Mother-of-the-bride dresses are a special breed. You want something that's fabulous and flattering, but your search will be limited to the wedding's underlying dress code. Before you start flipping through the dress racks (at the six- to eight-month mark), spend a little time thinking about the wedding logistics. Just as with your daughter's gown, the time, setting, and season of the event will dictate the appropriate attire for you. You can get away with dressing up a notch, but donning a sequined ball gown for a champagne brunch will make you feel out of place. And nothing helps you radiate more than feeling calm, confident, and comfortable on the wedding day. Here are the overarching factors to consider.
1. Time and Season
Daytime weddings and evening affairs have their own explicit sets of dress codes. For the day, you want your fabrics light and colors bright. In the evening, it's more acceptable to flaunt beads, sequins, and other sparkles in darker hues. Similarly, hemlines get shorter as the summer days get longer (one exception: floor-length is always fitting for a black-tie affair). And fabrics and colors change with the seasons: Bold colors and airy fabrics lighten the warmer months, while deeper tones and rich materials warm up the fall and winter.
2. The Location
Where will the ceremony and reception take place? A ballroom? A park? A vineyard? If you're going to be outdoors at a botanical garden in the early morning, for instance, you'll want to forgo a gown that skims the dewy ground. Or, if the wedding is outdoors, will you need to trek through a garden? Will there be air-conditioning in summer or a good heating system in winter? Will you need to do a lot of walking? A lot of sitting? You get the idea. Which style of dress normally makes you feel comfortable? Remember, you might be wearing this one from early morning until late at night.
3. Your Daughter's Desires
Chances are, your daughter has a few ideas about what she'd like to see you wear on her wedding day -- brides don't like big surprises and we're guessing you don't either. So take her shopping with you; plan a fun day around it.
First, talk about what she's wearing -- if she'll walk down the aisle in a strapless sheath, look for a tank-style dress or something with light sleeves. Then ask for her "what not to wear" list: Are there certain colors to steer clear of (besides white, of course)? She may be adverse to anything too bright or flashy. Does she think a V-neckline is too revealing? Is she afraid you'll clash with her color scheme?
Then insist that the bride offer you her ideas, which will save you valuable shopping time. Explain your issues, if any (a certain color doesn't look good on you, perhaps, or she's thinking about a style that you feel just won't suit you), and see if you can find some common ground. Black is totally acceptable for a mother to wear nowadays and goes with any color and just about any type of event.
If you disagree with what your daughter has in mind, don't argue -- just try on everything and one of two things will happen. One, she'll see why you don't like a particular dress shape, or two, you'll fall in love with something that you didn't think you'd like. Either way, you should shop with her so that even if she says she doesn't care what you wear, she's there to help guide your decision. Or maybe she knows what great taste you have and trusts you completely -- that's how it should be.
4. The Mother of the Groom's Look
Compare notes with the groom's mom -- you'll both feel more comfortable if your elegance is in sync. If you follow tradition, the mother of the bride should be allowed the first opportunity to choose a dress so you don't end up with the same one. However, you may be confronted with a mother of the groom who isn't up on her etiquette. Either way, just opening up a line of communication probably will make things easier for both parties. After all, she's probably just as anxious about the purchase as you are.
Call her a few days before you go shopping. Say, "I'm heading out to get my dress this weekend for the wedding. I'll let you know how it goes and what color I end up getting. Any suggestions as to where I should look?" This accomplishes a few things. First, you let her know you're going shopping, and second, she lets you know where she likes to shop, so you can avoid getting the same dress.
Don't flip out if she's not on board with the rules -- she might have budget constraints or limited retail options. She might already own a fabulous evening gown in navy blue. In that case, just buy your own gown and don't worry about coordinating the effort. Bottom line: A matching level of formality is key (a sundress and sequined ball gown at either end of the group wedding photo would look a little off), but harmonizing the colors isn't so critical.
Excerpted from The Knot Guide for the Mother of the Bride
See More: Basics for Moms