My son Daniel and his fiance Stephanie have set a date for their wedding! They’ll be wed in Ohio, in late October. It should be a beautiful time of year for their fall wedding. I get more and more excited each time Daniel tells me something about the wedding they are planning – they’ve selected a photographer, tasted cakes or booked a D.J. I can’t wait! Meanwhile I’m excitedly searching for that perfect Mother of the Groom dress.
And yet, like most every woman who finds herself sitting on the first or second row of seats at a wedding, I’ve never been here before. So I could use some tips for picking out a dress and all the other nuanced etiquette that goes with weddings. I’ve had several good friends whose kids have wed recently. It’s been fun watching them at their children’s weddings or at least scrolling through their photos on Facebook. So I turned to these friends, my faithful readers and the “experts” to learn what I could about how to prepare for the big day, especially how to pick out the perfect dress.
A Gracious Mother of the Bride/Groom
You might be prepared for me to advise you with a few traditional social cues, like 1) don’t upstage the bride, 2) never wear white, 3) the mother of the bride chooses her dress first and 4) then the mother of the groom gets to find her dress. But NO. Turns out those rules have gone out of vogue just like most other fashion rules our culture once practiced.
But I have learned from some of my most beautiful friends a few gracious tips for the Mother of the Bride and the Mother of the Groom:
- Consult with the bride first before even looking at dresses. Ask if she has any ideas about how she’d like for the parents to dress. This is her day, and you’ll be happier in the long run if you dress in a way that fits in with her vision of that special occasion.
- Be gracious toward the other mother in all matters concerning dress. Remember, your children are beginning a family, and both you and the other set of parents want to be a part of it. This is a time to build bridges, extend hands of friendship, create an atmosphere of cooperation and demonstrate godliness. It’s definitely not a time to dig in heels or one-up.
- Consider the ceremony theme, venue, colors and level of formality the couple has chosen. This probably goes without saying, but we moms know that as our children age and reach the milestones we’ve dreamed for years of experiencing with them, sometimes we have to adjust our expectations and visions. Maybe you always envisioned walking down the aisle of a church in a formal gown to watch your child marry… but they’ve decided on a beach wedding instead. You’re probably going to have to start dreaming of you in a different dress! Has the couple chosen an outdoor wedding, ethnic ceremony, morning wedding, small intimate affair, large cathedral ceremony, black-tie event? Plan accordingly.
- Mother of the Bride, reach out to the Mother of the Groom about clothing early in the planning process. True, there supposedly are no hard, fast rules about this any longer. But the Mother of the Groom may be waiting on your go-ahead. So touch base with her at least. Maybe invite her to lunch or coffee and set a gracious tone for your relationship.
- Mother of the Bride, try to secure your dress at least four months before the wedding, giving the Mother of the Groom ample opportunity to select her dress if she’s waiting on you. Note, according to modern etiquette she doesn’t have to wait, but she may graciously want to wait for you to select your attire first. So don’t make her wait too long.
- Mother of the Bride, don’t place unreasonable restrictions on the Mother of the Groom. You may have very different body types and styles. You don’t need to expect to coordinate. As my own Matron of Honor and dear friend Michelle explained to me, the two mothers are actually in very few photos together, maybe one or two. So it really doesn’t matter if your dresses coordinate. In fact, Michelle (as the Mother of the Bride) and her daughter’s mother-in-law both wore navy to their children’s wedding, and she didn’t mind at all that they both had on the same color. So don’t tell the MOG what color or length of dress she must wear. Instead, at the very most suggest a few shades she might want to choose from and give some flexibility in the length. David’s Bridal offers some great tips about colors that coordinate well together, and especially how to coordinate with the wedding colors in general. Grace, ladies, lots of grace.
- Don’t outshine anyone, but do shine. As my wedding photographer friend Hannah Whaley pointed out, you’re not likely to upstage the bride even if you try. She’s probably 20-something…and you’re not! (Oh, boy…) But honestly, this isn’t the day to try to outshine anyone. Just shine! Choose a dress that makes you look and feel beautiful. It’s a day of celebration, and you want to look your best without drawing undue attention to yourself. So yes, stay away from ostentatious accessories, flirtatious cuts, over-the-top designs and attention grabbing colors or prints. But do choose clothing that conveys your personal style on an elegant and celebratory note.
- Mother of the Groom, you don’t have to defer to the Mother of the Bride, but it sure would be gracious of you if you did. You gals know, I’m all about grace. And what better time to show a little. Ask the MOB what color, style and length of dress she plans to wear. Offer to wait a little while before choosing your dress if time allows. Just stay in touch so there are no surprises. One MOB told me a story about how her then future son-in-law had seen her looking at dresses on line and sent his own mom some of the links she had sent her daughter to look at. In the end, the two women ended up in the exact same dress! Oops! Communication fail!
- If possible, have a backup dress on hand on the big day. Accidents happen. I’ve heard stories! The second dress doesn’t have to be another expensive one, just something that you could feel pretty in if there’s an oops. A dress already hanging in your closet or one your dear friend wore that also fits you…either would make you feel a little more secure on a day filled with nerves.
Where to Shop and How
I received all sorts of great advice about where to shop for MOB and MOG dresses. The favorites were definitely Nordstrom, Dillards, Macy’s and Adrianna Papell’s online store. I’ve given you links directly to the department stores’ wedding or Mother of the Bride shops (hopefully they will work for you).
In fact, Nordstrom provides a wonderful consultation opportunity for mothers. You can visit their website to make an appointment online with a Nordstrom Wedding Suite near you, or you can call 1.888.300.1295. Susan, a faithful Dressed for My Day reader, says she made an appointment and attended it with a trusted friend. They had a wonderful, relaxed time and found the perfect dress and accessories for the big day.
I did have readers who said they shopped at bridal stores such as David’s Bridal and had great luck. If nothing else, you might want to check their website out for some great tips. I also learned, however, that many moms find the sizes at bridal shops to be quite different from the clothing they’re used to buying. You’ll probably need to size up significantly at a bridal shop. Oh, and keep in mind that many bridal shops only have dresses in mid-range sizes, 10-16, for you to try on. So if you are very petite or small you will struggle to get a real feel for how you’d look in your correct size. Maybe that’s why so many women prefer to shop online where they can order their selections and try them on at home.
Finally, several readers and friends did say that they had shopped successfully from JJ’s House, an online store that ships from overseas. These ladies said they bought beautiful, well-fitted dresses from JJ’s and were very happy with their experience. But I have to also note that I received an equal number of reports saying they didn’t have good luck with this vendor. I have a feeling that the problem lies with taking accurate measurements. That’s how you order your gown on JJ’s. Your finished product is based completely on the measurements you have sent. And ladies, the truth is most of us don’t have a lot of experience taking our measurements. So I’m betting that a lot of the time women are sending in faulty ones.
But also, you need to know that many of these overseas manufacturers do not accept returns. And they can’t just send you another dress quickly if the one you ordered and received doesn’t work. So if you do choose to order from JJ’s – and they do have some lovely, unique dresses – you’ll want to order early enough to buy something else if necessary.
TIP —> Even if you’re not already on Pinterest, you need to build a Pinterest board for MOB/MOG dresses. This is a great way to keep track of all you’re looking at on the web. It’s a way to compare features you like and details you appreciate. And, if you pin your findings correctly, your pins should take you right back to where you found the dresses so you can order them.
By the way, many of my MOB and MOG friends say they preferred shopping for their dress online. It gave them the opportunity to try the dresses on at home, compare them to each other, ask for feedback from their husband or daughter and think about their purchase…before returning if necessary.
What Brands are Popular
Just starting the process of looking for a MOB or MOG dress can be daunting. Where do you even begin? And what brands are reliable and well-made? I heard rave reviews for Adrianna Papell, Tadashi Shoji, Vince Camuto, JS Collections (my personal favorite after scouring the listings) and Alex Evenings.
But if you’re looking for something less formal, you might also find a dress among Calvin Klein, Antonio Melani and Carmen Marc Valvo. I also had a reader who said she loved her Vera Wang for Kohl’s dress. So don’t be forget to try clothing stores that aren’t necessarily the go-to for formal wear, especially if your venue is more casual.
When You Shop
Consider taking a trusted friend, sister, mother or daughter with you. Learn a lesson from those brides on Say “Yes” to the Dress though. Don’t take someone who will derail your shopping trip. Choose a shopping partner who has no agenda except to help you find the dress you love and look beautiful in.
Be sure to take along or wear the proper shapewear, shoes and bra. Yes, you may get different shoes after you buy the dress, but you’ll get a better feel for the dress if you at least wear the size heels you prefer to wear when trying dresses on.
So Let’s Shop!
Remember, every woman’s shopping experience is going to be different because we’re all shopping for a different wedding. Focus on what you need to feel special and beautiful at your child’s wedding. Don’t compare to your friend who is shopping for a different venue or formality level.
I’ve found dresses for three different broad categories:
- Semi-formal – this includes afternoon church weddings, some venue weddings, even evening weddings where you simply prefer a short dress to a long one
- Non-traditional or less formal – this includes venue weddings such as beaches, resorts, mountain venues, backyard gardens, etc. This category is wide open really.
- Formal – this includes evening weddings at hotels, resorts and churches.
But keep in mind, these are broad categories. I’m not suggesting that all the dresses in any one category would necessarily work for your wedding style, venue or personal taste. In fact, I’ve tried to offer a very wide assortment of choices as well. I just wanted to give you a sampling of what is out there.
I will say, though, that these are all dresses I like. I wouldn’t mind wearing any of them.
Shop for short, formal dresses:
Update Alert: I try to keep this 2018 blog post updated, but most of the dresses included in the following graphics have been discontinued at this point. I’ve left these in the blog post for outfit inspiration, but I encourage you to check out the dresses in the shopping widgets provided. I try to keep those up to date. UPDATED: 02-29-2020
I love the appliqued lace on these elegant, but shorter length dresses. These are all actually midi length. If you click through the links on any of the dresses I’m showing you’re likely to find that they come in other colors as well.
These three dresses have a little more sparkle. Three-quarter length sleeves are usually a safe and elegant option for most women. But really, more of us than we think can wear short sleeves or even go sleeveless. So don’t rule those dresses out until you try them.
Each of these dresses feature lace throughout. But they’re still simple and elegant.
Of course you can always go the more British route and wear an elegant suit if your child is having a daytime wedding. If suits are your thing, go for it! Be true to yourself on this momentous day.
Here’s a shopping widget for these and additional dresses in this category.
Shop for Outdoor/Nontraditional Wedding MOB Dresses:
These are definitely among the least formal dresses I’ve chosen to show you. But I’ve heard from several gals who are looking for simple but elegant dresses they can shine in on their child’s big day, but also wear for special occasions later. Any of these would be perfectly beautiful for the simple ceremony and reception.
These floral dresses would be beautiful at a simple indoor wedding or one held in a garden or other outdoor venue. And I asked Hannah if florals were okay for photographs, and she said absolutely yes. I trust her. Hannah takes beautiful wedding photos.
These dresses are still elegant and would be great for a church wedding, too. But I loved the idea of wearing one of these lace applique dresses to an outdoor wedding, say at a hotel or garden.
To me, these three dresses just look like they belong in the beautiful outdoors. Can’t you see wearing any of these to a formal garden or beach wedding?
So in this broad category I’m showing you everything from nice “church dresses” to these long floral gowns. These dresses are a great choice for the Mother of the Bride or Mother of the Groom who has been asked to get a long dress, but still wants something a little “out of the box” for a less traditional wedding. Yes, you can wear long dresses to morning and afternoon weddings. But I think these long dresses are better choices for that situation than some of the beaded ones you’ll see in the next category. (I feel like I’m being about as clear as mud at this point! I hope I’m making sense.)
In the shopping widget below you can shop some of the dresses above and a few others in this category.
Shop for Formal/Semi-formal Full Length Gowns:
These are gowns that I would reserve for evening weddings or more formal daytime weddings. I just adore all four of these dresses, but especially the one on the far right.
I can appreciate the simple lines of these dresses.
With the next set of dresses we’re moving into more sequins and beading. These are truly show stoppers.
If I were seriously looking for a formal dress right now the dress in the middle below would be first on my list. I love this dress. But all three of these are extremely elegant and unusual.
And we’ll wrap it up with one more set of sequined and beaded gowns.
Honestly, there are so many gorgeous dresses out there. I think that’s why it can seem overwhelming. But the ultimate goal is simply to choose a dress that makes you feel comfortable and pretty. Then enjoy wearing it!
Oh, almost forgot! Don’t forget to allow time for alterations if needed. You’ll have to have them professionally done. Nordstrom does alterations for dresses that are bought there. Allow a month for alterations.
I want to tie a bow on this post by mentioning shoes, accessories and day-of details briefly.
Many Mothers of the Bride or Groom have suggested that you choose comfortable shoes you can spend long hours in. You’re going to be on your feet, potentially for hours and hours. And you may want to break your shoes in a little around the house instead of trying to wear them for the first time on that special day. Of course, you can always put an extra pair of low-heeled, comfortable shoes in a bag and pull them out for the reception, especially if you’re wearing a long dress that will pretty much conceal them.
Keep jewelry to a minimum. Let the dress carry the day, and simply add beautiful, but simple earrings. And a bracelet might be a nice touch if you enjoy wearing them. If you want to wear a necklace make sure it doesn’t take away from the neckline of the dress. You also might consider a few pretty pins for your hair if you’re getting an up-do.
If you need to invest in good shapewear, do so. You don’t want to be uncomfortably confined, but you also don’t want to have lines or bulges. So choose undergarments with medium to light control if possible.
Finally, go ahead and make yourself an appointment to have you hair and makeup done for the wedding if it can fit in your budget. Make sure the person doing your makeup is experienced working with more mature skin, and ask to have your makeup done for the camera, but also with a natural appeal. This is not the day to suddenly look like a different woman. Then again, if you don’t usually wear much makeup don’t be afraid of being a little more made up on this day. When the pictures come back, you’ll be glad you had on more. You also might want to have your makeup artist and hairstylist do a run through with you several weeks before the wedding so that you’re not worried about the potential results.
Enjoy the Day
Look, the whole reason you need to read an article like this is so that you can plan ahead, purchase everything you need and then forget about it. It’s a big day, whether your child is the bride or the groom. So plan your attire well ahead of time so that you are confident going into the day. Then get dressed and turn your attention toward your children, family and friends. Enjoy! And congratulations, mama. You made it to a very special day indeed.
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Blessed for My Day
Weddings are occasions to celebrate love. But any family event of this magnitude can also stir up harsh words, criticisms, hurt feelings and resentments. Maybe this would be a good time to memorize and meditate on 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.
“Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-7