Learn the Definition of a Mermaid Dress

Part of our ever-expanding fashion glossary.

Sophia Vergara, Amy Adams. Getty Images

Definition: A mermaid dress is a style of evening gown that fits closely to the body through the torso and hips, then "fishtails" out in a flare to the floor. (This is why it's also know as a fishtail dress.) Often times, mermaid dresses are fabricated in silk, satin and taffeta—these are dressy styles that are popular for formal events, wedding dresses, proms and of course the red carpet. The silhouette is classically glamorous.

Mermaid dresses are often strapless, but there's no real rule about whether or not the top of the dress may have straps, sleeves or other details around the neckline. This may be why the dress is favored by women with a larger chest or an especially curvy frame.

The dress' distinctive feature—the reason its named after the mythical creature of our imaginations and fairy tales—is the fluted hem and fitted bodice. (Like the body and tail of a fish or mermaid, of course.) To keep the mermaid dress fresh and relevant for regular shoppers and celebrities alike, designers get creative with details like beading, sequins, prints and even cutouts.

This type of dress has been a staple of the red carpet for decades due to it's flattering fit and glamorous look. Celebrities have embraced this silhouette since the late 1950s, and you can see a popular example of this dress in the movies during Audrey Hepburn's iconic makeover look from My Fair Lady (1964).

Celebrities who have worn a mermaid dress on the red carpet recently include Amy Adams, Taylor Swift, Sofia Vergara and Kendall Jenner. Do note that most of these women are tall, which helps for carrying off this dramatic gown.

The mermaid dress is traditionally close fitting through the bodice and down through the hips and to about mid or lower calf.

That means that it can be hard to walk in (seriously!) and that it is not flattering on every figure. The fishtail dress is very sexy, but looks best on tall, slender women or a classic hourglass figure because it hugs so close to the waist and hips. The flared skirt adds an illusion of more curves as well. This dress silhouette flatters the chest and the derriere, so always keep that in mind. If you don't have much of a natural waist, you may lose the effect of the cut.

Pronunciation: mur-made

Also Known As: a fishtail dress

For more on mermaid dresses, consult WiseGeek.


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