What is a Mermaid Dress?

Sheri Cyprus

A mermaid dress is a long gown that fits snug to the body until the bottom of the legs, where it flares out like a fish tail. For this reason, a mermaid gown is also called a fishtail dress. Since mermaid dresses are always long, they tend to be made in styles suitable for proms, weddings, and formal evening wear.

Dresses may be enhanced with bead accents.
Dresses may be enhanced with bead accents.

The flared fishtail section of a mermaid dress often begins above the knees. The ruffle it creates is soft and flowing if the dress is made from thinner fabric such as silk, satin, or taffeta. If mermaid dresses are made from thicker material, the fishtail is stiffer. The very shape of mermaid dresses — tight fitting to the figure until the flare at the knee — gives the gown style a dramatic, glamorous look.

Mermaid dresses are a popular bridal gown style.
Mermaid dresses are a popular bridal gown style.

The mermaid dress style is especially associated with mid to late 1950s movie star glamor. Some female stars wore elegant mermaid gowns with feminine picture hats. A picture hat has a very large round brim. Some mermaid dresses have thin, voluminous ruffles to accent the fishtail section. Other mermaid gowns feature a puffed out, rather than ruffled, fishtail.

Mermaid dresses flare out at the bottom.
Mermaid dresses flare out at the bottom.

Mermaid dresses may have sequins or beading accents. The colors and fabrics of mermaid gowns are endless. Ivory or white wedding mermaid dresses remain a popular style with many brides. Pastel or brightly colored mermaid gowns are often worn at high school proms. A black, sequined, or metallic finished mermaid dress can make a striking evening gown.

Tall, thin figure types are best suited to the mermaid style. This style fits close to the body and accentuates the waist and hips, so it's not recommended for fuller figures. Since the mermaid dress is fitted at the waist and flares out at the leg, it adds the look of curves to lean and athletic body types.

Although many mermaid dress styles are strapless, some have short, puffed sleeves or are long sleeved. Strapless mermaid wedding dresses may come with a close fitting, short, tight, long sleeved lace jacket called a shrug. Since the mermaid style is so dramatic and glamorous, the accessories worn with it should be also. For example, a fine chain necklace isn't going to add the impact needed with this dress style; bolder necklaces such as elegant pearls would be a better choice.

Necklines vary widely in the mermaid type of dress. They may be square, V neck, halter or sweetheart. A sweetheart neckline dips slightly in the middle like the top of a heart. This type of neck is the most common in a mermaid dress style.

A sweetheart neckline dips slightly in the middle like the top of a heart.
A sweetheart neckline dips slightly in the middle like the top of a heart.

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