Jul 27th 2022

Western Dress Style Guide

How to Choose a Western Dress for Any Occasion

Western dresses come in a range of styles, including flowy cotton, flirty lace, cowgirl fringe, and modest maxi- or midi-length dresses. Whether you’re looking for dresses that look great with cowboy boots, something to wear to a Western wedding, or a casual country style for sitting on the porch on a hot summer day, our dress guide will help you find exactly the style you want.

A Quick Look at Dress Materials

For the most gorgeous apparel, start with the basics: the materials and embellishments. When choosing dress materials, here are some key factors to consider.

  • Comfort: For hot days or outdoor occasions, consider breathable natural materials—cotton or linen are two favorite options. These materials keep you cool and comfortable even when the sun beats down, and the moisture-wicking properties keep you dry, too.
  • Care: While the dressiest apparel often requires dry cleaning, machine-washable and dryer-friendly materials mean you can launder your dresses yourself, no extra trips necessary.
  • Quality: A cowgirl has to be ready for anything, even when out on the town—so choose dresses crafted of high-quality materials that can make it through any adventure. Lower-quality materials may snag, tear, fray, or pill, meaning that your new dress will look aged, faster. The better the quality the material, the longer-lasting the dress.

Five Ways to Dress for the Occasion

1) Western Dresses for Weddings and Special Events

When dressing for a special occasion, such as a wedding or party, choose a longer dress in your favorite color or pattern. Lace, ruffles, sequins, and embroidery perfectly embellish a simple silhouette. For a casual country wedding, consider flowy or ruffled dresses with statement sleeves. No matter what you choose, look for fabric options that are easy to move in so you can spend plenty of time on the dance floor. And while we probably don’t have to mention it, don’t wear white to a wedding—unless you’re the bride!

2) Dress Styles Made for Casual Days Out

Short and fun cotton or jersey knit dresses are cute options for shopping, brunch, or heading to the ballfield to catch a game. The breezy materials ensure you’re cool, but comfortably covered. Even better, they’re adorable with cowgirl boots, flats, or sandals—a truly versatile style for the cowgirl who loves to play.

3) Work-to-Nightlife Dresses Cowgirls Love

Dresses with ruffles and lace are perfect dressy-casual picks for work, but can be amped up with accessories—think a necklace, earrings, and a thin belt—to transition from the office to girls’ night out. Pair your favorite lacy dress with sparkly rhinestone-studded cowgirl boots and you’ll turn heads as you take your turn on the dance floor.

4) Step Out in Seasonal Styles

No matter the season, there’s a dress to suit. Floral prints are popular in spring and summer; plaids, checks, and geometric patterns are perfect choices for fall and winter. Don’t forget to choose the right material for the time of year, either: Velvet is a soft, textured option perfect for Christmas parties, winter get-togethers, and mountainside getaways; denim and corduroy are favorite autumn fabrics for apple picking and sitting around the bonfire; breezy voile or cooling cotton get you through sweltering summer days.

5) Modest Dresses Perfect for Church

Higher necklines, longer hemlines, and comfortably fitted sleeves are perfect options for church and church-related gatherings. If you’re heading to a potluck on a Sunday afternoon, choose a dress that works for both church and a park picnic so you don’t have to change between. Keep prints and embellishments simple—understated is ideal when it comes to your Sunday Best.

How to Choose a Dress for Your Body Type

While we believe you should always wear what makes you feel the most comfortable, no matter your body type, there are some cuts, lengths, and styles designed to work with specific physical features. Follow these quick guidelines to choose dress features to accentuate or complement your body shape.

What Are the Main Body Types?

There are four main body types based on physical proportions. To determine your body type, measure your shoulders, waist, hips, and thighs or take a peek in the mirror to examine your proportions, then compare the results using this quick body type chart to find your body type.

  • Apple: Broad shoulders, even proportions, without a well-defined waist—think an upside-down triangle.
  • Hourglass: Curvy, fuller bust and hips that are close in measurements, with a defined waist.
  • Athletic: Evenly distributed weight, not curvy, and hip and shoulder measurements that are nearly the same.
  • Pear: Narrower bust and shoulders than waist and hips, fuller hips—think proportions that are triangle-shaped.

What Dress Cuts and Styles Suit Each Body Type?

There’s a dress style for every body type, whether you’re trying to lengthen short legs, slim wide hips or shoulders, or find a dress suited for your long torso.

Apple body types look just as wonderful in flowy dresses or more structured options, so dress based on your preferences. Look for V-necks and scoop neck styles fitted through the shoulders and arms. Length-wise, dresses that land at the knee and maxi styles are both flattering options that help create balance but don’t skip short dresses or skirts if you like the style. Want to define your waist? Belted or wrap dresses are great options for creating a flattering silhouette.

The best option for an hourglass figure is a fitted silhouette: Choose wrap dresses or styles with high waistlines—high-cut skirts or empire waistlines with a fitted bodice—that work perfectly with hourglass body types. Loose-fitting styles like maxi dresses can create a boxy look, though. If you want to wear a loose style, add a belt to define your waist.

Dressing an athletic figure—also called rectangle—is all about balance. For example, if you choose a long, flowy skirt, pair it with a fitted top rather than a loose one. Halter-style dresses are fantastic on athletic builds, if you like showing off your shoulders. A-line, belted, and wrap dresses are all flattering options, and narrow necklines—choose V-neck or crewneck instead of boatneck or sweetheart—look wonderful on wide shoulders.

If you're a pear shape, play up that neckline. V-necks and scoop necks look great, especially when embellished with sequins or lace. A-line dresses, especially in lengths at or below the knee, balance your proportions and can provide a slimming effect through the hips and thighs. Skirts are great for pear-shaped bodies, as well—choose an A-line skirt and pair it with a structured top with a pretty neckline and you’re ready to go.

To make short legs appear longer, choose dresses and skirts that are fitted above your natural waistline. Length matters, too: Midi dresses or skirts that land mid-calf can have a shortening effect, so choose ankle-length or above-the-knee styles for a flattering length that makes your legs appear longer.

If you have a long torso, it’s all about the waistline: Choose dresses with waists that sit higher to balance your longer torso by drawing the eyes upward. If you prefer a wrap dress, styles with higher ties are great options, and for belted styles, look for higher waistlines as well. People with long torsos also find that ruffled, lacy, or fringed styles are perfect options that play up favorite features.

Western dresses are perfect for cowgirls, no matter the occasion. Accessorize with jewelry, hats, boots, and belts to create an outfit you love. For more Western fashion tips, explore our blog.