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How to Pick the Perfect Formal Dress

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Although it is still summer, the start of the school year is not far away. Whether your daughter is just starting junior high or beginning her senior year of high school, at some point this year she will be faced with having to pick the perfect formal dress.

Black Lace Detail Pleated Dress and how to pick the perfect formal dress
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My school’s Homecoming Dance was my first formal dance, and choosing the perfect styles of women’s dresses occupied my mind since day one! I can remember flipping through magazines, looking through store catalogs, and staring at store displays trying to find the perfect dress.

There were so many dresses from which to choose, in hundreds of styles and even more colors. I must have tried on at least 20 dresses ranging from long, strapless gowns to short homecoming dresses with straps, and I still wasn’t sure which one to choose! On top of that, I also had to worry about another girl choosing the same dress as me!

Luckily teens today have access to hundreds of stores both online and off at which to shop, drastically cutting the chances of showing up at the dance in the same dress as another girl. But unfortunately, that still doesn’t make choosing the perfect dress any easier.

A lot also depends on the occasion. For example, Homecoming dresses are usually shorter and less formal than prom dresses, whereas holiday dresses can go either way. Whatever the occasion, these tips will help make it easier for you to pick the perfect formal dress!

tips on how to pick the perfect formal dress

Body Shape

The first thing you need to consider when looking to pick the perfect formal dress is your body shape.

The Pear Shape or Triangle

If you have what is generally referred to as a pear-shaped body, then you are fuller in your hips and thighs. For this body shape, in order to pick the perfect formal dress, you want to choose a dress that draws attention away from your lower body.

Therefore, look for a dress that has a plunging V-neck, halter top or an embellished neckline. Dresses that have an A-line skirt look great on this body shape, but be sure not to choose one with a full skirt, and make sure it is no shorter than an inch or two above the knee.  If you want a longer gown, look for A Line, Empire and Ball Gown styles

The Apple Shape

Women with a thicker waist are often referred to having an apple shape. If this is your shape, you want to choose a dress that elongates the appearance of your torso and draws attention away from your waist. Empire style dresses or drop waist dresses are your best bet. Be sure to avoid thick belts around the waist.

The Inverted Triangle

Women with this body shape have shoulders that are wider than their waist and hips. There are actually a few styles that work with this figure including the ball gown whose full skirt creates symmetry with wider shoulders while the structured bodice accentuates a trim waist.

A short gown works to balance your top half by drawing attention to your legs, and a trumpet or mermaid style gown with a slim bodice and flared skirt provides a flattering counterpoint to shapely and strong shoulders.

Hourglass Shape

Hourglass figures are curvy and usually their best asset is a well-defined waist. The hips and bust are also proportionate to each other, and the length of the upper body is balanced with the length of the legs.

For this body shape you want to look for dresses with natural waistlines, form fitted tops, v-necks, accentuated waistlines and even wraps. Avoid shapeless or body styles, baby doll dresses, and empire waistlines.

Rectangle Shape

On women with this body shape their shoulders, hips and waist are all similar in size. Empire style dresses work well since the high-waisted bodice hugs in just the right place, and the longer skirt that creates the illusion of height while it also works to hide your hips. A-line dresses also look good as they will help create the illusion of an hourglass shape by coming in at the waist and flowing out gracefully to a floor length skirt.

Other Tips for Body Shapes

Plus size girls should avoid layers and clingy fabrics. Instead seek a fabric that drapes nicely. Consider a wrap dress, and do not avoid patterns and colors! Girls who are too thin need to add layers.

If you have heavy arms, select a dress with billowy, bell sleeves that are 3/4 length, or even full length if you have heavy arms. If you have a small bust, consider dresses with a scoop or bandeau neck that has adornments such as sequins to add a little dimension.

Layered necklines will work great, too! If you are a bit top-heavy, choose a dress with an A-line skirt that falls an inch or two above your knees, and avoid halter tops and v-necks.

brunette hair color plays a role when trying to pick the perfect formal dress

Once you have the perfect style dress selected, it is time to select the color. Below are some basic tips to follow based on hair color and skin tone. Keep in mind that not every color pairs specifically with any color, and there are always varying levels of intensity on both hair color and dress color. As a simple guide, these tips will help!

Hair Color and How to Pick the Perfect Formal Dress

Hair color also plays a large part in picking the perfect formal dress.


Pick the perfect formal dress with blonde hair by choosing bold colors such as red, orange, coral, emerald and peacock. These colors look great on fair-haired women, as do neutral tones such as nude, tan and taupe.


Redheads can have varying skin tones, but as a rule of thumb, the lighter the tone the more washed out you will look in light colors. However, the majority of redheads look amazing in mocha, sapphire, ivory and emerald.Keep this in mind as you look to pick the perfect formal dress.


Brunettes usually have the most variety as dark hair looks great with many colors including pinks, blues, browns, greens and oranges.

prom dresses

Skin Tone and How to Pick the Perfect Formal Dress

When looking to pick the perfect formal dress, keep in mind that skin tone plays a big roll. Do you know your skin tone? A simple way to determine your skin tone is to squeeze the top of your finger. You will notice a slight color change and THAT color is the undertone. Warm color and cool color are exactly as they sound warm colors produce the illusion of the feel of warmth, and cool colors look the way a cool breeze feels.

Cool Undertone

If your undertone appears pink, blue, reddish-purple or rosy, then cool colors are your best bet.

Warm Undertone

If what you see is coral, gold, peachy or a brighter red, then warm colors are what you should select.

When trying to pick the perfect formal dress, following the above tips along with your personal taste should be much easier and have you looking like the belle of the ball!

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