Mother of the Bride vs. Mother of the Groom Dresses

Whether you are the mother of the bride or the mother of the groom, there are a few key things to remember as you shop for your dress. Check out Zola to learn more.

By The Zola Team

well dressed wedding party
Photo by Feather & Fawn Photography

Your son or daughter's wedding is an exciting and eventful time—and, as the mother of one half of the happy couple, what you wear to the wedding events (like the bridal shower or rehearsal dinner) can feel like a big deal. But the most important piece of attire you'll choose leading up to your child's wedding? Your mother of the bride (or mother of the groom) dress.

If you're like some people, you've had your eye on the perfect dress since your child got engaged (or long before that!). But if you're not sure what to wear, all the choices—like what color to wear (Should I go with a pastel color scheme or go with something more bold? Should I match their wedding colors or choose something different?), the style of your dress (Do I go with a midi dress, a long dress, or a jumpsuit? Do I go with something beaded or sequined or do I keep it more simple?), and following proper wedding etiquette—things can get a little complicated.

And on top of that, you might be wondering what the difference between the mother of the bride and the mother of the groom's dress is—and how to choose the right dress for your child's big day. Let's break it all down so you have all the information you need to feel confident about your mother's dress as you walk down the aisle, greet guests, and celebrate the happy couple on their wedding day:

Taking the Lead and Shopping Schedules

The most significant difference between the mother of the bride and mother of the groom attire has nothing to do with the garments themselves—but is actually how the gowns are selected and when. Traditional etiquette dictates that the mother of the bride takes the lead and shops for her wedding attire first; then, the mother of the groom can choose her dress.

However, many modern women use this advice as more of a guideline than a strict rule. Our suggestion? Keep the lines of communication open throughout the wedding planning process. Here is our best advice for both women shopping for the perfect dress for a special occasion.

Mother of the Bride

As the bride’s mother, you may be privy to a lot of information about the details of the wedding and your daughter’s preferences. It’s your responsibility to understand what she wants from both you and the groom’s mother in terms of your attire.

Mother of the Bride vs. Mother of the Groom Dresses: What's the Difference? Photo Credit // Unsplash

Typically, you shouldn’t start shopping for a dress until the bride has selected her wedding dress as well as those for the bridal party. If this hasn’t happened by about six to eight months before the wedding, check in with your daughter to see if she has a timeline, or ask if she is ok with you beginning to shop. Then, make sure you call the mother of the groom to let her know the details—like color and style—of the dress you plan to buy for the wedding day, plus share information about when you plan to start your search. This will give her a better idea of what kind of outfit she should be looking for—and when she should start looking.

Mother of the Groom

As the groom’s mother, you’ll want to let the mother of the bride take the lead during the dress shopping process. Generally, you should expect to start your dress shopping around six months before the wedding. However, you should wait to hear from the bride’s mother before you begin. She should let you know the color and style of her dress, so you can coordinate by selecting a complimentary design. If you haven’t heard from her by about five months before the wedding, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for an update on the dress code. She should appreciate that you want to respect traditional wedding attire etiquette and will hopefully be able to give you some extra details, so you can begin shopping for your perfect dress.

Coordinate Color and Formality

Unless you are specifically asked to do so by the bride, both mothers should avoid matching each other or the bridesmaids’ dresses. However, coordination is still crucial for chic photographs on the big day. So, at the very least, both mothers will want to wear colors that complement the other. But it’s important to check in with the bride before you make any decisions. Maybe she envisions everyone wearing neutral tones, or perhaps she prefers bold and bright. Regardless of her preference, chances are she has one, so make sure you know what it is.

Make sure you’re both wearing the same formality of dress as well. Otherwise, photos will appear off-balanced, and it might be misconstrued that one mother is trying to outshine or outdo the other. If the mother of the bride selects a more casual and laid-back look, most likely approved by the bride herself, then the groom’s mother probably won’t want to choose an overly formal dress. Open communication is key.

Color palette ideas for your dress

Not sure what kinds of colors would work best for your mother of the bride or mother of the groom dress? Here are a few color palette ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Neutrals. When in doubt, going with a neutral dress color—like black (despite some old style misconceptions, it's totally appropriate to wear black to a wedding!), navy, gray, or taupe—is always a safe bet. Neutrals also work particularly well at black tie weddings.
  • Silver and gold. Another can't-miss palettes for mother of the bride or mother of the groom dresses? Different shades of silver and gold. Keep things classic or try variations of the shades, like a champagne, rose gold, or shimmery charcoal.
  • Jewel tones. If you want something a bit more unique and eye-catching, jewel tones—like emerald or plum—are also a great option, particularly for fall or winter weddings.

Dress Length

This is one element of the dresses that do not have to match, as long as the formality is coordinated. For example, if the mother of the bride dress consists of a floor-length gown for an evening affair, the mother of the groom may decide to wear a knee-length cocktail dress. Similarly, if the bride’s mother chooses to wear a tea-length dress for a daytime garden wedding, the groom’s mother may opt for a flowy maxi dress. The length of your gown should be about what you are most comfortable in, so try out a few options and choose what works best for you and your style.

Mother of the Bride vs. Mother of the Groom Dresses: What's the Difference? Photo Credit // Lisa Houston Photography

Etiquette for Step-Mothers

In general, you’ll do your best to avoid matching with the bridesmaids or the mothers of the couple getting married. However, to determine whether or not you should also coordinate with both mothers, check in with the bride. Chances are, you will be in at least a few group photos with the parents of the bride and groom, and perhaps the wedding party. So, you’ll want to wear something that doesn’t clash with the rest of the group in photos.

Much like the mother of the groom, step-mothers of both the bride or groom should follow the lead of the mother of the bride. Specifically, you’ll want to ensure both the mother of the bride and mother of the groom have selected their dresses before you begin looking for yours.

Dress Guidelines for All Mothers

Though you’re no longer relegated to wearing matronly dresses, there are a few guidelines mothers of the bride, mothers of the groom, and step-mothers should all follow when dress shopping:

  1. No White: It may seem obvious, but wearing white on someone else’s wedding day is frowned upon. This includes shades of bright white, ivory, champagne, and some off-whites.
  2. Avoid Black: As a color associated with grief, it’s best to avoid wearing a black dress to a wedding unless it’s a formal affair or has been approved by the bride.
  3. Keep It Simple: The design of your dress does not need to be dull or drab, but you should attempt to keep things simple. Avoid too many embellishments or bold, dramatic colors. These eye-catching elements may distract guests from the bride, who should be the center of attention on her big day.
  4. When in Doubt, Ask the Bride: If you’ve found a dress you love, but aren’t sure about the color, style, or formality, don’t be afraid to ask the bride for her opinion. Of course, you should feel beautiful and comfortable in whatever you wear, but she probably has a clear vision for the aesthetic of her big day, and you should attempt to support that.

The mother of the bride and mother of the groom dresses aren’t all that different in terms of colors, style, or design. The contrast between these two gowns is in how they are selected. Both women should consider the bride’s preferences, but the mother of the bride should be allowed to take the lead on dress shopping for all mothers and step-mothers of the bride and groom. Following these simple guidelines are sure to make the process go smoothly and efficiently.

Shopping Tips

Want to make sure your dress shopping trip is a successful one? Make sure to keep these tips in mind:

  • Bring a swatch of the bridesmaid's dress. If the bridesmaid's dresses are locked in, bring a swatch with you on your shopping trip; that way, you can avoid buying a dress that clashes.
  • Shop in advance. You don't want to wait until last minute to get your dress for your child's wedding. Make sure to buy your dress at least a few months in advance (three or more is ideal); that way, you have plenty of time to find the perfect attire—and to get any necessary alterations before the big day.
  • Ask what to wear with the dress. Once you find the perfect dress, make sure to ask the salesperson for their insights on what else you'll need to wear with the dress—like undergarments, shapewear, pantyhose, shoes, and accessories.

Outfit Ideas for the Mother’s Dress

Need some more inspiration for your mother of the bride or groom dress? Check out these outfit ideas:

For a black tie event, try a floor-length gown.

A black tie wedding is all about formal attire. So, if your children are hosting a black tie affair, make sure to wear a floor-length gown—preferably in a neutral tone (no overly bold hues).

For semi-formal wedding, consider a cocktail dress or pant suit.

With a semi-formal wedding, you have more options. A mid-length cocktail dress is a great way to achieve an elegant look. Or, if you prefer to be a bit more covered up, a wide-legged pants suit in an elegant fabric is a great alternative.

For a beach wedding, rock a flowing sundress.

Beach weddings are more laid-back and casual than other types of nuptials—and a formal dress would feel out of place. Opt for a well-cut, flowing sundress in a breathable fabric—and pair with dressy sandals to pull the look together (while still feeling comfortable on the sand!).

Simplify Your Wedding Planning at Zola