Dating someone new comes with a lot of important milestones: your first overnight date, your first time bringing them around all of your friends, and your first social media photo together, just to name a few. While some of these firsts are fun, some tend to be a bit more stressful, and meeting your significant other's parents definitely falls into that second category.
Even if you're generally an outgoing person, meeting the parents can be incredibly nerve-wracking. And trying to figure out what to wear when meeting the parents can leave you standing in front of your closet, resenting your entire wardrobe. To help ease the stress of choosing the best outfit for the occasion, we turned to fashion experts Joey Clark and Tanya Tamburin.
Meet the Expert
- Joey Clark is a professional stylist and the owner of Kin Boutique, based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
- Tanya Tamburin is a fashion stylist noted for dressing some of the world's most well-known celebrities, including Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Michael J. Fox, and more.
"Your outfit is the first thing someone sees, and unfortunately, sometimes the first thing they initially judge about you," admits Clark, owner of Kin Boutique. "What we wear is a form of personality, and it helps us relate to others in a positive or negative way." Fashion stylist Tamburin adds, "When you wear the 'right' outfit, it represents you and makes you feel confident and secure. You stand a little taller and shine a little brighter, and who wouldn’t want to get to know that person?!"
Ahead, discover expert tips on picking out the perfect outfit, plus some of our fail-proof styling ideas.
Style Tips and Advice
Both Clark and Tamburin agree that the most important thing to remember when looking for the right outfit is that you want to feel comfortable. If you don't feel good in what you're wearing, it will show—and that can ruin even the most perfectly put-together look.
"It is always best to wear something that represents you and that you feel 100 percent comfortable in," Clark says. "If you are not a dress person, don’t wear a dress; if you hate the way you walk in heels, wear flats instead. Start by thinking about some of your go-to pieces, the options that always make you feel your best, and work from there."
Find your favorite pair of jeans and build a look around them. They'll automatically boost your confidence and comfort level.
Tamburin recommends avoiding anything that feels too restrictive or distracting—basically, you don't want to be adjusting your outfit the entire time or wearing something you have to actively think about. "Think of this as a comfortable, casual interview where you want to present the best, most confident, and poised version of yourself," she says.
Lastly, remember your audience and consider erring on the conservative side. This is still possible without stifling who you are. "You want your personality to shine way more than your outfit," Clark says. Keep things simple rather than over-the-top.
"I would also recommend that accessories-wise, less is more when it comes to meeting the parents," Clark says. "It’s all about highlighting your personality and your love for your partner. Be comfortable, be appropriate, and be yourself!"
What to Consider When Picking an Outfit
Your outfit should be a reflection of who you are, but it should also be appropriate for the setting of when and where you're meeting. Here's what to think about before putting together your look.
"Weather should be a top consideration when deciding on an outfit," Clark says. "Take into account the elements and act accordingly," Clark adds. "I always recommend layers so that you are always prepared." An extra cardigan is almost always a good idea.
The other most important thing to consider is where you're meeting, which will determine how formal or casual you should be dressing. "If it's a casual setting and you show up looking too dressy, it may come off like you're trying too hard," Tamburin says. "If the setting is formal and you are dressed too casually, it may come off like you didn't put in any effort." Going to a restaurant or country club? Look up the venue to see if there is a dress code of any kind.
Time of Day
The outfit you wear for dinner at a fancy restaurant can be completely different from the outfit you would wear for brunch. In general, meeting earlier in the day will call for something more casual.
What to Avoid Wearing
You never want your outfit to misrepresent who you are. For example, if you tend to wear jeans and leather jackets, don't put on a fancy suit or out-of-character floral dress just to impress the parents. That said, there are some clothing items you may want to avoid.
"No crop tops, open backs, crazy high heels, or baggy sweats," Tamburin says. It's better to stay on the safe side the first time you meet your partner's parents. She also says to avoid sweatshirts, dirty and worn-out sneakers, ill-fitting pants and shirts, and anything wrinkled. "You want to show up looking clean, confident, and presentable. When it looks as if you put care and effort into your outfit choices, it shows that you are responsible and interested in making a great impression."
Clark recommends avoiding clothes that don't fit well or feel too fussy. "If you’re constantly tugging at your skirt to cover your legs, the focus will be on that and not your epic personality." She says to stay away from anything too tight or too oversized, as well as over-the-top trends like cut-outs or mid-drift styles. "Most parents are not going to understand or necessarily be impressed by trends, so save them for a later date."
Outfit Ideas for Any Situation
Having some great go-to outfit ideas is always helpful. It takes some of the pressure off and helps you get ready in a matter of minutes instead of hours. "My go-to look is definitely a classic and perfectly fitted pair of jeans [never distressed] and a great blazer," Tamburin says. "This look is so versatile as you can wear it with sneakers or loafers and a white t-shirt for a more casual feel or dress it up with a sexy pair of heels and a silky top for a night out. It’s a timeless look that works for all sizes, shapes, and ages." For men who want to show off their personalities a bit more, Tamburin suggests similar basics with fun accessories like socks, patterned button-downs, or simple jewelry.
According to Clark, it's less about the actual clothing and more about the way the clothing fits you. "Think about textures and fabrics; you don’t want to be sitting at a table in the summertime in a linen outfit that wrinkles or shows your nervous sweat as soon as you sit down," she says. "I recommend darker shades and more forgiving fabrics, like cotton, silk, or pontes. A great pair of black pants, paired with a silk blouse underneath a classic blazer or leather jacket, is always in style."
Clark's favorite go-to outfit idea for men or women is something made up of elevated basics that can easily be dressed up or down. "Like a crisp button-down or sweater and a nice pair of dark denim or khaki pants—no holes!" she says. "A sharp denim jacket (avoid vintage or worn-in styles, nothing with patches, etc.) or a cotton blazer with a clean tee always does the trick to pull the look together." For men's footwear, she recommends a pair of loafers, boots, or boat shoes, and skipping sandals or sneakers.
What to Wear for a Casual Event
A casual meeting could take place in your significant other's home or their parent's home, a restaurant for a quick brunch or lunch, or a backyard party. In any case, you don't want to look like you're trying too hard, so here are some ideas to keep things simple.
You can definitely meet the parents in something as comfortable as jeans and sneakers. "Wear clean sneakers and some of-the-moment straight-leg jeans," Clark advises. "Keep the top simple, although you can have a little more fun with this and add in some prints or bright colors." She recommends keeping the graphic tees to a minimum and instead just focusing on showing off your personality.
Clark recommends a flowy maxi dress as a good alternative to pants if you're not a jeans person. Wear it with a denim jacket as a light layer. She also says you can wear a skirt with a chic cotton tee as a cute option. Tamburin says that a well-fitting jumpsuit can be a good option here, too.
Top off your look with fun accessories like interesting jewelry, a nice watch, or a funky bag. Tamburin offers, "I find these accessories to be great conversation pieces that show a little bit of my personality and fashion sense while not being too over the top."
For men, Tamburin suggests basics like a knit sweater, a button-down, or a collared polo with denim. "If the atmosphere is a bit more elevated, simply layer the knit sweater on top of your button-down or collared polo," she says. "Five-pocket chinos are a comfortable but classic look if you need additional options." For footwear, she suggests nice sneakers or casual loafers.
What to Wear for a Formal Event
If you're meeting your significant other's parents at an event like a wedding, family party, or professional function, you might feel that a more dressed-up look is appropriate. The same can be said for a really nice restaurant. Here are some outfit ideas that will work well.
Clark highly recommends a great pair of tailored black pants. "Think wider leg or straight leg style, not leggings," she says. "Wear them with a short-heeled bootie or a classic and comfortable pump. Keep the top simple and always pair it with a nice fitted piece of outerwear, just in case it's cold or you need more coverage."
If you prefer dresses, consider a black or A-line dress. "You can never go wrong with a little black dress," Tamburin notes. "Dresses that drape or skim the figure and end at your knee are classic and seem to always be a safe bet." In general, though, opt for a dress that makes you feel confident and put-together no matter what.
Clark encourages you to think about what you like most about yourself and highlight it. "If you love your clavicle, pair the pants or skirt with an off-the-shoulder top. Great legs? It’s totally okay to wear a shorter dress or bottom; just make sure it’s balanced with an oversized blazer or jacket," she says.
For men, a formal setting might mean choosing between a suit or a tuxedo—always check the dress code first or speak with your partner before deciding. Clark says she thinks that, in this type of situation, it's better to be a little overdressed than underdressed, and that the most important thing is to make sure everything fits well. "Shirts should button without gaps, and shoulder seams should hit right at the edge of your shoulder; when a top is too oversized, it can read sloppy," she warns. "Invest in getting those pants hemmed! Wrinkles can also ruin the look, so make sure everything is steamed beforehand."
If a suit or tux isn't necessary, Tamburin says you can't go wrong with business casual. "Stick with a properly fitted button-down dress shirt, tailored slacks, and a blazer paired with a leather loafer."