Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Shopping for the Mother of the Bride

As long as my daughter Greer has expressed dreams about getting married, I have visualized what a lovely bride she would be. I could see her in a wedding dress with a handsome man, the whole event, and of course, me looking fit and fashionable. Within a few weeks of the official engagement, we had already secured her dream dress in a small bridal boutique and reserved her and her fianc√©’s first choice for a casual outdoor garden wedding on a summer evening. Everything seemed to be moving along fast but smoothly with the color scheme, and therefore my dress, still a work in progress.

Every mom wants to look lovely at her daughter’s wedding; after all, Greer may see some similarities between us in 30 years. Having poured over all the etiquette books that were dropped off by friends shortly after the engagement, I started shopping with only two rules in mind: 1) the MOB will not clash with the wedding colors or embarrass the bride (no frumpiness and “No Talbots!” exclaimed the bride) and 2) avoid all black or all white. Simple enough!

I soon found out that there is a lot more to shopping than finding something you like. MOBs cannot shop for an outdoor summer wedding in the winter unless they plan to dress in cruise attire or so many sequins and bugle beads that they become strobe lights (violates 1st rule- would surely embarrass the bride and self). After 3 months of us both searching, Greer spotted a wonderful royal blue silk chiffon dress from Nordstrom. The dress did not come in petite sizes (petite for short, not invisible). We ordered two sizes and I found out why petite sizing is so important: the neck and shoulders produced a hump back that startled me and scared my seamstress. Add rule #3: Alterations cannot perform miracles. Do not expect seamstresses to correct misaligned armholes, incorrect zipper closures and an uncomfortable waist. Sigh, back to the drawing board.

Since it was clear that I needed a petite dress, Greer and I decided to exhaust all our petite-sized options at Ann Taylor and J. Crew, but still no Talbots. We loved a pale pink halter-style dress from J. Crew but would have to order petite sizes online. I fired off the catalogue picture to moms who had inquired what the mother of the bride will be wearing to the wedding. Low and behold, their comments flooded the phone wires and my inbox and I quickly retreated with a fourth rule that seemed strikingly less flexible than my previous rules: “No bare shoulders!”

Then came my trusty Talbots catalog for spring, which I happily devoured that afternoon without thinking once about my non-existent mother-of-the-bride attire…until I saw the perfect dress for me: a solid ice pink silk and linen sleeveless sundress and matching short jacket. I hesitated to tell Greer and bravely ordered in my petite size. When the suit arrived it needed no alterations, it wasn’t frumpy, it wasn’t sequined, and it had a jacket to cover my shoulders. I excitedly modeled for my husband who can be quite opinionated about color, but he loved it. I paraded through the house, modeling the dress for his brother and almost any visitor; I was getting “definitely-yes” responses!

But the label violated Greer’s # 1 rule: it came from Talbots. Should I cut the label out before Greer saw it? I thought it best to broach the subject in person, so I waited anxiously for her next visit home. When I was finally ready, I mentioned casually that there was a Talbots dress I liked for the wedding in the latest catalogue, and perhaps we should give it a chance? She grimaced a little, but then said “Well, let’s see it!” Surprisingly, she loved the dress in the catalog as much as we all did, and much to her surprise, I ran right upstairs and put it on!

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{Top: (L) pink aster sundress and jacket (the one!), (M) blush dress and bolero, (R) mica skirt suit;
Bottom: (L) sand dollar dress and jacket, (M) sateen sundress and bolero, (R) dress and bolero}

Things I learned: shop where you normally shop (if you have a favorite store for everyday, it is natural to look there for special events, too), fit trumps all rules (if you are petite, buy petite- don’t count on alterations fixing everything), and don’t be afraid to break some of rules (even if set by the bride). However, I would still try to avoid all black or all white, especially for long dresses. Black & white ensembles, though, can be really lovely (see two of my suggestions above). Finally, stretch the rules to fit your style and needs- I needed something sleeveless because an outdoor wedding at the peak of summer might get too hot, but the indoor reception might be too cool, so I chose to have both options and will try to cover my shoulders during the ceremony. If I need to take off my jacket to cool off, I’ll do it without thinking twice. What I think Greer learned: Talbots does not equal frumpy, and you have to trust people to know what looks best on their body and what they are most comfortable in. Weddings are not necessarily the best time to get out of your comfort zone.

A few weeks later, Greer and I were shopping for engagement party dresses at Bloomingdale’s when we spied a woman wearing a very loud white dress with bright large navy flowers unflatteringly stretched across her crotch. She immediately ran over to us and whispered “I can’t trust this saleswoman- she says this dress is perfect for the mother of the groom, what do you ladies think?” Inside both our heads: “Nooo!” Instead, I explained that I recently went through the same thing, and my best advice is to follow your gut and buy something you are comfortable in. I pointed out that she seemed hesitant and didn’t look comfortable in that dress, to which she exclaimed “You’re right- I’m not!” So here is my best advice: shop where you like to shop, find something you love and feel comfortable in, and trust yourself - you know best what looks good on you. As for me, I am thrilled with my quartz pink Talbots suitand can’t wait to wear it out of the closet, label proudly intact.

Nordstrom also offers a great selection of mother of the bride/groom dresses for petite to plus sizes and every size in between, although they primarily focus on long dresses. So if you are shopping for a formal evening wedding or even an outdoor garden wedding where it might be a little cooler, here are some options for every budget:

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{L to R: ivory lace dress with bolero; short champagne lace dress with bolero; champagne shantung dress and jacket}

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{L to R:platinum charmeuse gown with beaded jacket; platinum bustier gown with bolero; hazel blue brocade jacket and taffeta skirt}

For more formal options for the mother of the bride, read Abby's recommendations on her blog, Style Me Pretty.

Thanks for reading! ~Faye

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