Your Mother-of-the-Bride (and Groom!) Questions, Answered!
No matter how involved in the wedding-planning process your mother and future mother-in-law are, it's likely you'll run into one of these common dilemmas our readers have asked us about. Here, the solutions to keep everyone happy.
I'm close with my mom and stepmom, but they don't get along. They both want to be a part of the dress-shopping experience, and I'm not sure what to do. Help!
These are grown women, and what's more, this day is about one person and one person only: you. If you feel strongly about having them both there, go ahead and invite them. Give each a heads-up that the other is coming, and mention that you hope there won't be any drama on such a special occasion. To make it less stressful for you, bring your maid of honor along. Clue her in to the strained relationship beforehand, and ask her to act as a buffer in case someone starts a catfight. And remember, no matter how bad your mom and stepmom's relationship may be, the one thing they have in common is that they love you— hopefully that fact alone will encourage them to act civilly and maturely.
Is it traditional to give presents to both mothers?
A gift for the parents is discretionary. But unless you want to start a War of the Roses, both mothers should receive an offering of approximate equal monetary value if you decide to give one. That doesn't mean you can't personalize your mom's with something meaningful and special, like an engraved dual frame with side-by-side photos from your big day and hers, or a handkerchief bearing a hand-embroidered message. Words say a lot, too—a heartfelt letter acknowledging her role will also go a long way.
Is a wristlet too old-fashioned for a mother of the bride?
A wrist corsage is only as old-fashioned as its design. To give it a modern look, try a flower that is big and elegant, like a gardenia or a flat garden rose, and opt for a ribbon base over an elastic band. Or, try something entirely different, like a flower tucked in the back of upswept hair. For this, gardenias, garden roses, or cattleya orchids work nicely with rose leaves, camellia, or galax to add a little greenery. Another option is to carry a small nosegay of lily of the valley, muscari, violets, or sweet peas. That way, it is easy to pick up the bouquet for photos and the processional, and leave it on the table when it’s time to hit the dance floor.
I hate the dress my mom bought to wear for my wedding, but I don't want to hurt her feelings. What should I do?
The good news is, she's your mom. She's probably been plenty honest with you on other occasions. So voice your opinion, but do it gently—and specifically. Point out one aspect of the dress that is not the most flattering, such as, "The color washes you out." Then, turn the situation into an opportunity to have a fun shopping day together. That way, you're offering help and bonding time instead of just criticism. You can also use a personal shopper or sales consultant to take the pressure off if she's more likely to accept fashion advice from a professional.
One note of caution: If it's your mother-in-law's dress that you hate, it's probably best to keep your opinion to yourself for the sake of your future relationship.
My mom is having a hard time finding a dress that doesn't show lots of skin for my wedding. Any suggestions?
First, remember there are several places to look. There are the evening-wear and mother-of-the-bride sections of a store, of course, but you should browse the designer and ready-to-wear racks, too. Today, labels are increasingly offering styles that work just as well on a mature woman as a younger one, with options to cover whatever area of her body she'd prefer to keep under wraps. For more affordable choices, check out the MOB looks from Bhldn and Tadashi Shoji, with prices starting around $300.
Still can't find a frock? "Separates are unexpectedly elegant," says Senior Associate Fashion Editor Carrie Goldberg, who suggests pairing a ball-gown skirt with a sleek silk button-down or a slim skirt with an embellished blouson top. And if she does fall for something more revealing, you can always add coverage, says Carrie: "I love the cashmere travel wraps from White + Warren, which come in more than 14 beautiful colors, as well as designer Katie Fong's exquisite jackets." And don't forget finishing touches—for those, Carrie recommends Halsbrook, a shopping site with tons of great age-appropriate accessories.
What should the mother of the groom wear?
Because the mother of the groom isn't part of the bridal party, she should avoid choosing a dress in the same color as the bridesmaids' attire, the mother of the bride's dress, or the wedding gown. Instead, she should pick a shade that both flatters her and won't clash with the other women's clothing in the photographs. The hour and formality of the wedding (not necessarily the style of the bride's gown) should influence your mother-in-law-to-be's final choice.
My parents and my aunt and uncle are celebrating their anniversaries near our wedding day, and we'd like to honor them. Suggestions?
You could keep it simple—but still heartfelt—with a note of congratulations in your program or by offering a reading in your relatives' honor. If they're up for it, say you'd welcome the chance for them to share their marriage advice with a short toast. "Or go big and make a special announcement during the reception," suggests Real Weddings Editor Shira Savada. "Follow it up with a just-for-them spin on the dance floor." No matter how you express it, paying homage to other couples' long-lasting marriages will add a sweeter sentiment to your own day.
Should moms' outfits coordinate with the color palette and groomsmen and bridesmaid attire?
Yes, but that allows more flexibility than you might think. First, consider the shades that flatter her best and compare those colors against what the wedding party is wearing and the day's color palette. While harmonizing shades might seem like overkill, remember that she's just one of multiple family members and friends standing side by side for photos, and the end result will be easier on the eyes if everyone does their homework. She shouldn't wear the exact dress color as the bride (white or otherwise) or bridesmaids, but her outfit should blend. Here, the MOB's cream gown works with the bride's '60s-inspired ensemble without competing with the maid of honor's grey strapless gown.
Can moms wear pants or a skirt and a fancier top rather than a dress?
Of course! Moms play a big role on the wedding day, and looking elegant and feeling confident is important for them, too. Before she writes off sporting a dress, remind her that options abound today, and length and fit can be easily tailored. Plus, wraps and jackets help camouflage unflattering areas. If she's still set on ditching a gown, suggest a skirt paired with a blouse, like the mother is wearing here, or a full suit, which is versatile and comfortable.
Are floor-length dresses required, or can moms wear shorter hemlines?
"Party dressing is all about emphasizing your assets, and if those are her legs, she should show 'em off," Carrie says. "With that said, don't go too short. "It's one thing to show off gorgeous gams and quite another to be an MOB in a mini," she cautions. Bottom line: If your mom feels most comfortable in a cocktail-length dress, then there is no need to force her into a full-length frock, provided that the affair's prescribed attire allows it. Black and White Tie, for example, calls for floor-length gowns.
Should moms dress in seasonal colors?
Why not! If anything, looking to the time of the year will only help narrow her options. Don't overthink it: she wouldn't wear a bright pink cotton dress in the thick of winter, and her wedding wardrobe policy should be no different.
Are black and white off the table for moms?
"Although the rules for choosing the mothers' outfits have become less rigid, typically only the bride wears white," Carrie says, "And black is appropriate for only the fanciest weddings." However, today many brides are dressing moms in these formerly "forbidden" colors. To keep the attention on the bride's white dress, suggest off-white options or limit white to a top or bottom only. To make a black dress more casual, have her wear a knee-length option, like the mother of the groom pictured here, or dress it down by throwing on a black t-shirt with a full-length satin ball skirt.
Should moms match?
Typically, the mother of the bride chooses her dress first, and then informs the mother of the groom of the color and style to avoid too similar or too different decisions. Ideally, the two should neither match perfectly nor clash. The goal is to select similar shades and styles, not the same, like the range of neutrals shown on the women here.
What type of flower is best for moms: a corsage, wristlet, or bouquet?
Tradition calls for corsages to be given to mothers of the bride and groom. For a different approach, pin a flower in her hair or give her a small nosegay to carry. While lilies and roses are classics, incorporating each mother's favorite flower or one that complements her ensemble is a thoughtful gesture. You can also use flowers that are in the wedding party's bouquets or boutonnieres for a more uniform look, or match their blooms with the boutonnieres pinned on the fathers of the bride.
If there's an early ceremony, should moms changes before the evening reception?
"There is no hard-and-fast rule on this one: It's all about preference," Carrie says. "But there is something lovely about seeing mothers in a sophisticated suit for an afternoon ceremony and later making a grand entrance in a cocktail dress for the reception." If she's not planning on a costume change, help her select a look fit for church and the dance floor, especially because it can seem strange to show up to a daytime ceremony wearing an evening gown. A beauty touch-up can make the shift more seamless, suggests Carrie, such as intensifying eyes or adding a bold lip for evening festivities.
Do stepmothers follow the same fashion rules as related mothers do?
The short answer: Yes. A stepmom will likely line up for wedding-day pictures or have a small role in the ceremony (from processing to reading an excerpt), depending on her relationship with the bride and groom, so she should dress the part. The baton still starts with the mother of the bride, who will then inform the mother of the groom and other caregivers of her wardrobe selection. All adults should shop from there. Remember that you might very well be the only the liaison between the MOB and stepmother (for obvious reasons), so be up front and specific with your requests for both parties to avoid any confusion and wardrobe tiffs.