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Mother-of-the-Bride Fashion: What Should You Wear?

Flattering dresses that will wow at every style of wedding


spinner image a navy dress wedding invitations flowers and wedding cake
Photo Collage: AARP; (Source: Alex Evenings; Getty Images (3))

When your child gets engaged, it stirs up so many emotions: excitement for the happy couple, hope for the future, wistfulness about the passage of time and, perhaps, anxiety about the wedding expenses. Then there’s the challenge of what to wear as the mother of the bride or groom. It’s one of the biggest fashion expenditures a woman makes in her lifetime, aside from her own wedding dress. No worries, we’ve got you covered!

You want to harmonize with the rest of the wedding party and never outshine the bride — but at the same time, you want to look amazing, right? Perhaps it’s best to start by asking the bride-to-be if she has a preference about what color you choose and how she feels about prints. White and ivory are typically worn only by the bride. There used to be a rule about never wearing black to a wedding, but that has eased up over the years. Today many formal weddings include bridesmaids and “mothers-of” dressed in black.

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The next considerations are the venue, the time of day and the time of year. If the ceremony is taking place in a house of worship, overtly sexy or flashy dresses might not be appropriate. A wedding on the beach, at a farm, at a vineyard or in the backyard is often less formal than one in a hotel ballroom or at a country club.

Black-tie attire

spinner image Eliza J Long-Sleeve Tuxedo Gown in Black; Mac Duggal Sequin Long-Sleeve Trumpet Gown in Nude Silver; Halston Elyria One-Shoulder Crepe Cape Gown; Petite Surplice Neckline Ballgown with Full Satin Skirt & Jersey Bodice in Navy
Left to right: Eliza J Long-Sleeve Tuxedo Gown in Black ($100, nordstrom.com); Mac Duggal Sequin Long-Sleeve Trumpet Gown in Nude Silver ($398, nordstrom.com); Halston Elycia One-Shoulder Crepe Cape Gown ($545, neimanmarcus.com); Petite Surplice Neckline Ballgown with Full Satin Skirt & Jersey Bodice in Navy ($199, alexevenings.com)
Nordstrom; Mac Duggal; Neiman Marcus; Alex Evenings

There is no general rule about length, although an invitation that specifies “black tie” may warrant a full-length gown in a fine fabric such as silk, satin, crepe or lace for the mother of the bride or groom. In my opinion, simple silhouettes are usually more flattering than ones with fancy flourishes like giant bows, ruffled necklines or balloon sleeves for women over 50. If you are comfortable showing your arms, strapless dresses and off-the-shoulder styles are nice options. Metallics, navy, black and jewel tones are all a go. Pastel ballgowns can be a bit trickier as they conjure Disney princesses. Gowns usually benefit from wearing a heel to elongate the line, but make sure your shoes are comfortable since you will likely be standing in a receiving line and dancing during the evening. If your dress is metallic or has sparkles, keep jewelry simple; a small drop earring, studs or a delicate bracelet may be enough. With a column gown or a shirtwaist style, a dangling earring can add drama.

Cocktail attire

spinner image Carlan Tea Length Dress in Night Blue; Milly Strapless Pleated Crepe Midi Dress in Adriatic; Eliza J Illusion Crew Neck Short Sleeve Floral Embroidered A-Line Midi Dress in Black; Teri Jon by Rickie Freeman Metallic Jacket Dress in Gold
Left to right: Carlan Tea Length Dress in Night Blue ($368, kayunger.com); Milly Strapless Pleated Crepe Midi Dress in Adriatic ($425, neimanmarcus.com); Eliza J Illusion Crew Neck Short Sleeve Floral Embroidered A-Line Midi Dress in Black ($90, dillards.com); Teri Jon by Rickie Freeman Metallic Jacket Dress in Gold ($560, bloomingdales.com)
Kay Unger; Neiman Marcus; Dillard's; Bloomingdale's

If a wedding is to take place after 5, you can always opt for a gown, but knee- or tea-length dresses are also appropriate. Feel free to shimmer or sparkle. Sleeveless, half-sleeves, bracelet sleeves, strapless and asymmetric necklines all work, and most should be worn with a kitten heel or strappy sandal. You can have fun with your jewelry. Sleeveless, off-shoulder and strapless styles often call for dramatic earrings or bracelets — as opposed to necklaces. A nude-colored shoe works with a dress of almost any color. Matching the color of your shoes to your dress feels a bit dated unless it just picks up on a colored detail of the dress.

Daytime, indoors attire

spinner image MSK Women’s V-Neck Metallic Midi Fit & Flare Dress; Black Halo Emberly Draped Faux-Wrap Midi Dress in Berry Plum; 3/4 Sleeve Short Compression Collection Surplice Sheath Dress with Beaded Hip Detail and Cascade Ruffle Detail in Navy; Caroline Rose Golden Glow Plus Size Knit Dress in Ivorygold
Left to right: MSK Women’s V-Neck Metallic Midi Fit & Flare Dress ($43, macys.com); Black Halo Emberly Draped Faux-Wrap Midi Dress in Berry Plum ($435, neimanmarcus.com); 3/4 Sleeve Short Compression Collection Surplice Sheath Dress with Beaded Hip Detail and Cascade Ruffle Detail in Navy ($239, alexevenings.com); Caroline Rose Golden Glow Plus Size Knit Dress in Ivorygold ($333, neimanmarcus.com)
Macy's; Neiman Marcus; Alex Evenings; Neiman Marcus

For a wedding early in the day, gowns are not expected. A knee-length or midi dress in a dressy fabric (satin, brocade, taffeta) and a pretty shade are celebratory enough. Keep to a complementary color scheme with the rest of the bridal party. You don’t have to match; you just don’t want to clash. Stay away from all-over sequins for this time of day. A medium-to-low heel, pointy-toed pump or sandal pairs beautifully with mid-length dresses.

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Daytime, outdoors attire

spinner image Alicia Dress in Electric Blue; Eliza J. Floral Balloon-Sleeve Asymmetric Maxi Dress in Rose; BHLDN Ariana Long-Sleeve V-Neck Jacquard Ruffled Maxi Dress in Pink; Elliatt Kai Maxi Dress in Avocado
Left to right: Alicia Dress in Electric Blue ($425, sachinandbabi.com); Eliza J. Floral Balloon-Sleeve Asymmetric Maxi Dress in Rose ($178, nordstrom.com); BHLDN Ariana Long-Sleeve V-Neck Jacquard Ruffled Maxi Dress in Pink ($328, anthropologie.com); Elliatt Kai Maxi Dress in Avocado ($270, revolve.com)
Sachin & Babi; Nordstrom; Anthropologie; Revolve

Outdoor weddings in gardens, the backyard, vineyards or barns are usually less formal than at other venues. If you wear a maxi dress be sure to pair it with a stacked or wedge heel because you don’t want the hem of your dress dragging on the ground. In general, airy, easy, flowy shapes will be more comfortable in the spring and summer. Colors and prints should mimic the natural environment so pastels and florals are perfect.

The location should also be taken into consideration when it comes to footwear. There’s nothing worse than sinking into the grass, dirt or mud while wearing spindly heels. Today there are plenty of dress shoes and sandals with a block or a wedge heel and even dressy flats that are wedding-worthy.

Beach attire

spinner image Caroline Rose Plus Size Julia Ruffle-Sleeve Crepe Dress in Coral Crush; Meg 54-Inch Cap Sleeve Caftan in Pool; Teal Silk Boatneck Caftan; Capri Long Tunic Dress in Blush Pink French Regency Ribbon Print
Left to right: Caroline Rose Plus Size Julia Ruffle-Sleeve Crepe Dress in Coral Crush ($340, neimanmarcus.com); Meg 54-Inch Cap Sleeve Caftan in Pool ($348, bellatu.com); Teal Silk Boatneck Caftan ($465, oceanandmain.com); Capri Long Tunic Dress in Blush Pink French Regency Ribbon Print ($298, nicoblu.com)
Neiman Marcus; bella tu; ocean+main; NicoBlu

Beach weddings are the least formal of all. Easy, breezy is the way to go. You definitely don’t want to wear anything constrictive in a warm-weather setting. Silk, cotton or linen caftans and tunic dresses are perfect for these occasions, especially in delicious tropical colors such as aqua, mango, coral and teal. Dangling jeweled or tassled earrings are the perfect accessory. Flat sandals, slides (even bare feet!) will keep you steady on the sand, with your mimosa in hand. Here’s to love!

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