An Expert’s Guide To Mother-Of-The-Bride Dressing
An Expert’s Guide To Mother-Of-The-Bride Dressing

An Expert’s Guide To Mother-Of-The-Bride Dressing

One of the UK’s most distinguished bridal designers, Sassi Holford has an extensive eveningwear collection for mothers of the bride. Here, she tells us how the best outfits balance modern style and traditional elegance – while still allowing this crucial figure to look and feel themselves on the day.

These days, there aren’t any hard or fast rules when it comes to the mother of the bride. It’s not the same as it was 20 or 30 years ago. Today, people's main concern is getting it wrong. It’s always interesting working with a mother of the bride on their second or third child’s wedding, because they so often tell me, “Oh no, I did that last time.” It implies they’re learning from their mistakes! Generally, the mistake I see is women asking for their dresses or separates to be taken in too far, making them too tight. It’s so important to know your body type and how to dress for it.

I’m the same age as many of the mothers of the bride I work with, and yet I still feel 28. So I completely understand that impulse to be influenced by what you see in magazines or on Instagram. But it’s not like we have the same figures we did at 28, so it’s about coming to terms of what suits you now and makes you look the best – sometimes that is a bit of a realisation. 

The only big no-no is wearing white or ivory. But that only applies if the bride is choosing to wear those shades, of course – today brides wear all sorts, and I’ve actually seen a lot of mothers of the bride choose ivory. It can be universally flattering – but make sure you run it past the bride first. Traditionally, the mother of the groom should give you first dibs on an outfit but it could also be worth co-ordinating with her to avoid any unnecessary clashes. I wouldn’t go as far as co-ordinating with the bridesmaids or bridal party. Your role is different, and your outfit should reflect that.

The amount of time you need to find an outfit really depends on how particular you are. The more particular you want to be, the longer it could take. My advice would be, as soon as you know you've got a wedding coming up, start putting a Pinterest board together and looking at your wardrobe to identify the pieces you look and feel the best in, and which ones win you compliments. That way you can start building a foundation of knowledge to help you understand your own style better. Also, think about the time of year. If the wedding is next summer, the clothes in stores right now aren't going be right for then. That said, a lot of traditional mother-of-the-bride collections are quite seasonless now, so it’s hard to go too far wrong.

The most common request I get is for something stylish that holds court, but doesn't look like a traditional mother-of-bride outfit. People want to look appropriate but not overly formal, stuffy or frumpy. In that case, my first piece of advice would be: avoid stiff fabrics. It should be soft, beautifully cut from beautiful fabric and then you can accessorise it up or down. 

Fashion is increasingly circular these days. So think about how you might re-wear this outfit, or at the very least the accessories you choose to pair with it. If you’ve found a colour that really suits you, then you’ll probably be able to get maximum wear out of it. The formality can always be added in the accessories – like a hat or classic jewellery.

Traditionally, the mother of the groom should give you FIRST DIBS on an outfit but it could be worth CO-ORDINATING WITH HER to avoid any unnecessary clashes.

Wedding planning should indicate what’s required – certainly from a formality point of view. It’s not even a pre-requisite to wear a hat in church any more, especially if it’s later in the day and leading into a sophisticated evening event. You, more than anyone, will be able to judge the tone of the event, so trust your instinct when it comes to what’s appropriate and what’s not.

I very rarely see great knees on women over 50. Sorry, just saying – it’s why I think below the knee is always the length to go for. If your legs are your best asset, then that’s your call, but I’d say knees covered as a rule of thumb. And don’t be afraid of trousers. We make beautiful palazzo pants and jackets for women, which are so easy to wear again as separates. We also make wrap blouses and skirts that pull together to look like a dress, but you can wear them as separates afterwards, so it makes it much more usable. 

The right shoes and accessories have the power to bring the entire look together. They also have the power to make it look like a mess. Shoes are tricky because they have to be comfortable and you have to think about your height, your elevation and whether you can keep them on for a potentially long period of time. They’ve also got to be right for the setting – you don’t want a high heel on the beach. In my experience, it’s often best to play it safe with something like an Emmy London court shoe. It’ll never let you down. And try to go for a neutral colour – anything bright will definitely make an entrance, which might not be what you’re going for. 

When it comes to outerwear, the one thing I’d avoid is a wrap. They’re not that practical and they can be really messy in photos. It won’t go on the same every time. I have to say we rarely get asked to make a full coat – even in the winter – mainly because if it’s cold, people rarely plan on spending that much time outdoors. If the chill is an issue, I’d say go for a dress with long sleeves and a smart jacket instead. That way, the dress can make a statement all on its own, with or without the added layer.

My favourite piece of tailoring we offer is the Warwick jacket. It has an inset shoulder, a bit of a puff sleeve and a little bit of attitude. It's nipped in at the waist and you can wear it with a full skirt or a pair of trousers. I love that it has a high mandarin collar, too. Otherwise, our Manhattan blazer is a fool-proof choice – to the hip, it cuts into the waist slightly, with a very slightly extended shoulder. It has a modern twist without being too out there. You never want to buy anything where you think years later, “Why did I wear that?!”

There are several routes to go down with a mother-of-the-bride look. Budget certainly plays a part, so stay within what you're comfortable with. You don't want to resent this outfit for life, so if your price point is ready to wear, then so be it. If, however, you’re someone who can never find off-the-peg clothes that fit you easily, you won’t find a mother-of-the-bride outfit that fits you either. By the time you've played around with it, you won’t know what you’re going to end up with. In these instances, it’s my personal opinion that you might as well go bespoke and get it right from the beginning. Just make sure you’re really comfortable with the person making your outfit – they really need to understand what you’re looking for.

Don’t be afraid of trousers. We make beautiful PALAZZO PANTS AND JACKETS for women, which are so easy to WEAR AGAIN AS SEPARATES.

There are plenty of ways to transition your look from day to night – especially if the wedding ceremony itself is earlier in the day and the party continues long after midnight. The easiest thing to do would be take off the hat, change the shoes and add a pair of statement earrings. Accessories are king here – but of course, you could always have a complete outfit change if necessary. Equally, if you’ve gone for separates, you might be able to switch the skirt for a cool pair of trousers or the formal top for something a little more party-appropriate. Separates really do offer maximum versatility.

Most women that come to us are terrified of looking like a stuffy mother of the bride or not like themselves. But they don’t actually know what they want. I always tell them, “We can take it from here.” I always encourage them to try on lots of the samples to find out what they like. They immediately relax because they realise there are options out there. I watch their body language to see how comfortable they are in something. Luckily, unlike brides sometimes, they tend to know themselves a little bit better, so they’re more steadfast when it comes to being influenced by other people’s opinions. That said, I always advise, I never dictate.

One of our bestsellers is the Amesbury – a classic shift with a twist. It has a tie collar at the back and it's just effortless. That’s the key I think – never trying too hard. So often, they put this dress on and it just drops down onto their body shape, and away they go. I like a fabric that really moves with the person when they walk, which is why I love our metallic wrap blouses and Padua skirts. It’s said that 60% of the time we’re dressing the body and 40% we’re dressing the head. If someone feels fabulous in something, they'll pull it off. But if they feel out their comfort zone, they won't look so good. 

The one piece of advice I’d give all mothers of the bride is wear what makes you feel like the best version of yourself. Look at your wardrobe before you go shopping and identify the piece you love wearing or that people have said you look good in. From there, you can home in on what might work and what to look for, so it doesn’t feel like some mad goose chase. I love it when women come to us knowing what colours they like, the shapes that work on them and what they are thinking of in terms of a vision. It makes everything ten times easier.

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