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Style advice for the bride with a broad shoulder, large arms or a broad back

When shopping for your wedding dress, there are certain body challenges that each bride has to overcome. One of them is a strong or broad shoulder; large arms or a broad back. If this body type is an issue for you, you will want to make deliberate choices to help balance out your shape, and give you confidence in your dress, despite your insecurities. The most common mistake brides make when they want to hide a problematic area is to cover it up, throw some sleeves onto the dress etc. Covering up isn’t always the answer, rather be deliberate and selective with the design you choose. You want to draw lines on your body that take the eye on a journey to all the right places. Make the eye travel up and down as opposed to side to side. You want to elongate that feature instead of making it look wider. Keep this in mind when you are trying on dresses. Ask yourself ‘where is my eye travelling to and do I like what I see. It can also help to take a photo of yourself in the gown and look at it straight on, especially if you can flip for one dress to the next. Having a comparison is sometimes just what you need in order to recognise when a dress is working or not.

To help you start, I have got a list of features that will work and why. I have also given a list of don’ts. If anything I would recommend you pay attention to the don’t more than the do’s. The don’ts apply more strictly to these body types. Please just don’t go there.

So here’s what could look really nice on you:

A V-neck and sweetheart both have a point in the centre that draws your eye down. So whether the dress is a V-neck; sweet heart or something else, keep the eye going up and down. If you happen to be in love with a dress that has a straighter neck line, try to break up the harsh line with appliqued lace or tulle. This will keep the eye from drawing a line directly across the body, softening the shoulder.

Another ‘do’ would be to have detail in the centre of the dress near the bust, rather than an asymmetrical focus that possibly draws attention to your larger bust or your arms. A crisscross neck line is really effective in drawing the eye down. Usually a crisscross design will have less detail on the shoulder and more detail lower down on either the waist or skirt. This is a clever trick to use. The eye will then be drawn away from the shoulder down the bust and rather focused onto the waist and skirt. Straps also work well on this body type. Play around with different angles and shapes to see which one you like the most. The important thing to remember is to keep the décolletage (the area of the chest above the bust that includes the collar bones) bare to draw the eye down. If you want to do a thicker strap, try and have it taper at either the point where it joins the bodice or at the top of the shoulder.

If you would prefer to cover your arms, I would suggest you keep the décolletage bare. Don’t do a high neck, as this will give you the effect of a boat neck (which I will discuss further down). The only case where I would say a high neck is acceptable is if the fabric is skin coloured with lace applique, creating an illusion neck. So often a bride will ask me to just cover her arms with a fitted sleeve, but I want to encourage you to be more adventurous with your sleeve choice. Search the net for some interesting sleeves that give you coverage while still looking designed and deliberate, instead of just added. A cap sleeve is sometimes all you need to balance out your arms. You can make the cap fitted or slightly longer and gathered making it softer. This will also double as a bit more coverage than a fitted cap. Illusion sleeves made with skin coloured tulle and lace applique are also an option worth considering. This is an easy add on that can be put together with a boob tube dress. When applying lace to a bare arm, you can make an elongated line without drawing attention to your entire arm as the majority of your arm is still visible through the skin coloured mesh fabric. Drapery can be a helpful tool if used correctly. I particularly like the idea of a draped sleeve because it is soft and not so structured. The fashion currently lends towards a more relaxed flowing gown, and drapery fits into this category beautifully. A draped sleeve does not need to be fully covering the arm; you can choose to just cover the bits that matter, like the front and back of the upper arm and then have it softly flow over the elbow.

Lastly, a broad back can be tricky to disguise, even if you may be smaller and in proportion from the front and your arms don’t present a challenge. So in this case, I would recommend you stick to the v shaped back and far away from the U shaped back or any straight cut, whether the dress is strapless or not. This body type will look beautiful with a strap going down into a plunging v back. The fabric that covers the sides of your back creates the illusion that your back is smaller.

Ok time to tackle the don’ts:

At ALL costs, avoid horizontal lines. This comes without saying, but unless you state the obvious there will still be those brides out there who assume it is ok and end up looking horrendous on their big day.  Horizontal lines come in many forms. They can be found on the neck line, on the illusion mesh over your dress (even if it is over a solid sweetheart bodice) or even a sleeve. It is important to keep the top of your body from looking covered up, much like you wouldn’t wear a polar neck or high neck top if you wanted to minimize a large bust. Fabric coverage over the décolletage will only draw the eye up to the shoulder area, so rather keep the dress open and breezy. High necks include designs like a Bateau (Boat) neck, a square neck or a high rounded neck line. I am also inclined to advise against a scoop neck boob tube as this will draw the eye outwards at the shoulder. This neckline will do the exact opposite to a sweetheart. Avoid too much detail on the shoulders and arms. Detail equals attention, as the point of this exercise is to deter the eye from focusing on your shoulder and rather moving on to the waist, skirt or bust. Some examples of detail are: too much gather on a cap sleeve, making a poof effect; beading on the shoulder and not much everywhere else and lace detail here without being anywhere else.

I hope this blog post has answered all the questions surrounding this body challenge. Although we all have areas of our figure that we wish to disguise, with a bit of intentional fashion choices it is possible for you to find something that works so that you feel like a million bucks on your special day… and why should you feel any less beautiful.

If you are looking for a wedding dress to buy, and would like the help of a stylist at your bridal appointment, my studio is based in Durban North and I would love to help you as this is a complimentary service that I offer during my bridal appointments.

Lastly, if you have any questions that I haven’t answered, or find something that I said particularly helpful to you, please leave a comment below, I would love to hear from you.

Meliza x

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