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What Are The Different Types of Dresses? The Ultimate Guide

Are you looking to add more dresses to your closet? Whether you’re a dress-everyday kind of girl or typically reach for pants, finding a dress type that suits your style and body shape can help you feel like a million bucks.

But where to start? I’ve rounded up the different types of dresses you’ll see when shopping to give you an idea of what’s available to you (or to know what to call your favorite style!).

guide to different dress styles

Benefits of Dresses

One of the best aspects of adding dresses to your wardrobe is the fact that they require minimal additional styling. Adding a pair of riding boots or stunning heels can polish off a simple yet fashionable look. 

With dresses that range in pattern and style, it is easy to find various frocks to suit your lifestyle needs — heading out for a casual lunch date with friends? No problem! Consider donning a knee-length sweater dress that is perfectly suited for fall or spring weather! 

Maybe you have a formal wedding that you are attending and want to look both sophisticated and fashionable. Look no further than an elegant satin wrap dress that accentuates your curves! There are dresses to suit any occasion and their flattering feminine style helps to leave you feeling confident and stunning in your skin.

red slip dress

The Various Types Of Dresses 

There are countless styles of dresses. With so many options available you may wonder where to even start when you begin investigating the prospect of adding dresses to your wardrobe. If you’re looking at descriptions of dresses, you might find several of these terms used to describe one dress.

woman in orange dress at picnic

Since they describe different aspects of a style, such as length and shape, you might need to know several styles of dresses to understand how a dress will look on you or what to search for to find what you want. 

Length of Dress

Mini Dresses

Mini dresses are often described as dresses that fall above the knee. There are a variety of dresses that fall within this category and the length of the hem can differ depending on each style. For more formal mini dresses, it is common that they will sit closer to the knee while a more casual mini dress can sport a shorter hem. 

woman wearing yellow dress

Midi Dresses 

Midi dresses are usually defined as dresses that fall between the bottom of the knees and the ankles and can be casual or formal articles of clothing. It can be the perfect choice for a cozy holiday or a brunch out with your closest friends.

There are a variety of casual midi dresses that can help you look elevated and sophisticated without having to spend hours trying to put an outfit together.

black midi dress
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Maxi Dresses

A maxi dress is a long dress, hitting at the ankle or even the floor. The long line of the silhouette makes it great for a formal dress code, but there are lots of casual maxi dresses that are great for spring and summer, or even for fall with a sweater.

floral rebecca minkoff dress

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Some different styles of dresses are characterized by where the waistline seam sits. 

Empire Waist Dress

This style of dress borrows from Greco-Roman style and was repopularized in the Napoleonic era. The waist falls just below the bust and then skims the body loosely down from there. It’s the type of dress you see in Bridgerton. 

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Baby doll dress

Baby doll dresses hit similarly to empire waist dresses — above the natural waist, right under the bust. They are typically short, however, and balloon out a bit more rather than staying close to the body.

woman wearing colorful mini dress and white sneakers

Drop waist dress

A drop waist dress has the waistline seam below the natural waist, often around the hips. It can be fitted or loose.

woman wearing free people white midi dress

Styles of Dresses

Mermaid Style 

Mermaid-style gowns have been quite popular for wedding or formal-style dresses throughout the last few years. These dresses have a fitted bodice and are fitted through the hips and thighs before flaring out under the knees to create a mermaid-style effect. These gowns can help to accentuate your waist and natural curves.

blue mermaid dress

A-Line Dress

A-line dresses are classic and continue to show their timeless sophistication year after year. These dresses gather at the waist before widening in an A shape. This term also sometimes refers to a silhouette that is fitted at the shoulders and bust and flares out from there. 

The movement of the fabric helps you to feel elegant and beautiful, making this style the perfect dress to wear to formal events.

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Sundresses are perfect for vacations and summer time! This term can be a bit of a catchall for warm-weather dresses, but most often they have a fitted bodice and flowy skirt, and may be sleeveless. You can dress up a sundress but they’re normally casual dresses. You’ll frequently find these dresses in linen or cotton fabrics that are perfectly suited for hot weather. 

Sheath Dress 

A sheath dress is a dress with a simple silhouette typically made from one piece of fabric. It’s a flattering cut that skims your form, cinching in at the waist without being skin tight, and can easily be dressed up for a more formal event. There are lots of office-appropriate sheath dresses because they often hit somewhere around the knee.

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Shift Dress

Shift dresses sometimes get confused with sheath dresses because the names sound so similar, but they have some distinct differences. A shift dress is straight through the waist, so it does not hug your curves like a sheath dress does. A shift dress is a boxier, loose-fitting dress that won’t highlight your waist, hips or stomach. It’s often in a mini or midi dress length.

Shift Dress + Denim Jacket

Wrap Dress

This type of dress is an excellent choice for office wear. Wrap dresses have a V neck, formed by wrapping one side of the dress across the other in front. You usually tie or fasten the dress on the side or back. The effect is a feminine silhouette that accentuates your bust and waist. 

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You can probably guess what shirt dresses look like! This style borrows elements from button-down shirts, so they often have a collar, buttons down the front, breast pockets and/or cuffed sleeves. They can be simple and straight, basically just a long version of a men’s dress shirt, or they can have a bigger skirt, puff sleeves or other elements to make it more feminine.

A woman wearing a blue chambray dress with brown riding boots

A similar idea is the T-shirt dress — basically a dress-length T-shirt. They are often simple mini dresses, but can also be longer and have slits.

Slip Dress

If you’re looking for a sexy dress, you may want to look into slip dresses! They are slinky, often silky, material that look a bit like lingerie or slips you would wear under sheer clothes. They were popular in the ’90s, and like so many other ’90s styles, they have made a comeback in recent years!

slip dress

Bodycon Dress

Show off that body! Bodycon dresses tightly hug your body shape instead of hiding it. Bodycon is short for body-conscious (or potentially body-conforming or body-contouring), so it’s meant to highlight your figure. Expect a stretchy material like spandex, lycra or a lightweight jersey so it’s tight on your body.

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Peplum Dress

To emphasize or create an hourglass figure, consider a peplum dress. Peplum, which can also be found on blouses or jackets, is a ruffled or pleated strip of fabric that is attached around the waist of a garment and flares out at the hips. This is great to give extra hip shape to a straighter frame or to have a little extra coverage if you’re not comfortable with a closer-fitting dress on your hips. 

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Ball Gown

This classic evening wear look is perfect for formal occasions. While generically, “ball gown” can refer to any dress that you’d wear to a ball or formal event, in fashion it’s most often used to describe a dress with a fitted bodice and a very full skirt that balloons out under the waist. 

The dramatic effect will make you feel like a princess, which is why this style is sometimes called a princess dress. You’ll often see this style as a strapless dress, but it can have sleeves or be off the shoulder.

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Asymmetrical Dress

Asymmetrical dresses have skirts that are higher on one side than the other. They can be subtle or dramatic, with one side above the knee and the other to the ankle.

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Similarly, high-low dresses have skirts that are higher in the front and longer in the back. 

Finding Your Style

Dresses are unique pieces of clothing that embrace the feminine form and can help you to elevate your wardrobe effortlessly. While certain styles such as A-line dresses or tea-length midi dresses have been around for years, other more trend-setting styles such as body con dresses can help you remain current with your fashion choices.

Focus on selecting colors and styles that complement your body type while making you feel beautiful and you can rest assured that your closet will be enviable.

Need help styling your dresses? I’ve got ideas for shift dresses, sweater dresses, and midi dresses.

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