6 Essential Dress Shopping Tips for Mothers of the Bride and Groom

Unless you’re a regular on the charity event scene, you probably haven’t shopped for a dress this important since your own nuptials. Before you hit the stores, check out our tips for finding a look that’s worthy of a wedding VIP.
Bride and mother of the bride getting ready before ceremony
Photo by Leo Timoshuk

Whether you're the mother of the bride or the mother of the groom, you'll have many special moments on the wedding day. All eyes will be on you as you walk into the ceremony and when you're announced at the reception. And what about all those pictures? You may not have shopped for a dress this important since your own wedding, so here are some tips to get you going.

1. Consult the Couple

The best place to start is by going straight to the source—the to-be-weds. Have them clue you in to their wedding day vision—how formal it's going to be, the overall style they're going for, and what color palette they've selected or are thinking about. Since pictures are always better than words, you might also ask them to share some photos they've pinned to their inspiration board so you have a visual guide to help get your search started in the right direction.

2. Start Early

We recommend starting your search around the six-month mark. That will give you plenty of time before the wedding day to find something you love, schedule fittings and have any alterations made if necessary. Plus, by then the couple will likely have chosen (or be very close to choosing) their own attire as well as the bridal party's look—it's best to wait until the couple has made those decisions before you officially purchase anything so you can coordinate accordingly.

3. Consider Their Colors

Some brides prefer that their moms wear a color in the same palette as the bridal party (say a mauve or plum gown if the bridesmaids are in lilac or lavender) or even match it exactly, but there's no set rule that all the dresses must coordinate. The key thing to remember is that you want to complement (and not clash with) the day's hue. Metallics, navy, blush, chocolate brown and jewel tones are all beautiful and safe bets for a mother of the bride or groom. Traditionally, avoiding dresses in white, ivory or champagne (that are too close to the bride's gown), black (which can suggest mourning) and red (or similarly “flashy" shades) is the standard—though these traditions are shifting and we've seen moms look chic and tasteful in all of the above. If you're considering something in one of these categories or you're just not sure about the color you're leaning toward, run it by the to-be-weds to double-check there aren't any concerns.

4. Choose Your Style Carefully

You don't want to upstage the couple of honor, but that doesn't mean you're limited to frumpy, conservative or matronly looks either. There are plenty of options available that will give you that glamorous look you're after without being over-the-top or stepping on anyone's toes. Depending on the formality of the wedding, anything from a classic suit or a chic sheath to a cocktail dress or formal gown can work. If the bride would like you to wear a style you're not happy wearing or you like something she's not thrilled about, talk to each other and do your best to find a compromise that works for both of you—it's her day, but it's just as special for you and you have to feel comfortable with your choice.

5. Think About the Logistics

Just as with the bride's gown, logistics such as the time of day, the setting, and the season of the event will dictate the appropriate attire for you. For example, you can get away with dressing up a notch, but donning a sequined ball gown for a champagne brunch will make you feel out of place. Or if it's a rustic affair on a vineyard, you'll want to forgo a long, voluminous gown that skims the dirt paths and dewy grass. A few other things to remember when putting together your wedding wear: Religious and cultural customs may dictate a certain dress code for the ceremony or reception too, so be prepared to cover up if required (a jacket, cardigan or chic shawl should do the trick).

6. Coordinate With Your Future In-Law

It's a bit old-fashioned, but traditionally, the mother-of-the-bride picks her outfit first, setting the tone for what the mother-of-the-groom will wear. Nowadays though, who buys first doesn't really matter as much, as long as both women are comfortable and feel great in what they decide to wear. You and your future in-law don't have to match, but you should make sure your looks don't clash. Have a conversation to get a sense of what the other plans on wearing (talk about sleeve and hem length, neckline, color and style). If you get along well you may even want to go shopping together to offer each other style advice and make sure you find looks that coordinate nicely, or alternatively the bride could go shopping with each of you separately and relay any guidelines. If you discover you both want to wear the same color, choose different shades of the hue for an easy compromise.