There’s a reason why the empire waist gown has stood the test of time. From the chiton gowns we see in depictions of ancient Greece to the aristocratic Jane Austen-era evening gowns of the 1800s to midcentury mod style, it’s a tried and true dress shape that we will forever love. And its draw isn’t hard to spot: The fitted bodice, high waist, and loose-fitting skirt create a silhouette that’s universally flattering and endlessly forgiving.
Since the silhouette is designed to take the focus away from the waistline, its appeal is more inclusive. Unlike other styles, a cinched waist isn’t a prerequisite, and for this reason, empire waist gowns are often a go-to silhouette for those newly engaged. At Alicia Keys’ 2010 destination wedding with Swizz Beatz, she showcased her baby bump with a one-shoulder Grecian-style empire waist gown by Vera Wang.
“Empire waists are having a huge comeback thanks to Bridgerton,” explains bridal stylist Gina Vinnitsky. "The goal of the empire waist is to elongate and define. By cinching the waist just under the bust, it elongates the rest of the torso and draws attention away from bellies and hips. It’s the perfect dress for petite or shorter brides. Brides with an undefined natural waistline will love how this gives them definition in all the right places.” As far as accessories go, Vinnitsky says that it’s important to strategize. “An empire waist gown really accentuates a woman’s décolletage, giving you the perfect opportunity to add some well-appointed accessories,” she explains. “A fabulous diamond necklace or some statement earrings will really up the ante—but pick one or the other. Too much visual interest in the same area can look heavy.”
From playful short dresses to dramatic poofs, here are our favorite empire waist wedding gowns for brides on the hunt for a timeless look.
For the Nontraditional Bride
Sandra Mansour Forêt Dense
Runs: True to size | Size Range: 34-46 (French sizing) | Length: High-low floor-length, Made to measure
This ruffled taffeta dress demands attention, so it’s the perfect pick for the bride who wants to dial up the theatrics and throw away the rulebook. Also, the flared sleeves, underbust cutout, and lace-up fastening are just as much fun as the striking lime green hue.
Price at time of publish: $2,382
Best Modest Dress
Macgraw Romantic Gown
Runs: True to size | Size Range: 6-14 | Length: Floor-length
Everything about Macgraw’s Romantic Gown screams sophisticated. The square neckline emphasizes the delicateness of your collar bones, and the subtle slits at the arm cuffs will make sure that your wedding day wristwear doesn’t go unnoticed.
Price at time of publish: $1,495
Best Silk Dress
Runs: Generous sizing | Size Range: XXS-XL | Length: Ankle-length | Care: Dry clean only
Who says you can’t wear feathers down the aisle? If you want to add a bit of theatrics while staying tonal and somewhat traditional, the Jazi’s bell sleeves, deep V-neckline, and hem feathers amp up the wow factor without distracting from the bridal vibe.
Alexandra Grecco Cassia Gown
Runs: True to size | Size Range: 00-20 | Length: Floor-length
The Cassia’s flutter sleeves and floral embroidery are reminiscent of Charlotte’s second wedding gown on Sex and the City, right? It’s hard to look away from the handmade details at the illusion bodice—but when you’re the bride, that’s totally the point.
For the Jane Austen Obsessed Bride
LoveShackFancy Sho Maxi Gown
Runs: True to size | Size Range: 00-12 | Length: Floor-length | Care: Dry clean in net bag
Is Gwyneth Paltrow in Emma the main inspo for your bridal look? Let us direct your attention to the Sho Maxi Gown, LoveShackFancy’s textured take on regencycore. We’re crushing on the lacey bodice, the pearl-trimmed neckline, and the train.
Price at time of publish: $725
Twobirds Slit Dress
Runs: True to size | Size Range: 2-24 | Length: Floor-length | Care: Dry clean or machine wash cold
There’s a reason why Twobirds is a go-to brand for many bridal parties. The poly-spandex jersey material and the empire-cut silhouettes look great and feel great on every body type. So why can’t brides partake, too? The convertible straps also mean that you can switch things up between the ceremony and reception.
Price at time of publish: $250
Best Floral Design
BHLDN Daphne Gown
Runs: True to size | Size Range: 0-16 | Length: Floor-length
Drawing inspiration from Regency-era wallpaper, the floral printed design gives it an earthy and ethereal edge. This gown is perfect for those planning a garden celebration in the springtime.
Price at time of publish: $1,395
For the Wow Factor
Vera Wang Bride Liane
Runs: True to size | Size Range: 32-60 | Length: Floor-length
This dress is the main event. For brides who believe that more is more, the romantic off-the-shoulder sleeves, full tulle skirt, and floral accented train are sure to strike a chord. There’s nothing wrong with unleashing your inner maximalist, after all.
DB Studio Bubble Sleeve Georgette V-Neck Wedding Dress
Runs: True to size | Size Range: 32-60 | Length: Floor-length
A little bit of bohemian flair without breaking the bank. If you want a more playful look on your big day, the bubble sleeves, slit, and semi-open back on this dress can bring you there for less than $200.
For Victorian Vibes
Runs: Large, brand recommends sizing down | Size Range: XXS-XL | Length: Floor-length | Care: Dry clean only
If you’re still dreaming about Ellie Goulding’s gown from her 2019 nuptials or more recently, the Grace Kelly-inspired gown that Lady Kitty Spencer wore down the aisle last year, this will pique your interest. Rixo’s Ciara dress is made using cotton broderie Anglaise. While the style is reminiscent of two modern Brits, the high neck with frill detailing feels very Old English.
Price at time of publish: $695
For the Whimsical Bride
Odylyne the Ceremony Emilia
Runs: True to size | Size Range: 2-20 | Length: Floor-length | Care: Dry clean only
Hello, frills. Odylyne the Ceremony’s silk organza Emilia dress is what we’d imagine Daphne Bridgerton would wear if she lived in the Lower East Side. The sheer puff sleeves and ruffled skirt panels are playful touches that modernize the classic silhouette.
Price at time of publish: $3,650
Savannah Miller Eowyn
Runs: True to size | Length: Floor-length | Care: Dry clean only
Empire waist gowns don’t always need to have straight silhouettes, and the slight curve in the waist seam gives the Eowyn gown a more fitted shape. The double spaghetti strap detailing is also a delicate touch if you want your back to be the main event on the big day.
Best Tiered Dress
Brock Collection x Over the Moon Quarrie Tiered Gown with Bows
Runs: True to size | Size Range: 0-16 | Length: Floor-length | Care: Dry clean only
The beauty of this Brock Collection gown is in the details, like the delicate lace, self-tie straps, and flowy train. And it goes without saying that the flouncy tiers are made to twirl in.
Price at time of publish: $8,750
Meet the Expert
Gina Vinnitsky is the owner of Silk and Style Bridal, a concierge styling service that helps brides find their dream dresses. She brings a fashion-forward approach to styling, while incorporating each bride’s personal vision.
Are empire waist gowns flattering for petite brides?
Yes! Since the higher waistline gives the illusion of a longer torso, empire waist gowns have an elongating effect. This makes them a perfect pick for petite brides who want to look statuesque.
Why is it called an empire waist?
The "empire waist" gets its name due to the fact that it was commonly seen during the First French Empire.
Can an empire waist dress still show off my curves?
While certain empire waist dresses—particularly straight cuts made from billowy fabrics—can conceal the midsection, if you prefer a more fitted look, there are designs that feature higher waistlines with a fitted skirt.
About the Author
Sumiko Wilson is a freelance reporter with over seven years of editorial experience. Most recently, she worked as a copywriter for brands including Kotn and SSENSE. As a reporter, much of her work has revolved around music, TV, beauty, and style. While completing her undergrad, part-time roles at Loversland and Naked Beauty Bar in Toronto have enhanced her expertise in bridal styling and beauty.