MOB style rules redefined

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For Mothers of the Bride — or Groom — the key is finding a balance between comfort and style.

By Tracie Seed | Newport Wedding magazine 2020

You see them in nearly every rom-com: the mother of the bride (MOB) or the mother of the groom sobbing in her tightly fitted column dress with matching bolero jacket and big corsage. This has become the classic uniform for MOBs over the years, but now there are many different choices for your big day. 

“Mothers want something that doesn’t look like everyone else, and they don’t want to look matronly,” says Stacey Downing of Stalise in Portsmouth. “They also want to be comfortable.”  If you have to wear three pairs of Spanx to put on a dress, you might want to think about alternative choices.

So how do you find the balance between comfort and style? “I don’t stick by the dress-for-your-body-type rule,” explains Christina Carlson of the Bridal Garden in East Greenwich. The majority of the MOB dresses she carries come in sizes 0–32 and in 30 different colors. “If you feel beautiful and confident in something, then it’s for you,” she says. “I’ve sold every style dress to every different body type. If you can rock it, you can wear it.” 

A good rule of thumb to follow is to start with what you know. Are you at home in a tailored suit or sundress? Do you like to show a little skin or dress more conservatively? Do you like structured fabric or something with a little more give? 

Carlson suggests buying from a local shop instead of shopping online or at department stores because you can get personalized attention and the salespeople know the different Rhode Island venues, which can help dictate dress styles and fabric choice. Knowing the venue, the formality of the wedding and the MOB’s personal style all aid Carlson in her search. “You’ll probably dress more formally for a mansion wedding than an outdoor ceremony,” she says. You won’t want to wear a heavy taffeta sheath and jacket during the hottest month of the year, nor a strappy chiffon number in the dead of winter. 

Both Downing and Carlson point out that while you don’t want to outshine the bride, you do want to look special. “It’s a very important event and you will be out there in photographs and socializing,” says Downing. “You don’t want to spend the day pulling and adjusting your dress, so don’t wear something you don’t want to wear.” 

Flowy, A-line or full dresses — whether in full-, knee- or tea-length — are universally flattering, Downing notes, offering ease of movement that also makes them suitable for dancing.  

Unless you have a fairy godmother who can bibbity-bobbity-boo the perfect frock at the last minute, you’ll want to start looking at least six months in advance. “A dress can take three-to-four months to come in, and then you can expect one-to-two additional months for alterations,” Downing suggests. “If you order a dress rather than buying off the rack, you can do things like add a sleeve or strap and take in the bust. If your weight changes, you’ll be able to address that, as well, so it fits your body perfectly.”  

On the other hand, don’t shop too soon! “Don’t shop for your dress before the wedding dress and the bridesmaids have a style and color direction,” Carlson says. “Then the mother of the bride chooses her dress, followed by the mother of the groom.” 

Downing concurs that starting to look early is very important to finding the right fit.  “You may want a dress with a drape in the front to hide your tummy, or you may want to cover your arms,” she says. “Starting early gives you time to find what works best.” By scrambling at the last minute, your options are limited and you may end up wearing something that not only feels uncomfortable, but looks it, too.  

Downing saves her final bit of advice for the bride. “Let your mother wear what she wants to wear! It’s her big day, too.” 

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