Mom, What are you going to wear?

By Deborah Burst | Photography courtesy of Studio Tran and Deborah Burst

Weddings are no less stressful for mothers when it comes to finding the perfect outfit. A recent mother-of-the-bride offers her shopping tips in her quest for the perfect dress.

Yes, it’s a momentous string of events, tears of joy with the proposal, the engagement party, a shower or two, and lots of fun planning the wedding events. But don’t forget you, too, will be one of the stars of the show and you need to find that perfect dress. Many of us have little experience in such a feat, especially since those days of tight-fitting dresses were over decades ago. However, we can still look like a member of the royal family or even better, a character lifted from the pages of a fairy tale.  
Most women love to shop, and no matter your preference—online, rental, or department store—there are more options now than ever before. After shopping for two dresses in six months’ time – for both my son and daughter’s weddings – there were many lessons learned, from weaving through jungles of jeweled jackets to dreamy designer gowns fit for a queen. It was a surreal journey, both funny and frustrating, in finding that most perfect dress.
Unfortunately, it seems the higher-end bridal shops no longer carry the mother-of-the-bride designs. However, there are discounted bridal shops that do offer a more substantial selection of dresses for mom in both prices and sizes with the added luxury of an assistant who will grab a different size dress or bring in a seamstress for estimates. Most prefer an appointment, but they do accept walk-ins. Depending on the degree of modifications, the cost of alterations can be pricey; look for a local seamstress in your community for more reasonable prices.  
Be creative in your shopping, both online or in stores. Be upfront with your salesperson: tell her what you like, and most of all, what you don’t like. When searching online, think twice about the description typed in the search bar. Often times, it will list some pretty dull mother-of-the-bride dresses; instead try typing evening attire, formal wear, or ball gowns. Most of us are in our 50s or 60s and want a more elegant look. And depending on the season and time of the wedding, some favor full length, while others prefer a tea-length.  
Let’s talk clearance sales, mainly in stores that are shutting down. True, you may get a dress under $100, but at times it can be tedious trying to juggle the gowns looking through rows and rows of jumbled sizes. Be sure to check the dressing room rules, many have limits on the number of dresses you can bring in. These stores can be quite lacking in customer service as well.
Speaking from personal experience, be careful who you invite to assist you on your shopping spree. It’s not the time for someone to suggest you invest in a gym membership while looking at the mirror. Dealing with a salesperson who brings in a full body girdle that looks more like a scuba wetsuit is not the best for your morale either.  
Shopping online can be a lifesaver for some who don’t have time to shop. The top tier for inexpensive gowns is Amazon and JJ’s House. The beauty of online shopping is the option to narrow down your search, from price range to dress and sleeve lengths. Most are made overseas, usually China or Asian countries with a completely different sizing chart. A size 8 may be a size 14.
With no prior experience in shopping for mother-of-the-bride dresses, Marlene (Missy) Cousins of Slidell, Louisiana, had her work cut out for her with two weddings in three months. Her daughters, Catherine and Caroline, introduced mom to online shopping. Cousins spent two months perusing the designs on local department store websites and then discovered the JJ’s House website. 

One advantage with JJ’s is you can order a custom-fitted dress. It can take weeks to make and depending on the shipping method an additional two weeks to a month to receive the package. But Cousins learned the hard way that it is critical to get a professional seamstress to do the measurements. Trying on the dress, she had a bit of a problem zipping it up, so she asked her husband, Mel, to help. 
“He zipped it up all right, but I couldn’t breathe,” she said with a chuckle realizing she failed to measure her bust correctly. After gaining measurements from a seamstress, she went back to the website and found a new inventory of dresses. “I went for a totally different gown and liked the new one even better.” 
For Caroline’s wedding, she decided to shop at well-known department stores, Macy’s and Dillard’s. She found a dress, but it was two sizes too big, after trying it on multiple times and getting input from the sales associate, she bought the dress and had the same seamstress work her magic. It fit perfectly for the January wedding.  
Another great site is Rent The Runway. Instead of buying your dress, you rent it and return it within four days. A different twist to online shopping, you can narrow down the search with your body type, night or day event, cold or warm weather, and of course, neckline, sleeves, length and age range. If you can’t make up your mind, there’s the option to order two dresses at one time and try on both.
One of the worst things about shopping on a deadline is when you spend months looking, but just haven’t found THE dress. Maybe you’re holding back on price or size, but whatever the reason treat yourself to the one place you’ve always dreamed of going. Maybe it’s a store with a jeweled facade, a rack with designer dresses and fitting rooms like bridal salons.
Why not Saks Fifth Avenue in New Orleans on Canal Street? Yes, they are pricey, but they have huge sales, sometimes with 70-80 percent discounts in their finer-dress department. 
It was there I found my Cinderella ball-gown for my son’s wedding. That perfect find, when you look in the mirror and turn to your daughter, and instead of critiquing, there are tears. Next, big smiles watching multiple discounts ring up at the cash register, along with a complimentary glass of champagne to celebrate the experience. Now that’s primo shopping.  
Sharron Fabiani Newton, the mother of the groom, James Newton, also enjoyed shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue. She wanted something that would blend with the mother of the bride, something elegant and comfortable, a dress she could dance in. “I asked the bride (Julie Burst) about her mother’s dress—and she had a photo,” Newton explains. “The staff was VERY helpful. I bought a Halston $350 plus dress for $125!”  
Remember to stay true to yourself. There may be times when you are frustrated, pressured to settle for that dress that looks good at a decent price. But does it have that WOW effect? When you slide it over your head, and your daughter zips it up, and both of you get teary-eyed. That’s when you know.  
Another great shopping tip, narrow down your favorite designs and send links to your daughter. If you’re lucky she will surprise you with THE dress and it fits! Now that’s a real fairytale come true!

Read More in DeSoto Magazine online.