Mother of the Bride
Andi WillisBride Online Columnist

How to: Shopping for Mum's Formal Wear

 To the best of my knowledge, there are three types of mothers' dress sense: 1. She has immaculate taste and always look timeless and elegant. 2. Her dress sense is ok, with a couple of 'wardrobe malfunctions' once in a while, but is generally (at least a little) open to some alterations. 3. There's no getting around it. Her dress sense is plain God-awful and she insists that she knows she looks great. So how do we ensure that no matter what category your mother fits into in her day-to-day wear, she looks great on one of the most important days of your life? We've provided a series of steps to deal with even the most difficult of personalities, enable happy shopping, and guarantee that your mother looks great for all her photocalls.



Irrespective of how your mother normally dresses, your best plan of action is to begin with an open talk with your mother about what she'd like to wear. Remember that on this day, her outfit isn't a simple form of isolated self- expression, but she also needs to conform- to an extent- to what the rest of the wedding party is wearing; including the bride, groom, bridesmaids and groomsmen, fellow parents, flower girls and pageboys. Some level of visual cohesion is necessary if you want your group photos to look unified and tidy.

Ask in this conversation:

  • What, in a perfect world, would she like to wear?
  • Are there any particular colours she'd like to wear/ avoid?
  • What parts of her body would she like to show off/ conceal?
  • What are her absolute non- negotiables? (e.g. If she has a scar on her chest she wants to cover up, or she doesn't want anything that emphasises her waist). 
  • Are there any accessories she particularly wants to wear?

Find out where her basic boundaries are work with them. Attempting to sway her about these issues could simply spark an argument, and cast a cloud over her dress shopping. Make it abundantly clear that you will do everything in your power to find her the perfect dress that fits these requirements, and that she can absolutely trust you to help.

If you're particularly fashion- savvy, you should, at this point, start giving your suggestions for what will look great on her. If you aren't particularly adept at this sort of thing, wait until you get the opinion of a professional in the industry. Whilst working within the guidelines your mother's set for you, your pieces of input should cover:

  • Her colouring and complexion
  • The colours being worn at your wedding (either these colours can be worn or neutral colours)
  • Her usual style
  • Her size and body shape
  • Possibly a brief discussion of fabrics (e.g. no chiffon, nothing clingy, etc)
  • If you have any, discuss here what your non-negotiables consist of. (e.g. if your mother wants to show a considerable amount of skin and your fiance's family is extremely religious)
  • Establish who's paying for the dress. There's no etiquette stating that you should pay for your mother's dress, but know your fiance will be guaranteed a lifetime of extra affection if he offers to pay for it (sneaky, sneaky). 

Get a- Browsing

Have your mother show you some pictures of the style/ colours she'd like to wear. This will save time spent physically shopping. If she finds a dress she's like to buy, make she orders it with plenty of time in advance. If you're not sure about how it will look/ does look on her, consult a family member or friend who you can trust to be honest (preferably one who 'gets' fashion, or at the very least, has a keen eye for body proportions). 

Retail Therapy (or More Like 'Mission')

Once you've found plenty of inspiration, hit the shops!

If you know your mother is an impatient shopper, consider spending some time browsing before she meets up with you. Photograph the dresses/ suits you find, along with their labels so you know exactly which stores they come from.

If neither of you know where to begin and what'll look good, visit a store with potentially suitable dresses and have yourself fitted. Explain to the saleperson that you don't know what'll look good, and allow yourself to be guided. If you're more comfortable being fitted by a woman, politely tell the salesperson so. They'll be more than happy to oblige. The salesperson should be able to give objective advice on what fits will flatter, where to highlight, and what to avoid. If they don't have anything suitable for your particular needs, they should be able to  you in the right direction.

Tip: the more expensive and exclusive the shops you visit, the more personal attention and, often, the more useful advice you'll receive. Many  high-end shops don't pay their salespeople according to their commission, so you're more likely to receive good, honest advice.

When assessing how she looks in the outfits, the two watchwords here are honesty and kindness. It won't do anyone any favours to try and 'massage' the truth. If a dress looks great, tell her! If it looks terrible, don't simply say that (this is enough to put just about anyone into an awful shopping funk), but try to pinpoint where and why the dress isn't working. Remember to critique the outfit, not the person- or their body- in it! If you're at a complete loss for how to tell your mother that the outfit is horrendous, after covering why exactly you don't like it, conclude with a simple 'I think you could do better', or 'it doesn't do you justice'. These phrases aren't simply nice- sounding platitudes, but are a kind way of getting your essential point across. Remember that trying on clothing can be absolutely brutal, and that is it therefore imperative to try and build and maintain your mother's confidence when trying on clothing. And who knows, maybe helping to put your mother into a good mood will encourage her to buy you lunch!

 If you and your mother disagree on an outfit, get a salesperson to weigh in on the matter. Take photos of your mother in the outfit, show her, and reassess. If you still haven't agreed, put the clothing on hold, and take a break. Shop around some more, take a stroll outside, or get some food and come back to it. Chances are, you'll both have cleared your mind and be able to look at the outfit with fresh perspective. 

Remember that shopping for the 'one' can often take weeks- so repeat this fact to your mother and don't get discouraged! Shopping requires balls and tenacity, and often feels like more of a battle than a method of relaxation (especially when trying to find a specific outfit with a tight timeframe in mind), so keep this in mind and hang in there! 

Get Personal

If all else fails, or you simply want to cut to the chase, make an appointment with a personal shopper. These professionals either work freelance or within a particular store. Call in advance to inquire about and organise this service. Like a regular salesperson, they should be able to assess your body's needs, and find an outfit that is flattering, age appropriate and event appropriate. Unlike a salesperson, they make be able to match up some jewellery to the outfit, as well as shop for the correct underwear.

Get Intimate

Speaking of which, the foundation to taking an outfit to the next level is to wear the right underwear with it. Do not try buying underwear first, because your underwear in always dependent on your outfit, rather than the other way around! If she doesnt have the right underwear, take her to go grab some. The two rules of thumb here are quite obvious: Stick to underwear that will be concealed (no clear plastic bra straps for strappy tops or dresses, please),  and it should be used to help fix what needs fixing! If she's concerned about her stomach, introduce her to spanx, and if she wants her bust to look bigger, help her pick out a push- up bra. You know the deal. 

Get Accessorised 

Consider what accessories will suit your mother's outfit. These can consist of:

  • A hat
  • A tiara
  • Earrings
  • Necklaces
  • Bracelets
  • Rings
  • Belts
  • A bag/ clutch
  • Tights
  • Socks
  • Insoles/ gel liners
  • Shoes

What is ultimately chosen depends, again, on her personal style, the formality of the wedding, and her sense of comfort.

Generally speaking, the busier her actual outfit is, the less accessories she needs. 

Jewellery: The key here is to strike the right balance in choosing how much to wear. You should be wearing between 1- 3 pieces at once (including a tiara, if she's wearing one). Jewellery should be there to compliment the outfit, not compete for attention. You should have one attention grabbing piece (e.g. the tiara or ornate earrings) and keep the rest fairly simple. 

Bags/ shoes/ hats: It's been quite popular for decades to wear whatever shoe colour you like with your dress, as long as it matches you handbag and hat (if you're wearing one). Whilst some see this approach as a little outdated, if done right (i.e. with beautiful items), it can look classic and elegant. Alternatively, you could wear different colours of each item as long as they compliment eachother (e.g. sticking to jewel colours by wearing an emerald green dress with burnt- orange shoes and a deep- yellow clutch). Or, you can choose to dress tonally, where you wear different toned items of the same colour (e.g. a periwinkle blue dress with navy shoes and a pale blue cardigan). All this really comes down to is personal preference.

Helping to choose your mother's wedding outfit can be a daunting task. But chances are, you mother will feel the pressure more than you- meaning that she'll be relying on you for calm, clarity, and great style advice. So try to keep calm and approach this project with a sense of openness, fun and flexibility! At the end of the day, the outfit is just an outfit, but the process of choosing it is an opportunity to create some priceless memories. True style takes infinite forms- and applies not only to clothing, but attitude!


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