Shopping for wedding attire is an anticipated part of planning your wedding—but it can also get pretty complicated. Once you’ve found your own perfect dress, you’ve got to dress your bridesmaids and mom, too. And naturally, we want mom looking picture-perfect for the big day—from her hair to her accessories, to her dress and shoes (chances are she's been dreaming of this occasion for just as long as you have, if not longer). Anne Chertoff of Beaumont Etiquette says to make sure the mother of the bride is wearing attire that matches the event's formality. So what’s appropriate for her to wear to her daughter’s wedding?
Meet the Expert
Anne Chertoff is the co-founder and COO of The Plaza Finishing Program and Beaumont Etiquette project director. She plans and teaches etiquette courses and is the author of The Wedding Organizer.
Our experts are here to answer all of your maternal fashion questions.
How Long Should the Mother of the Bride’s Dress Be?
"A mother of the bride’s dress should follow the formality of the wedding, so if the couple is asking everyone to wear black-tie, her dress should be floor-length," says Chertoff. Formal celebrations also see gowns made of more formal fabrics, such as taffeta or lace. For a daytime celebration, a dressy suit or cocktail dress is appropriate, with a skirt that goes to the knee. For a cocktail reception, a knee-length cocktail dress is the most common, though some calf- or floor-length dresses could work (particularly if they have fewer embellishments or are in a brighter color).
What Kinds of Details and Embellishments Are Appropriate for the Mother of the Bride’s Dress?
One of her mother of the bride duties is serving as one of the hosts of the evening, so she should dress up accordingly. For a daytime wedding, lace or rushing is a great embellishment option. For an evening wedding, she should look for details like sequins or beading, since sparkle adds to the formality of the attire. Lace is also a great option, especially if it has sparkling accents. The details depend on what makes your mom comfortable. Some women prefer higher necklines or long sleeves, while others love off-the-shoulder styles. Help your mom narrow down the details she loves best, then shop together for a dress that combines them all.
When helping your mom decide on embellishments for her dress, look for design elements that work well with your own dress, whether it’s lace detailing or a similar neckline.
What Color Should the Mother of the Bride Wear?
Chertoff suggests that the mother of the bride wear a color that coordinates with the palette of the wedding, a color requested by the couple, or any shade she likes as long as her daughter hasn't asked her to refrain from it. "Sometimes the couple will ask parents, siblings and other key figures to wear a specific color, such as black, to coordinate in family portraits," says Chertoff. Correlating colors will help tie everything together and make your mother-daughter photos look beautiful and ensure her corsage or nosegay of flowers looks perfect with her outfit.
Mothers of the bride are often seen in a metallic tone, like silver or gold, or one of the darker colors chosen for the wedding (think navy or plum). Of course, if your mom is into brighter colors, she can definitely wear berry or fuchsia—as long as it matches.
It’s important, however, to keep the bridesmaids’ dresses in mind. The mother of the bride can coordinate with the wedding party, says Chertoff. "That doesn’t mean she has to match the color the bridesmaids are wearing but the color she wears should complement it." If they’re wearing blush, the mother of the bride should opt for a deeper pink. Are they wearing eggplant? Put your mom in lavender instead. She should fit in seamlessly with the wedding party, but shouldn’t look like she’s pretending to be a bridesmaid.
Can My Mother Wear White to the Wedding?
Traditionally, neither the mother of the bride nor the guests are encouraged to wear shades of white to the wedding. "White can be a tricky color for someone to wear other than the bride, however, it is not uncommon for the bridesmaids and children in the wedding to wear white," says Chertoff. This color is usually reserved for the bride to stand out among guests dressed in other colors and customarily also alludes to her virtue.
Ultimately it's up to you and if you're amenable to the idea, there's no reason to bar your mother from wearing white as long as you're both happy—and wearing white alongside your mother can be a great way to honor your family. If you're planning to wear pure white, your mother's gown may be better suited to a complementary shade of cream, eggshell, or ivory.
If you don't want your gowns to match completely, be sure there's a marked difference in the gowns' shades, silhouettes, and/or details.
What Should the Mother of the Groom Wear?
"The mother of the groom should follow the same guidelines as the mother of the bride, however, traditionally, the mother of the groom will check in with the mother of the bride to make sure their looks are in the same formality and complement one another," says Chertoff.
You will often see the mother of the groom wearing a dress in a similar color and style to the mother of the bride, though that’s not required. Her dress should, like the mother of the bride, accent the wedding’s palette. She may opt for a color that matches the groom’s tie, for example, or another shade that coordinates with the mother of the bride and the bridesmaids’ dresses. She should also take her formality cue from the mother of the bride. If the mother of the bride is wearing a floor-length dress, the mother of the groom should do the same. The women don’t need to match exactly but should be wearing dresses that work well together, enhancing the design of your wedding and fitting the dress code to a T.