Many lifetimes ago, when I was in high school, I had a part time job in a specialty boutique at my local mall.  We sold everything from occasion dresses to wedding gowns.  If you can imagine it, I helped women choose their bridal gowns and I wasn’t even out of high school yet.  We also carried what would be described as your typical early 90’s mother of the bride dresses that were, for a lack of a better word, horribly tacky.  Granted, it was the early 90’s, a time when brides wore gowns with big sleeves and veils had those horrible back poofs.  I really do believe that every woman married between 1985 and 1994 should be granted an automatic wedding do over just so they can have some decent photos from their wedding day.

Anyway, the mother of the bride dresses back then.  They were so matronly, so garish and so blingy, with their bejeweled tops and/or jackets and dark tea length chiffon skirts, that they looked like the after-five version of black pants and colorful tops.  Back then it seemed clear, if you were the mother of the bride, or groom, you had to look like someone had put you out to pasture.

Nowadays, with the majority of mothers of the brides being Baby Boomers, it’s no surprise that this group of women is refusing to go quietly into the night.  Not only do they not want to look like some old lady, but they also want options.  Thankfully, in this day and age, the mother of the bride and groom has them.

However, this is not to say that there aren’t some general rules a mother of the bride or groom shouldn’t follow.  If your dear daughter or son is about to say “I do”, here are some tips to keep in mind.

#1- Looking young and looking youthful are two different things

Is there anything worse than a woman who hasn’t accepted her age?  I don’t mean she has accepted it in a “it’s time to throw in the towel, I’m done” sort of way, I mean it in a way that shows a woman has powerful and gracefully accepted she’s not a teenager any longer.  Having turned 42 this year, I can even tell the difference for myself.  Dressing like I am 20 just makes it look like I can’t let go and am trying to desperately cling to something that I should have let go of years ago.  This is why dressing young and dressing youthful are two different things.  Below I have chosen dresses from retailers that cater to this age group.

#2- Wear what makes you feel good

Perhaps it is just me, but I always check out the mothers of the bride and groom at weddings.  If your son or daughter is getting married, trust me, you’re not just a sprig of decorative parsley on a plate, people will notice you.  I can tell immediately when a mother of the bride or groom chose something that really resonated with their personal style or decided to go with something because it seemed like what they were “supposed to wear.”

No you’re not the star, but you do play a pivotal role and you will way more visible than you might think.  With all the options out there, don’t give into societal pressures of what you think you should wear.  Trust me, the trend of mothers of the groom wearing blue is long over.

#4- Dress for the occasion

When I got married in 2007, my ceremony was at 11am on a Sunday and the reception was over by 4pm.  When my sister got married in 2002, it was on a Friday night.  Obviously, my mothers role was the same but the way she dressed was entirely different.

mother of the bride

For my sister’s wedding, my mom wore a long gown that was beaded and for my wedding, she chose a sharper, shorter, more tailored look that wasn’t embellished.  Both of these choices were dictated by time of day and her own personal style.  If she wore what she did to my wedding to my sister’s, and vice versa, she would have looked ridiculous in both cases.

Consider the time of day that the wedding will be held, as well as the venue.   This is a tremendous dictator in the type of dress you should look for.  Here are some suggestions.

Elegant morning weddings and more casual daytime venues

mother of the bride

Dresses from left to right:

  1. Talbots Lace Print Dress– Perfect for a daytime casual wedding
  2. Talbots Dupioni Sheath– A great fabric for an elegant daytime event
  3. Escada Cap Sleeve Sheath– An elegant shape, fabric and color for a daytime event
  4. Tadashi Shoji embroidered lace sheath– Lace in a daytime color.  Tadashi Shoji cuts beautiful dresses.
  5. Adrianna Papell metallic jacquard sheath– The print and fabric balances the sheen of the metallic.

Even though my wedding was in the morning, it was far from casual.  I would describe it more like an elegant daytime wedding because it was held at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the reception was at the garden’s all glass gazebo structure.  One of my guests described it as a scene from an Oscar Wilde novel, which I took as an enormous compliment.  You can actually view my entire wedding video here to get a better idea.  Morning weddings aren’t necessarily casual, but they do often call for a restraint from too much bling, sheen or shine.  Long gowns are also pretty unnecessary as well, even for the mother of the bride and groom.  If you do choose a long gown, choose one that isn’t overly embellished and definitely lighter in color.

From personal experience, I will tell you it can be nearly impossible to go to a classic bridal shop and look for a mother of the bride dress for a morning wedding.  When people think wedding they assume bling and the pickings can be slim for more understated dressy looks.  Believe it or not, my  mother got the dress for my wedding at Talbot’s of all places.  What made it perfect was the fabrication, which was a shantung weave.  Silk shantung, taffeta or dupioni are great fabrics for daytime events because they offer a little sheen without being too satiny or shiny.  Lace can also be the perfect daytime wedding fabric as long as it isn’t too dark or too ornate.

Suits make great daytime wedding looks, but they need to be dressier than your typical go-to-work suited looks.  You can also consider pants, like drapey palazzos.  If you watch my wedding video and see what some of the guests wore you will be able to see that a lot of the older women were spotted wearing daytime dressy suits and even pants.

Lastly, avoid very dark evening colors.  Black would never be my first choice for a daytime wedding unless it works with the color palette of the event.  If you can wear the dress for a formal evening wedding it’s probably not right for a morning one.

Cocktail and Evening Weddings

mother of the bride

  1. Alex Evenings lace dress and jacket– Perfect for arm coverage
  2. Theia applique fit and flare dress– Modest and cocktail at the same time
  3. Tadashi Shoji lace and sequin sheath– Same dress as above but in a more formal fabric
  4. Eliza J Embellished Taffeta sheath dress– A subtle amount of bling but still cocktail looking.  Taffeta is great for daytime too, but the bling brings it into the evening
  5. Zac Posen off the shoulder sheath– The satin weave is perfect for evening

Weddings often start in the afternoon with a reception that goes into the evening.  Typically,the mother of the bride and groom will wear long dresses to these cocktail type events even when the guests aren’t required to wear black tie gowns.   However, in some cases, this might feel a bit overboard.  If this is the case, looking for a cocktail dress is perfectly fine, and in these cases, bling, dark colors, rhinestones, jewel details, and more, are perfectly okay.

 Beach weddings

mother of the bride

  1. Jessica Howard pattern bodice gown and scarf- Fluid and soft.  Perfect for the beach
  2. St. John floral print gown– Formal but not overly blingy.  Great for a more formal beach wedding
  3. Chico’s Palm Maxi Dress– For a more causal beach wedding, a daytime maxi can be a great choice
  4. Komarov charmeuse dress with shawl– A beautiful print for a beach style wedding that has arm coverage
  5. Kamarov lace and chiffon a-line dress– Fluid, soft, drapey in dressier fabric, striking a nice balance

Beach weddings often have their own dress code and, like morning weddings, they can vary from more causal to quite fancy, making anything from an elegant sundress to a gown perfectly acceptable.  It all really depends.  However, I think what is important to keep in mind when choosing a mother of the bride or groom dress is to work with the venue and not against it.  Avoid dresses that are too formal, overly structured, blingy and ornate.  You can certainly choose a gown, if it works with the formality of the wedding, but look for styles that aren’t too black tie in appearance.  One way to work around this if you want a dress that has a lot of embellishment is to choose one that is lighter and softer in color.

Black tie weddings

mother of the bride

  1. Carmen Marc Valvo jacquard floral ballgown– Not all gowns need to be blingy.  This one is stunning without going overboard
  2. Adrianna Papell beaded mesh gown– Sheer sleeves for coverage and ornate for evening
  3. J. Crew chiffon gown– J. Crew tends to skew young, but this one is definitely perfect for maturer women as well.
  4. Tadashi Shoji elbow sleeve lace gown– Tadashi Shoji makes gowns for plus size women and fit beautifully, proving that plus size mother of the brides don’t need to wear matronly looks
  5. Badgley Mischka blouson column– An elegant, chic gown that proves that you don’t have to let it all hang out to look chic.

If the wedding is black tie or held on a Friday night, you can pretty much narrow your choices down to formal gowns.  As I said earlier, you will be one of the people with the spotlight making it important that what you wear works with the tone of the evening.

The good news is that formal mother of the bride dresses have come a very long what from what they once were and you don’t have to shop at a bridal store for your look.  Additionally, there are plenty of styles out there that have modest details, like sleeves, with more of a missy cut.

Know the color palette

Before you head out to the stores, know what the color palette of the wedding will be.  This is not to say that you have to find a dress that matches exactly to the color of the wedding but harmonizing with it will definitely work better.  The last thing you want to be is the person wearing red in the photos while the rest of the wedding party is in soft shades of lilac and sea-foam.

This is what my mother did.  My colors were brown, sage green and accented with orange.  My mother-in-law wore brown and my mother chose a teal shade that, while not a match, harmonized.

There are so many routes you can go to create a stylish mother of the bride or groom look, but I hope that this will narrow your direction to helping you find the style that is right for you.