Mother Of The Bride: Dress Code Etiquette Q&A

What should the mother of the bride consider when dress shopping? Here's everything you need to know.

So, your daughter’s getting hitched, and there’s so much to organise – from the venue to the guest list, and all those wedding dress fittings. But what are YOU going to wear? Before you go shopping for your wedding day outfit, arm yourself with these dress code tips for the mother of the bride.


Image: Ms Jane Photography

Q: What’s the dress-buying protocol for mums?

A: It’s customary for the mother of the bride to purchase her dress before the groom’s mum, to subtly dictate what the latter will wear. However, this approach can be a little old-fashioned, not to mention unrealistic. Our advice: just play it by ear, and try to be flexible. (It’s not a competition!)

Q: When the mother of the bride buys her dress, is it her duty to then politely ‘inform’ the groom’s mother?

A: Old-school wedding etiquette says yes. According to tradition, the mother of the bride is expected to notify the mother of the groom (presumably to prevent overdressing/underdressing, clashing colours and other fashion faux pas.) And while this is good form, it’s not a requirement, especially if you’re worried about seeming pushy or bossy. That said, the mother of the groom might really appreciate — and even expect — a heads up. You can either have your daughter subtly pass the details along or, better yet, give her a call yourself. Try to sound as casual as possible: “I finally found a dress that fits! Do you know what you’re wearing yet?” Chances are the mother of the groom will want to know more. Of course, she might be totally disinterested but, if that happens, don’t sweat it — you’ve tried.

Q: What are the colour guidelines?

A: Traditionally, avoiding dresses in the white, ivory, and champagne colour family (that match the bride), black gowns (that can suggest mourning) and red gowns (or similarly ‘flashy shades) is standard. However, we’ve seen mums in white who look tailored and elegant – and this colour is really trending right now for bridesmaid’s dresses, so as long as the bride is OK with it, we say go for it. We think black is classic, chic, and formal, and  even red can be done with gorgeous good taste. The bottom line? Before you start shopping, talk to the bride. She may be very sensitive to the colour issue, or completely indifferent. If she expresses reservation, think about subdued-but-stately colours in the lavender, silver, burgundy, and blue families.


Image: Ms Jane Photography

Q: Does the mother of the bride’s dress colour have to match the bridesmaids?

A: Some will swear by the ‘rule’ that all the dresses must coordinate. And some brides really love that matchy-matchy look. But there are countless alternatives. Maybe stay within one colour spectrum — if the maids are in baby blue, for instance, the mother of the bride can wear navy. But mixing and matching can be ultra-stylish, too. What’s most important, however, is that everyone feels comfortable and beautiful.

Q: When it comes to choosing the mother of the bride’s dress, how much say does the bride have?

A: Definitely consult her on colour — she may have issues with certain shades (white, black, red) or want your dress to complement the bridesmaids. She may also have ideas about style, length and formality. Do try to respect her wishes — her opinion should count for a lot and if she wants long sleeves or if she likes you best in pistachio, what’s the harm in obliging? Keep her guidelines in mind while shopping, but the dress you settle on should make you happy, too.

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Image: Matthew Reed Photography

Q: How far in advance should the mother of the bride purchase her dress?

A: Start shopping as soon as possible. If you must put it off (maybe you’re trying to firm up, or just dread shopping in general), aim to have made a decision at least one month before the wedding. We know you’re going to get around to it eventually — just be sure to let the groom’s mum know she can forge ahead, and keep the bride informed of your progress too.

Q: Does the mother of the bride have to get dressed up for the wedding, even if fancy schmancy isn’t her style?

A: If it’s an evening wedding, guests will be dressed up. You don’t want to stick out or appear disrespectful. But this doesn’t mean you have to sport sequins and satin or velvet and rhinestones. There are many frill-free formal looks out there. Stick to your guns and you’ll find an outfit (pants are OK!) that’s easy and elegant too.

Q: Can a young-looking MOB wear a strapless ball gown?

A: On one level we think you deserve to wear a fabulously sexy dress but, on another, we’re wondering how the bride will feel. If she’s supportive, go for it — you’re both going to sizzle! But if your daughter seems concerned about mum turning heads, not acting her age or otherwise upstaging her, let her be selfish. It’s her day, not yours. However you’re not limited to ‘frumpy’ or overly conservative attire at all. It’s quite possible to be glamorous without ruffling any feathers.

Do you have any other tips for the mother of the bride, Knotties?

Tips & Tricks For Mother Of The Bride
Mother Of The Bride: Duties In Detail


by The Knot



  1. Can the MOB wear long gloves with a sleeveless gown if the bride is not wearing gloves

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