Style Therapy: Here is the bride, accompanied by her mother’s dress anxiety

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Is there a father of the bride who is worried about how he is dressed for the wedding? Is there a mother of the bride who doesn’t?

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The answers are obvious: No and are you kidding? The mother of the bride may play a somewhat secondary role in her daughter’s wedding, but most women worry about what to wear for such an auspicious occasion.

I’ve been there, I’ve done it, and I’m here to help.

An estimated 2.5 million couples will wed this year in the United States alone, a number fueled by the pandemic. Canada and other countries are seeing a similar increase. That’s a lot of mothers who have the same problem – what to wear on their daughter’s big day.

Previously, mother of the bride dresses followed a kind of uniform – a cocktail jacket over a discreet sheath. Of matron? Maybe. Today almost anything goes, and you shouldn’t feel limited to traditional clothing. Still, having the freedom to express your style for that momentous event can be incredibly overwhelming. You can never go wrong if these three words come to mind: elegant, understated and appropriate.

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Make sure your ensemble ties in with the wedding theme and complements the color scheme, season, degree of formality and location. Let the bride be your guide. Ask your daughter for direction on the tone of the event and follow suit.

Moms of brides should steer clear of the color worn by bridesmaids and choose a complementary shade.  Files, courtesy of Fern Facette Photography
Moms of brides should steer clear of the color worn by bridesmaids and choose a complementary shade. Files, courtesy of Fern Facette Photography Jessica Fern Facet Photography

FAQs, dress tips and etiquette

Can the mother of the bride wear the same color as the bridesmaids? No, but tradition dictates that she wear clothes in a family of colors that complement what the wedding party will be wearing. If the bridesmaids are wearing sky blue, you might want to choose something navy blue. You had the idea.

No matter what color she chooses, you’ll never go wrong with a neutral tone like flesh, taupe, or silver, which pairs perfectly with anything. Don’t conflict with the color theme. The only one who should stand out is the bride. (You avoid outfits that are predominantly white, cream, or ivory. This color is reserved for the bride to wear to the wedding.)

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Can the mother of the bride wear a black dress to the wedding? At one time, black was strictly forbidden. Today this is acceptable, although there are some key considerations. Black can convey many emotions. Is your dress serious or festive? Is it more suitable for a wedding or a funeral? For a wedding, it has to be pretty. Include some sparkle, shine, and some sheer (where you can show skin without showing skin). Does this overpower the color the wedding party is wearing? If they wear soft pastels, it will seem harsh and overwhelming. Keep this in mind and discuss it with your daughter.

If a mom doesn’t like to wear dresses, is a pantsuit an option? The modern label allows for a variety of ensembles. You can look and feel chic in a mother of the bride pantsuit or even an elegant jumpsuit. They come in so many styles and fabrics that you’ll be able to find something that works with the wedding theme. Whether you choose a structured pantsuit or sparkly pieces involving a chiffon jacket and flowing pants, it can be a striking choice. Just be sure to consider your daughter’s feelings.

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When should moms start shopping and what’s the best type of store to pick up an outfit?

Start shopping for a dress as soon as the bride has chosen the bridesmaid’s dresses. (If you can get a fabric swatch and take it with you when you shop, it will make it easier to find a matching shade for your ensemble.) Allow at least three months to ensure enough time for shipping, returns, fittings and modifications.

If you’re not one of the lucky women who magically finds the perfect dress when shopping for the first time, expect some challenges. Stores often don’t have enough stock or samples for anything larger than a size 12. It’s important to try on a garment that’s designed to fit your size with your body and proportions in mind.

Also venture into virtual stores, as there is a greater variety of sizes and styles available. However, pay close attention to online reviews and make sure you’re happy with the return policy. Sometimes dresses look better in photos than they look. Always remember that there is a dress that will make you feel beautiful and confident, no matter your body type and your budget.

You deserve to look gorgeous mom. It’s also your special day.

Helene Oseen is a longtime fashion editor and sought-after stylist. She helps women find confidence and style as they make friends with themselves and with fashion. What is your wardrobe identity? Take the quiz and find out at

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