Kathy Gabel of Maumee estimates she tried on 25 to 30 dresses before finding the dress to wear at the Oct. 24 wedding of her daughter Mindy.
Lisa Walker, also of Maumee, started looking last spring for a dress for her daughter Melissa's wedding on Nov. 14, and admits to getting a little frustrated before finding one in September that she describes as "just awesome."
"As soon as I tried it on, we all agreed it was the one," she says.
Falling in love with the perfect wedding dress isn't just for brides. Mothers of the bride and groom want to be swept off their feet, too: They want to look pretty and stylish. They dread looking matronly, but they want to be comfortable through the long and busy hours from the ceremony to the last dance.
There's even posterity to think about. Those pictures could be around for generations.
As long-time Houston wedding stylist Barbara Coolidge Tibbetts points out in her new book, I Want My Mother's Dress To Match The Napkins, this will be the second most photographed dress a mother will buy - her own wedding dress being No. 1.
"I just want them to feel good about themselves," says Jeanne Fairchild, who owns Atlas Bridal Shop in West Toledo. "I want them to feel special, too."
She says women tend to be harshly self-critical, "so I encourage them to let loose and try things on. They just need to have fun with it."
Start looking at least six months before the wedding, she advises. Keep in mind that if you need to order a dress to get a different color or special fit, it can take three months to come in.
"Don't wait until the last minute and have to settle for something," Mrs. Fairchild says.
Certain wedding traditions and expectations influence the choice of a mother's gown, even in this seemingly anything-goes age, notes Jill-Marie Zachman, owner of First Impressions Etiquette Training in Waterville.
Diane Dooley models a mother's dress with popular tiered skirt in cobalt chiffon accented with beading at Atlas Bridal Shop.
First, it's all about the bride.
The mothers' gowns should complement the bride's wedding color and theme, show respect for this very special day in her life, and never, ever upstage her, Ms. Zachman stresses.
Proper etiquette still dictates that a dress of white or ivory "is reserved strictly for the bride," Ms. Zachman says, but she acknowledges that the traditional ban on black for weddings is largely ignored today.
Black is trendy, very formal, and goes well with bridesmaids' dresses in rich colors such as red, Mrs. Fairchild points out. "Black is very acceptable."
It's always popular in the fall, she adds. Also in vogue this season are plum/purple and cranberry/claret.
Color is the most important consideration in choosing a mothers' gown, contends Ms. Tibbetts, the wedding stylist and author. "No matter how perfect the style may be for your figure, you will never look good if it is the wrong color," she writes. "Your dress might look beautiful, but you will not."
Concentrate on finding a style you love and then order it in the color you want, Mrs. Fairchild suggests. "Some of my dresses are available in 30 colors."
Don't get the same color as the bridesmaids' dresses, advises Jane Wilde, a wedding consultant whose company is called The Wedding Maker. "That includes grandmothers, if at all possible. That color is meant for the bridal party."
The mothers' dress can be in the same color family, though, Mrs. Fairchild says. She also remembers one wedding in which the mothers - three of them - each chose a different hot tropical color to carry on the beachy wedding theme.
Mothers take their color cues from the bride, who chooses her dress first, then the bridesmaids' dress. Traditionally, the mother of the bride then chooses her dress and the mother of the groom follows.
It doesn't always work that way.
Diane Dooley models a ballgown with beaded lace applique in garnet taffeta.
Mary Hehl of Perrysburg, whose son Mike got married Sept. 12, says she and the bride's mother "took each other's feelings into consideration, but we didn't follow any hard and fast rules about her choosing her dress first." Both shopped whenever it was convenient for them, and kept the other mom and the bride informed about their progress.
Mrs. Hehl researched styles and colors online before shopping in local stores. She estimates she tried on a couple dozen dresses over a period of three to four months.
Her goal was to find one that was youthful but not young - something between a strapless or spaghetti-strap style and the generic long dress with jacket (usually glittery) that manufacturers churn out for older women.
"We're moms, but we still like to feel that we're young, and a lot of the [mothers'] dresses I think are matronly and old-fashioned... We don't want to steal the show from the wedding party, but we want to look our best," she explains.
Some women shop the bridesmaids' dress rack to avoid what they regard as frumpy styles for mothers. In addition to bridal and formal wear shops, department stores and women's speciality shops are good places to look for a mothers gown.
Currently popular for mothers are tiered skirts, little sweep trains on a floor-length gown, small bolero jackets, mix-and-match separates, and ball gowns with fitted bodice and full skirt, says Mrs. Fairchild.
Don't set out with a specific dress in mind, several people warn. It's also a good idea to make an appointment at a store, if possible, to be assured of one-on-one attention.
Mrs. Gabel advises shopping with someone who will give an honest opinion.
"I did try on a couple that my husband and daughter shook their head and said no," she remembers.
Having the bride's blessing for their gown is important to most moms - even if the bride wants only for them to wear something they love.
Mrs. Walker shopped for her dress with her daughter. "I wanted her opinion. I wanted to make sure she liked the dress," she says.
Connie Warner of Springfield Township says her daughter, Katie, "wanted the moms to feel beautiful" on her wedding day five years ago.
"She said, 'I'm not concerned about color. I'm concerned about the moms feeling comfortable,'" Mrs. Warner says.
Her daughter even found two dresses on sale at Dillard's that she suggested for the mothers. They liked the dresses as well, and bought them.
Mrs. Warner says her gown "was very simple but very elegant and just absolutely fit my personality and my style."
Ms. Zachman, of First Impressions Etiquette Training, says the mother's dress should fit the formality of the event. A formal daytime wedding would call for a dressy fabric such as chiffon, lace, or taffeta in knee, mid-calf, or floor length. For a formal evening wedding, a long, glamorous gown is appropriate, she says.
The mothers don't have to wear the same length dress, says Mrs. Wilde, the wedding consultant, although typically they decide to do something similar.
Accessories matter, too.
Jewelry should be tasteful and understated, Ms. Zachman says. If you're going to carry a purse, make it a small clutch that matches your dress or shoes.
Then stop worrying. Relax. Have fun.
"We had the time of our lives," Mrs. Warner remembers.
Contact Ann Weber at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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