed gown in your closet. But a properly fitted strapless dress will stay up even with no bra.
- Tank dresses are simple, sleeveless dresses of varying lengths. They are usually knits or bodycons. The main thing to watch out for with a tank dress is the armholes, which can hang too low and expose your bra to the world. Not a nice look. But a tank-style dress is incredibly forgiving and easily altered. You can take up the shoulder seam or shorten the straps very easily, and if you have a short torso and want to wear tank dresses, I recommend it.
Wrap dresses were made famous back in the 1970s by Diane van Furstenberg. It's named for the front closure: you wrap one side of the dress across the other and tie them together at the side or back. They look like the classic ballerina wrap top but in a dress.
People say that a wrap dress will fit anyone. That just shows you how wrong people can be. They rarely fit small-busted women. The deep plunge in the front can easily slide between small breasts, which causes the fabric to gape and sag. If you want to wear a wrap dress and have small breasts, you will need to use a safety pin, add a snap, or use Topstick tape to keep the top half from falling open.
You will love wrap dresses if you have large breasts. This dress perfectly solves the problem of button-front garments that won't close properly over large boobs. And while it doesn't apply to transwomen, I know I have some cis-women readers, so I'll add that it's also perfect if you are pregnant because the waist is bump-friendly. The bustline can adjust to the wild fluctuations of breast size that happens when you are pregnant.
But in general, the chances are that no matter what your body type, you will need a closure or a camisole to keep a wrap dress together at the top.