A Guide to Mother-of-the-Bride Dresses

What Should the Mother of the Bride Wear?

We cover every single thing about finding the perfect look.

Once upon a time, mothers of the bride were expected to wear matronly dresses in Easter-egg pastels or washed-out shades of beige. Thankfully, that's in the past. But now that they're free to express their sartorial sensibilities, determining what the mother of the bride should wear with so many fashionable options can be incredibly overwhelming. Talk about spoiled for choice! Never fear.

We asked some bridal pros to give us a few pointers for making the process as seamless as possible. Whether you're a bride who's hoping to help your mom find the perfect look or the materfamilias to the lucky lady herself, we've got the who, what, when, where, and how of MOB dress shopping.

Meet the Expert

Shea Jensen is the Executive Vice President of Men’s and Women's Apparel at Nordstrom, where she was previously the National Director of Weddings and Bridal.

Let the Bride Be Your Guide

If you take away only one tip, let it be this one: Follow the bride's cues about style, color, and degree of formality. She and the groom set the tone for the event, whether that means a casual country wedding complete with cowboy boots or a formal black-tie affair. You're an important member of the wedding party and you'll want to look the part. So, ask your daughter for some guidelines and follow suit.

Take Color Cues From the Wedding Party

Traditionally, the mother of the bride's dress should complement the wedding party's colors (though not necessarily match). Therefore, it's best to wait until your daughter chooses the bridesmaids' dresses to begin shopping, says expert Shea Jensen. See if you can get a swatch of their fabric to take with you—it will be super helpful when searching for a harmonizing hue.

If your daughter foregoes the uniform bridesmaid dresses in favor of individual outfits in a similar shade, stick to one or the other. For instance, if she asks her attendants to wear black cocktail dresses, you might want to choose something in silver or grey. Or if her girls are going in cobalt blue, a navy dress would pair perfectly.

There's only one color not to wear say the experts: Avoid anything in the same color as the bride's dress. Though you deserve to look stunning, the bride should stand out as the star of the show.

Borrow From the Venue

It used to be that mother-of-the-bride dresses followed a kind of uniform — a cocktail jacket atop an understated sheath. Today, almost anything goes — so long as it's appropriate for the event. So, while you probably wouldn't wear a strapless dress to a church wedding, it might be just the thing for a beach ceremony. However, you can add a lovely wrap or, yes, even a jacket to that same dress and it instantly becomes chapel appropriate.

Make sure you also take the weather and cultural or religious customs into account when finding your outfit. Whatever kind of wedding it is, you can never go wrong if these three words come to mind: elegant, understated, and appropriate.

Time It Right and Communicate Your Choice

According to our bridal experts, you should start searching for your dress no later than three months before the wedding to allow time for special orders and alterations. You may choose to look in department or specialty stores for your dress, but don't pass over traditional bridal salons. Many have options for the mother of the bride, as well!

It is customary for the mother of the bride to buy her dress first and then share her choice with the mother of the groom. The mother of the groom might also need special orders and alterations, so be sure to give her ample time to accomplish this before the wedding. The mothers' dresses don't have to match (unless that's what the bride wants), but they should complement each other. Remember, you'll be taking lots of pictures together and the only person who should stand out is the bride.

Don't Forget the Glam

There aren't any special rules for mother-of-the-bride hair and makeup. Again, think elegant, understated, and appropriate—and reflective of your style. As with the bridal party, you'll usually want to get a fresh mani and pedi the day before the wedding and have your hair and makeup done the day of. Whether you do this with the bridal party is up to your daughter.

If the bride prefers to get glammed up with just her bridesmaids, don't take it personally. You can invite the mother of the groom or other family members to have a prettying party of your own, or relish the rare moment of quiet and plan to slip off on your own. Just make sure that you do plan to get your hair and makeup done—whether by a professional or trusted friend. Too often, mothers overlook themselves in favor of their children. Remember, it's your special day, too!


A Guide to Mother-of-the-Bride Dresses

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