The Ultimate Party Dress Buying Guide

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The Ultimate Party Dress Buying Guide

Buying a dress for a special occasion is half the fun of preparing for a night out. Party dresses can be subtle and understated or glitzy and glamourous, and the type of dress chosen depends largely on the wearer’s taste, the type of event, and what looks good on the wearer. Choosing the right dress is a sure way to make the wearer feel her best and enjoy herself.

Several factors should be considered when buying a party dress. The type of dress chosen should suit and flatter the wearer’s body shape and the dress should fit properly. The underwear chosen often makes or breaks the overall look and the right bra offers support and creates a slimming effect. The type of fabric chosen should be appropriate for the occasion, suit the style of the dress, and should not be difficult to care for. Party dresses are available from fashion shops and boutiques, department stores, and online sources, such as eBay.

Party Dress Styles

Women come in all shapes and sizes, but shop mannequins do not. What looks good on a mannequin or model will not look as good on every wearer. It is important to remember that shop mannequins do not have to move while wearing the dress on display and that these items are usually pinned in place to improve the fit.

Party dresses come in a huge range of styles, from 1920s flapper dresses to lacy gothic garments. While the occasion often dictates the dress style, the wearer should consider details in the garment’s cut that may make it fit and look better. The table below lists a number of popular dress styles with a short description of each to make it easier to understand what is meant by each style.

Dress Style



Floor or ankle length

Fitted at the top and loose at the bottom


Tight fitting

Variety of lengths and styles

"Bodycon" refers to "body conscious"

Ball Gown

Often full length

Usually worn to a ball or formal event


Loose fit and simple cut

Falls anywhere between hips and ankles

Usually sleeveless or short sleeve


Any cut featuring only one sleeve

Sleeve can be long or short


Short sleeveless dress

Simple cut


Bodice is an ornate corset

Generally laces at the back and fastens at the front

Empire Line

Bodice fitted to just below the bust

Flowing skirt that skims the body

Wiggle or Pencil

Wiggle features a skirt that is narrower at the waist than the hips

Pencil is straight cut and narrow

Wiggle dress tapers toward the hem, pencil dress does not


Skirt widens gradually from the hips to the hem

Party dresses are available in a multitude of styles. Those mentioned above are the most popular. A party dress can be found for each body shape.

Body Shapes and Party Dress Styles

To find a flattering party dress, consider the styles available and the wearer’s body shape: certain styles and body shapes work well together. Specific dress cuts can accentuate the good parts, while hiding the unflattering parts, and the needs of every woman are different.

Party Dresses for Full Hips and Thighs

Start by drawing the eye towards the upper body or shoulders. A one-shoulder dress shows of the neck and shoulders, and a V-neck, plunge top, or embellished neckline should also be considered. Choose a dress that falls to the knee or just above it, with an A-line skirt. The skirt should not be too full as this makes the lower body appear wider, and a tight skirt draws attention to the full hips and thighs.

Party Dresses for a Thick Waist

Women with thicker waists should wear clothing that elongates the torso and draws attention away from the waist. Dresses with empire or drop waists allow wearers to shift their waistlines to more flattering positions. Opt for a narrow or chain belt as a broad belt draws attention to the thick waist.

Party Dresses for a Large Bust

Halter and V-neck dresses can be worn to accentuate a large bust. The fabric chosen should drape over the body, skimming the bust: a dress that is too tight around the chest tends to look too small and is usually unflattering. To balance large breasts, opt for a dress with an A-line skirt to add volume to the hips. The skirt should fall just above the knees for the best effect.

Party Dresses for a Small Bust

A scoop or cowl neck creates the illusion of curves, unlike plunging necklines. Avoid the latter, and choose a dress with an embellished or detailed neckline instead.

Party Dresses for Large Upper Arms

Sleeveless and cap sleeve dresses tend to make large upper arms look larger. Choose a dress with flattering bell or three quarter length sleeves instead. If the event is held outdoors or during a colder month, consider a loose full length sleeve.

Party Dresses for Plus Sizes

The secret to choosing a plus size dress is to select fabrics that drape well and a dress that is tailored. Clingy fabrics tend to accentuate all the wrong parts and baggy clothing makes women look bigger. Choose a dress made of fabric that skims instead of clinging, and that is cut to follow the contours of the body. Wrap dresses are particularly flattering for plus size women, and one-shoulder dresses can be worn to display a little bit of skin.

A Party Dress that Fits Well

UK clothing sizes are not standardised. As a result, they tend to differ from manufacturer to manufacturer. To find a party dress that fits well, keep the wearer’s measurements on hand while shopping. Although it is best to have the wearer try clothing on before buying it, comparing the measurements of the dress to the wearer’s should yield accurate results.

The measurements needed are the bust, waist, and hips. Use a cloth tape measure, wrap it around the fullest part of the breast; then the natural waistline, which is between the navel and rib cage; and finally below the hips around the fullest part of the seat. Some clothing labels include these measurements.

Underwear for a Party Dress

A party dress lives up to its full potential when worn with the right foundation garments. Use shapewear for a discreet pre-party nip and tuck, to hide underwear seams, or simply to create a sleeker look. The bra worn with the dress should provide adequate support while remaining covered. Consider options like an adhesive, multiway, or strapless bra to find the right support and strap arrangement.

Fabric for a Party Dress

Party dresses are available in a range of fabrics. The fabric chosen should drape well and have the right look for the occasion. For example, silk and rayon skim the body and are suitable for both casual and formal events. In addition, some fabrics have a lustrous sheen or have been embellished with metallic or sparkling thread for a more glamorous finish. If necessary the fabric should be durable enough to dance the night away, and the wearer should not find the task of cleaning the dress too onerous.

Buying a Party Dress on eBay

Finding the perfect party dress on eBay is a simple process. Type a keyword or search phrase, for example "blue one-shoulder party dress", into the search bar, which can be found on every page, to see the listings available. Narrow your selection by choosing the most appropriate category. If you would like to have greater control over the results displayed, use the advanced search feature. Bear in mind that many eBay sellers have returns policies and buying from one of these sellers means that unsuitable items can be returned.

Before You Buy on eBay

Get to know the seller and the product before you buy. All the information that you need can be found on the item listing page. Simply click on an individual listing to see information about the item and its condition, bidding and buying options, the seller’s accepted payment methods, the seller’s returns policy, postage and packaging fees, and the seller’s feedback. If you have any questions, contact the seller by clicking on the "Ask a question" link.

Seller feedback refers to comments other buyers have left for a specific seller with regards to his or her products and customer service. Detailed seller ratings include additional information about the seller’s communication, the reasonableness of the postage and packaging fees, how long the seller took to send the item, and the accuracy of the item description in the listing.


When buying a party dress, consider the wearer’s body type and build in order to choose the style. An understanding of the most common party dress styles makes it easier to search for the right dress and gives the buyer an idea of which features to look for. Some dresses, such as one-shoulder and empire line dresses suit many women, but all styles do not suit all women.

A party dress should fit properly, so having the wearer’s measurements on hand while shopping makes it easy to find a dress that is the perfect size. Dress sizes cannot always be relied upon as they differ from manufacturer to manufacturer. Shapewear can be used to tweak the wearer’s silhouette into the desired shape and an appropriate bra creates an excellent foundation for a party dress. The type of fabric chosen should be appropriate to the occasion, flattering to the wearer, and should not be too difficult for the wearer to care for. eBay sellers stock a huge selection of party dresses for every body type and event.

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