What Is a Sheath Wedding Dress?

The simplicity of a sheath wedding dress lends itself to plenty of ways to customize it for your wedding day. Follow our guide to find out how.

By Emily Forrest

Sheath Wedding Dress
Photo by NST Pictures

The elegance of a sheath wedding dress offers a streamlined silhouette that follows the body’s natural curves, while creating a statuesque appeal. Most variations slightly hug the hips, while fitting looser throughout the bodice and legs, though the skirt hangs straight down. For brides who want to skip the full skirt and opt for minimalism, this chic cut is ideal.

It’s a sophisticated, simplistic alternative to a ball gown or other voluminous option. When shopping for this style of wedding gown, the fit is important. You’ll want the material to feel smooth against the skin and snug, but not too tight. The body-hugging nature of a sheath often requires the appropriate undergarments to achieve a seamless look that compliments your body shape. It’s also best to practice walking, sitting, and raising your arms when trying on different designs to ensure that you have enough room to maneuver comfortably on your wedding day.

As far as length goes, a traditional sheath barely skims the floor. However, this particular cut looks good with any length, including a skirt that hits right below the knees or slightly above the ankles. Maximize your options by considering all of the details that can change the overall appearance of the sheath silhouette. This includes finding your ideal fabric, sleeve length, neckline, and color. Once you’ve pieced all of these individual components together, what you’ll uncover is the wedding gown of your dreams.

What Is a Sheath Wedding Dress?| Zola Photo Credit // Vivian Chen Photography

Is a Sheath the Same as a Mermaid Wedding Dress?

A sheath wedding dress is similar to a mermaid style. A mermaid wedding dress fans out near the bottom, but the skirt on a sheath remains straight. Both are form-fitting, but the flare out of the skirt starting just below the knee on the mermaid gown is what gives it the unique touch. The beauty of a sheath silhouette is that it can tow the line with a slight flare at the bottom, depending on the particular design.

If you’re a fan of either silhouette, include both in your search because some mermaid wedding dress styles may fall into the category of a sheath gown and vice-versa. Your choice is based on how pronounced you’d like the bottom of the skirt to be, while keeping a fitted bodice. As with a mermaid-style wedding dress, there are several variations available for a sheath. Although it has a simplified cut, the details can be as elaborate as you want them to be. From fabrics to sleeves and necklines to color choices, you can customize a sheath wedding dress to fit your bridal vision.

Common Fabrics for a Column Gown

Wedding dresses are made from a variety of fabrics. Common choices for a chic sheath, sometimes referenced as a column gown, are crepe and satin. Crepe is a light, soft fabric that folds beautifully without appearing wrinkled. Satin is a heavier, smooth material that provides a sheen to the surface. Both are gorgeous when paired with the elegance of a sheath wedding gown.

Other fabrics, such as tulle, chiffon, or organza, can overwhelm the shape of a column-style gown. While these may be used as overlays for the foundational fibers used to make the dress, they are rarely the main choice. Many dress options are also designed with mixed fabrics. For example, the bodice of the gown may be satin, while the bottom may flow into a skirt made of lace.

The skirt itself is another way to differentiate your bridal look from the average column gown. With a sheath gown, it hangs straight down, but there’s the option of adding a wedding dress train, front slit, or choosing a skirt that has a slight flare.

Another modern style is forgoing the traditional sheath and opting for top and bottom separates instead. It still creates a streamlined effect, with a bit of the midriff showing and a mix of fabrics between the skirt and top. This twist on a classic shape defines the waist for a bride who wants to highlight curves.

Sleeves vs. Straps for a Sheath Wedding Dress

After deciding which wedding dress fabrics work best, there’s the idea of sleeves or straps to consider. The top part of the sheath can have intricate sleeves or straps to weave in texture and design elements, which help make the dress feel more unique.

A sophisticated bridal option is a long-sleeved, crepe sheath gown. The lines are seamless, elongating the frame. This elegant style is ideal for a fall or winter wedding where sleeves will be a welcome addition in the colder weather. Alternatively, a sheath with spaghetti straps fits the destination nicely for a laid-back beach wedding.

When it comes to straps, wide shoulder straps, v-neck, and halter tops are all options that work well with a sheath dress. Both sleeves and straps can be made of lace, lined with crystals, or adorned with embellishments, such as bows or flowers. There really is no limit to the choices available when deciding between sleeves and straps, or forgoing both.

Necklines That Change the Look

Necklines also make a difference in the overall design of your wedding dress. Take into account your location and venue of where you’ll be getting married when deciding on the appropriate neckline. For a formal ceremony, a deep-v with a high slit on the front of the skirt may not be the first choice, but rather may be the perfect selection for a casual ceremony. It depends on the kind of dress coverage you want on your big day.

A high neck, boatneck, or Queen Ann neckline all provide more fabric and additional support. A favored option is a strapless sweetheart option since it highlights the delicate curve of the collarbone and shoulders. There’s also the straight across strapless option and off-the-shoulder neckline, which both provide a romantic appeal that fits somewhere in between.

Every detail elevates the vision of what you want to wear when you say your vows. Having the variety of fabrics, sleeves, straps, and necklines to choose from can take the look from a mid-century modern to a romantic, rustic feel—and any aesthetic in between—with just a few details.

Color Choices Based on the Season

Moving on to color, white will eternally be a wedding staple; it’s elegant, airy, and pure. Contemporary wedding dress colors encompass all shades of the white palette, from ivory to blush, and they invite in bolder shades, too. Fall brides who want a non-traditional gown may choose a seasonal color such as marigold, forest green, or navy. Whereas brides getting married in the spring may opt for a pale mint or a buttery yellow as their wedding dress color.

If you want to maintain tradition with white and incorporate a peek of color (perhaps, something blue?), accessorizing with a belt or ribbon subtly works some color in and defines the waist at the same time. Deciding on your wedding colors is one of the first parts of planning. Maintain customary wedding colors or extend your palette to a rainbow of shades based on what you have in mind for your celebration.

Shoes to Wear With a Sheath

The silhouette of a sheath dress typically calls for a high heel. Stilettos, peep-toe pumps, or a classic pair of Mary Jane's all pair well with this style, depending on the length of the skirt. However, not every bride wants to wear heels, and a sheath dress with a shorter hem looks great when paired with flats, sandals, or even sneakers. The versatility of wearing a sheath wedding dress allows for it all, no matter what shoes you decide to wear.

Prevent sore soles by wearing shoes that you’ll feel good walking in and wearing for the duration of your big day. Or, make a swap between the ceremony and reception if you want something more formal for the vows and a pair that’s low-key for everything that follows. The styling of your wedding dress is important, but doesn’t need to be forsaken for comfort, since you’ll be spending hours on your feet celebrating.

What Is a Sheath Wedding Dress?| Zola Photo Credit // The Lauren Louise Collective

Final Touches to Complement the Dress

Once you’ve determined the fabric, neckline, and other personalized elements that will be part of your dream gown, you’re ready to add the final touches. This involves selecting jewelry that elevates your wedding day look. Create balance by making the pieces complementary to each other without fighting for attention. For example, a statement necklace plus an embellished neckline and fancy chandelier earrings may overwhelm the top of your frame. Try taking off one piece of jewelry to decide if the dress requires more or less.

Other accessories such as ornate headpieces and bejeweled bracelets, corsages, and pins are less commonly considered, yet incorporate intrigue and uniqueness to your overall style. A sheath paired with a vintage hair clip is beautifully retro, while a flower crown and a lacy sheath wedding dress exudes romantic appeal. These are a few style ideas to spark your interest and inspiration.

Fortunately, a sheath dress is adaptable to all bridal wants and needs. As you work through each detail, make sure that everything comes together in a cohesive way. Build upon this flattering silhouette, and create a customized vision of how you want to look and feel on your special day.

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