Guide to Empire Waist Wedding Dresses

Empire waist wedding dresses are beautiful with their romantic, billowy appearance that flatters the body. Find out how to make the style work for you.

By Emily Forrest

Empire Waist Wedding Dress
Photo by Wandermore Photography

We’re going to be honest: Finding the perfect wedding dress can be a bit of a process. You should feel beautiful, comfortable, and like yourself on your wedding day and what you wear largely contributes to that. Perhaps over all other elements of your wedding look. That being said, it’s entirely in your favor to know a bit about wedding gowns before you make any appointments.

Knowing the dress styles you gravitate towards can definitely aid in your search. A large part of this is having an idea of which silhouette—or silhouettes—you like. From mermaid to trumpet, there's a lot of variety. With that in mind, we’re taking an extensive look at one of the most beloved wedding dress shapes: The empire waist dress. Check out all of the details below.

What is an Empire Waist Dress?

An empire waist wedding dress has a fitted bodice that ends right below the bust and a loose-fitting skirt that provides an ethereal look. The billowy effect of this wedding gown style doesn’t necessarily equate volume, but rather a high waist and flattering fit that helps to elongate the torso or embody a timeless, romantic appeal.

If you’re on the bridal gown hunt for something that is form fitting, but leaves room around the midsection, the empire waist wedding dress is a quintessential choice. It’s similar in shape to an A-line frame, but an empire waist starts higher up on the bodice to create the illusion of height, which provides a streamlined silhouette.

Benefits of an Empire Waist Dress

A benefit of an empire waistline wedding dress is that it doesn’t cling to curves, but instead offers a soft, feminine look. It emphasizes the narrowest part of the body and minimizes attention to the lower half, while also lengthening your frame (making it a great option for petite brides). Additionally, there are variations of an empire waist wedding dress style that range from a full, billowy skirt to a body-skimming number.

Another advantage of an empire waist is that it’s designed to cover or camouflage the midsection without the need for bulky fabric or extravagant folds as a solution. If the floaty allure of an empire waist wedding dress is what you’re after, there are several ways to create a look that’s still all your own.

Consider the neckline that you’d like, preference of straps or sleeves, and selecting a skirt that’s flattering and comfortable. Once you’ve decided on your preferred dress silhouette, it helps to narrow down the endless options as you’re wedding dress shopping. After you have the cut of the dress decided upon, then you can think about the embellishments, colors, and types of fabric that will get you one step closer to your ultimate pick.

Guide to Empire Waist Wedding Dresses | Zola Photo Credit // Lindsey Paradiso Photography

Choosing a Neckline

A sweetheart neckline is normally the go-to match with an empire waist wedding dress, as it pairs together seamlessly and elevates its feminine appeal. This also adds length to your natural neckline, elongating the entire frame. It’s not as revealing as a deep v-neck and isn’t as conservative as a high-neck frame. The sweetheart neckline solution provides a happy medium between the two.

Want the shape of a sweetheart neckline with more coverage? A lace or sheer overlay allows you to see the subtly scooped outline and offers added support at the same time. Choosing a neckline comes down to the specific fit of the dresses you try on. Some sweetheart necklines dip lower than others or may have to be adjusted to provide the coverage and style that you’re most comfortable with.

You’ll also want to consider how it’s cut and how it feels against the side of your bust, so as to create a seamless appearance that doesn’t cut into the skin. Sometimes, wedding dress brands follow different sizing guides. Make sure that you’re selecting the size that fits your unique measurements. If needed, go up a size or two to avoid any discomfort or restrictions in movement, and rely on good tailoring to make an ill-fitting dress ideally matched for your figure, whether you consider yourself a busty bride or not.

Deciding Between Straps or Sleeves

After deciding upon your desired silhouette and neckline, it comes down to the decision of straps versus sleeves. Both have their own advantages and appeal. Or, you can skip both and go the strapless route, as many empire waist wedding dresses offer. A dreamy, in-between look involves off-the-shoulder sleeves. They offer slightly more coverage on the arms than going completely sleeveless, yet leave an airy feel.

Thinner straps like spaghetti straps help to balance out a voluminous skirt, while thicker straps pair well with a design that skims the body. Another option is to forgo the straps and opt for sleeves instead. Short sleeves will have the same affect as thinner straps, as well as long sleeves and thicker straps. Depending on the overall wedding day look that you’d like to achieve, a t-shirt sleeve, fluttery cap sleeve, or halter neck are beautiful options for an empire wedding gown.

Selecting a Skirt Style

The skirt of an empire wedding dress starts to flow right below the bust. It can be as voluminous or body skimming as you’d like, but you must select the optimal wedding dress fabrics to achieve the desired look. It can be made of a lighter material such as tulle or organza, or a thicker material such as satin for a luxe appearance. Think flowy versus something more weighted and reminiscent of a ball gown. You can opt for layers upon layers of fabric or tiered ruffles, or keep the look lightweight with a wispy finish. Or, meet in the middle with a pleated skirt.

There are still plenty of choices for the final selection, including decorative details and trains. Do you want a court train that drapes behind you, or do you prefer a sweep train that barely skims the floor? Other options for the skirt are heavy beading or lace detailing, versus a simple fabric without any additional details. You can also decide on a front or side slit to cut through a heavier skirt, if your goal is to highlight the legs and/or shoes. Or, consider adding pockets for a whimsical effect. The difference is in the details for empire waistline wedding dresses.

Adding Embellishments and Accessories

Speaking of shoes, they are just one way to continue the transformation of a wedding gown that you make completely your own. With a full skirt, you’ll need a few inches of a heel to keep the bottom from dragging and to continue with the appearance of height that empire waist wedding gowns offer. If the idea of stilettos doesn’t appeal to you, consider a t-strap shoe with a solid heel, or a sparkly pump that will elevate the overall look.

When trying on dresses, take along the shoes that you’re planning to wear to determine how much of the bottom might need to be hemmed. If you haven’t selected your wedding shoes yet, stow a couple of different pairs with varying heels to see what kind of height you’d like to pair with your beautiful dress.

Other embellishments and accessories to consider are belts, veils, and jewelry. Many brides who choose the beauty of an empire waist like how flowy it feels, while others still want to define the waist with a belt or built-in band. This allows you to slightly change the shape of the dress and provide color and sparkle at the same time.

The veil is another part of the entire wedding day look. A longer veil that flares slightly at the bottom mimics the style of the empire waist compared to a rounded, chin-length version. Then, there’s always the option of skipping the veil and wearing hair pins or flowers in the hair instead, which works as both a veil alternative and jewelry at the same time.

Finally, when considering jewelry, keep the accessories dainty to limit bulkiness around the neckline and shorten the frame. A simple pendant or delicate chain of pearls or diamonds is a beautiful choice. Elegant earrings are a nice touch if you’d prefer to leave the neckline bare, but still lean toward glamour. Mix-and-match jewelry to determine if you want to wear a necklace, earrings, or both. There are no rules when it comes to what will make you feel your most beautiful on your wedding day. Do whatever makes you the happiest.

Considering Colors and Fabrics

White has been the longstanding color for brides-to-be as a signifier of such a special day. However, more and more brides are opting for variations on bright white. Ivory, blush, and even shades of gray are colors with a timeless appeal that don’t steer too far away from tradition. For example, an outdoor rustic wedding with bridesmaid dress colors in burgundy or forest green is striking to complement an ivory tone for the wedding dress. Alternatively, a blush-colored gown is pretty paired with pastel hues for the bridal party.

Fabric is another factor to consider when you’re making your final selection. Lace wedding dresses lend themselves nicely to vintage and boho styles, while silk or satin suits a classic celebration. Tulle, organza, and chiffon wedding dresses work well for a fairytale vibe, and draped crepe and taffeta are optimal for a sophisticated, formal affair. Also keep an eye out for embellishments like appliques and sequins that can contribute to a dress's whole style. The weight of the fabric will make a difference, too, based on where you plan on getting married. A warm weather climate calls for lightweight materials, while a ceremony held in the winter months requires the consideration of heavier fabrics.

Guide to Empire Waist Wedding Dresses | Zola Photo Credit // Brklyn View Photography

Maximizing the Dress Shopping Experience

The dress shopping experience involves details that don’t stop at the type of silhouette. Take into account the varieties of necklines, straps and sleeves, skirt choices, and embellishments, plus all the color and fabric options. They all make a difference in securing the ultimate wedding gown special enough for your big day. You can customize it any way that you see fit to ensure that it speaks to your sense of style.

Empire waist wedding dresses are one of many cuts that are flattering on everyone. Whether you decide on keeping your look simple with a few embellishments or want a design that pulls out all the stops, it’s all about looking and feeling your best. Once you’ve found your perfect dress, all of the other wedding day details will start to fall into place and bring you one step closer to saying “I do.”

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