How to Dress as the Mother of the Bride

Meta: Figuring out what to wear as mother of the bride is hard enough. That’s why Zola’s gathered the best tips and advice for finding a flattering outfit for your daughter’s big day.

By The Zola Team

mother of the bride
Photo by Unsplash

Being the bride's mom is already stressful and emotional, without the added confusion of finding the perfect dress for the big day. Many mothers are left wondering what color they should wear, if certain styles are appropriate, how formal they should dress, and when to begin shopping for the special occasion. That’s why we’ve created the ultimate guide to finding the perfect mother of the bride dress. We’ll cover everything from color and style to cultural considerations. Keep reading to learn more.

Tip 1: Use the Bride as a Guide

Chances are your daughter has spent a lot of time planning the wedding day of her dreams, so it’s important to check in with her about some of the details of the celebration to help you find the perfect dress. You’ll want to have a clear understanding of the theme, formality, colors, and timing of the ceremony before you begin shopping for a dress.

If the celebration is a merging of cultures, or perhaps entirely different from your traditions, be sure to get those details from your daughter as well. The many cultures and religions around the world have a vast array of traditions and norms for wedding ceremonies. These differences may impact the way the mother of the bride is expected to dress. However, regardless of culture, there are a few guidelines that remain consistent for all celebrations, so you can use this guide as a place to start.

Tip 2: Complement the Colors

Once you have some more details from the bride, you can begin your search. If you’re wondering whether, the answer is not necessarily. Instead, the mother of the bride’s dress should pair well with her daughter’s gown, without matching.

First, decide on a color family. The mother of the bride dress doesn’t necessarily have to match the wedding color. Traditionally, the rule of thumb for mothers of the bride is to wear a dress that complements the color of the bride’s and bridesmaids’ dresses. For example, if the bridal party will be wearing pink, coral, or red hues, you’d want to consider finding a grey, brown, or neutral dress. You can read more about complementing bridal party colors here [LINK].

However, some brides may prefer you match the bridal party or want you to stay within the same color family. For instance, if her bridal party will be wearing navy dresses, you might opt for a gown in a lighter shade of blue.

Regardless of your bride’s preferences, the key consideration when selecting a color for your dress is to avoid anything that will clash with your bride’s dress or those of the bridal party. As the bride's mother, you’ll be in photos with members of the wedding party, so the color of your dress should not be too jarring next to them. In terms of specific colors to avoid, it’s best not to pick a dress that matches the wedding dress colors (typically white or ivory) and anything too bold or attention-grabbing. After all, it’s your daughter’s big day—she should be in the spotlight. Read more about the dos and don’ts of color for mother of the bride dresses here [LINK].

Tip 3: Match the Wedding Atmosphere

How to Dress as the Mother of the Bride Photo Credit // Kristen_Gardner_Photography

After selecting your color, or color family, the next step is to pick the right style for your dress. In general, you’ll want to match or be on par with the rest of the celebration. In other words, if your daughter is planning an informal daytime ceremony, a more casual design would be appropriate, while a floor-length elegant evening gown would look out of place. Conversely, a traditional evening ceremony would require a more formal gown.

In the past, western tradition has dictated that mothers of the bride wear a modest sheath dress with a cocktail jacket over it. However, this uniform is no longer necessary and may vary depending on the culture or religion of the ceremony. For example, some eastern traditions may specify that mothers of the bride should wear a specific type of garment with their outfit. Again, you should discuss this with the bride to ensure you are respectful of the tradition.

Tip 4: Shop Early and Communicate

With these details in mind, you’re ready to start shopping for your actual dress. However, that doesn’t mean you should. In general, you should wait until the bride has selected her own wedding dress and those of her bridesmaids. Typically, this should be done no later than six to eight months before the wedding day, and this is generally when you’ll want to start searching for your perfect mother of the bride dress.

About a week before you start shopping, it’s a traditional courtesy to call the groom's mother and let her know what you are thinking about in terms of your dress color and style. Etiquette dictates that the mother of the groom should wait for the mother of the bride to find her dress before shopping for her own. So, this courtesy call is a nice way to give her the go-ahead to begin her dress search as well. Read more about the differences between the mother of the bride and mother of the groom dresses here [LINK].

As you shop, be sure to explore a variety of options. Going to bridal boutiques or specialty stores and asking to see a mother of the bride dress may seem like the logical way to shop, but can be very limiting. Instead, ask for afternoon or garden dresses, formal dresses for evening, or black-tie garments, depending on your daughter's wedding theme. If the ceremony is particularly informal, you may find some of your best choices online or in everyday shops.

Tip 5: Don’t Overshadow

How to Dress as the Mother of the Bride Photo Credit // Kristen_Gardner_Photography

Regardless of culture, the center of attention at any wedding is the couple getting married. So, as you go about your dress shopping, be sure to avoid anything too flashy that will grab attention away from your daughter, the bride. This is her big day, so let her be in the spotlight. If, as you shop, you aren’t sure if the dress you’ve selected is appropriate or the best option, ask your daughter for her thoughts. If she encourages you to wear it, go for it. If she has any concerns or doubts, it’s best to opt for another choice.

While some traditional guidelines can help you get started when finding your mother of the bride dress, it’s always best to get a sense of the wedding your bride’s planning. And, of course, you know your daughter best. If she is laid-back, she may not have a preference for what you decide to wear. If she’s a meticulous planner, on the other hand, you may want to run your MOB dress choice past her for approval—or maybe even take her with you for a fun mother-daughter outing. Using these five tips to help you shop, however, will give you enough guidance and support to find the perfect dress to celebrate your daughter’s nuptials.

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