Shopping for a Mother-of-the-Groom Dress — Is That Me in the Mirror? Or Somebody’s Grandmother?

beige chiffon mother of the groom gown at david's bridal salon, pinole, ca. BF Newhall photo

Dumpy: I’m smiling at the nice salesperson who took this picture — not because I like this fussy mother-of-the-bride/groom gown at David’s Bridal Salon in Pinole, CA, where most of the zippers seemed to stick and a stubborn one required an emergency visit to the alterations department.  BF Newhall photo

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

My son is getting married. I’ll need a dress. A dress that makes me look terrific.

A navy mother of the groom gown with lace bolero is $198 Nordstrom. Photo by BF Newhall

Frumpy: Putting a cheerful face on it in the fitting room at Nordstrom. This ho-hum navy gown with lace bolero was $198. Photo by BF Newhall

I like pants. I wear them everywhere. Pull them on and go. But for this occasion I’ll need a real dress. A gown. A bona fide, full-length, mother-of-the-groom gown, with lace, maybe. Or sequins. Or pearls. Or all of the above.

Right now I own exactly two dresses. The black linen I bought for my mother’s memorial service in 2011. And the cerise silk I bought for my in-laws’ 50th wedding anniversary back in 1983. It was a post-partum, nursing mom affair, so it still fits. Sort of.

For a while, there was a third dress in my closet, a ruffly chiffon thing that I’d bought for Peter’s high school graduation. But that dress went the way of everything else in the closet that does not conceal wobbly upper arms.

And so . . . it’s time to add another dress to my repertoire, something elegant and pretty for Peter’s wedding, coming up in May.

I got started on the project several weeks ago. I put on my best bra and a pair of knee-high nylon stockings and headed off to downtown San Francisco,

(I don’t own any full-fledged pantyhose. The last time I wore them – at my mother’s memorial service – I learned the hard way that elastic doesn’t last the 12 years between your son’s high school graduation and your mother’s funeral.

A beige chiffon mother of the groom gown with pearl bodice at nordstrom. Photo by BF Newhall

Lumpy: I liked the pearls, but they only made certain matters worse. At Nordstrom, $228. Photo by BF Newhall

(As I headed up the steps of the church to the service, the waistband on my aging pantyhose gave way and fell down around my knees. I made a quick trip to the ladies’ room, threw the pantyhose in the trash, and presented myself bare legged at my mother’s funeral. That was it for me and pantyhose.)

Since that first gown-shopping trip to downtown San Francisco, I’ve visited several department stores – Macy’s, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Saks, Nieman Marcus. I’ve driven to the suburbs to check out the bridal salons. I’ve shopped on-line.

I’ve tried on A-line dresses. Mermaid dresses. Beaded, ruched, pleated, embellished, crocheted and scalloped dresses. Dresses made of tulle, charmeuse, tafetta and jersey.

I’ve struggled into and out of dozens of these confections. Hooks have caught on lace. Glitter has fallen to the floor. Zippers have jammed.

What can I say? I looked dreadful in almost all them. Frumpy. Matronly. Old.

I’d known before I started out that my upper arms would be a challenge. I’d have to cover them with sleeves. I also knew there would be some belly fat involved; Spanx might be called for.

But standing in bra and panties in front of all those brightly lit, three-way department store mirrors, I couldn’t help noticing that a couple other body parts had bit the dust since I last looked.

Light blue mother of the groom gown with a lace bodice and embellishment at the waist at nordstrom, $248. Photo by BF Newhall

Matronly: I tried to smile at the sight of myself in this ill-fitting confection with the belly button bling. At Nordstrom, $248. Photo by BF Newhall

There was my upper back for one thing. Years and years at the steering wheel and keyboard had given me a writer’s slump. (Rhymes with dowager’s hump.)

And what was once a pair of scrawny, size A breastlets that barely filled the padded bras I wore in high school was now, to put it kindly, a generous bustline.

Upper arms, upper back, bust, tummy. I tried on dress after dress, hoping against hope to find one that met all my figure challenges without making me look like somebody’s grandmother.

Which I’m not. Yet.

Over the weeks, I paid for and took home a total of eight – count ’em eight – mother-of-the-groom dresses on the theory that they might look better in the soft light of my own bedroom mirror. They didn’t. I took them back to the store.

At $200 or so each, eight gowns make for a hefty paper trail on one’s credit card.

Was I overshopping?

No.

It’s the bride’s day, yes. All eyes will be on her, including my son’s.

But it’s also my day. This is my son and he’s getting married. I want him to be as proud of me as I am of him right now. I want a dress that wraps me and my magnanimous curves into one gorgeous package. I want to look smashing.

Epilogue: One of the eight dresses turned out to be a keeper. It’s purple and elegant and shapely and maybe even smashing, all without the help of Spanx. I look so good in it, in fact, that

Purple jersey Lauren mother of the groom gown with V-neck and rhinestone brooch on sale at Bloomingdales for $161. Photo by BF Newhall

The Winnah: Purple jersey gown by Lauren with rhinestone brooch, on sale for $161 at Bloomingdale’s. Size 8 petite. Thanks to  vanity sizing I’m still wearing the size I wore at age 25. Photo by BF Newhall

I’m going to buy myself another dress one of these days. Something short to show off my legs, which if all those in-your-face fitting room mirrors are to be believed, still look terrific.

All they’ll need is a fresh pair of pantyhose.

If you enjoyed this post you might like “Mad Men Meets the ’60s Girdle — But Will She Get It Off in Time?” You can share it with friends by clicking on the Facebook, Twitter or email icon below.

Read about the rest of my mother-of-the-groom outfit at “Mother of the Groom Diaries: Am I Too Old for Splashy Earrings?” and  “My Killer Shoes — Brought Down to Size by 41/2-inch Heels.”

Ambitious, waist-to-knee mega Spanx hanging in a department store fitting room. Photo by BF Newhall

The ribs-to-knees mega Spanx got left behind in the fitting room. Photo by BF Newhall

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Comments

  1. Diann Neil Engblade says:

    I was the mother-of-the bride last week-end. It was a great wedding except for that “one guy” who pushed the paid photographer out of the way to get his shot—not once, not twice, but over and over again. Regardless, the bride was beautiful, the groom was handsome, and the mother-of-the bride wore purple (and, of course, spanx). .

  2. I’ve never been to your blog before but I have to say, your final choice is fabulous. It’s modern, chic, slimming, elegant, tasteful, sexy, and makes you look 15 years younger, literally, than the other photos you posted. I’m 55 and feel your pain and share your delight in finding a well-fitting, suitable, gorgeous dress! Bravo!

  3. Dee Myers says:

    Barbara, it’s amazing what the simple, well made dress did for your figure. The other 7 were laughable. Are you sure you didn’t do that shopping over several months while fiercely dieting and toning up at the gym? You will look terrific at the wedding. Too bad no one will be looking at you. Have a good time anyway. I’m with you on the pants “uniform.”

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      I took what I thought was a long time to find this dress — several weeks and many trips to the mall and the city. It was fun.

  4. Marilyn says:

    Great choice! What kind of necklace will you wear with it? Pearls? Diamonds?

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Good question, Marilyn. No necklace, but fancy, dangling earrings yet to be discovered. Stay tuned.

  5. Linda spencer says:

    Thanks for this honest and funny post about finding the perfect dress! I love the story of the pantyhose. I forwarded this to my sister who will be the mother-of-the-bride this summer. I read this with my mom, as I am visiting her now. We both got quite a chuckle!

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Thanks for passing the story on to your sister. I hope my story helps her. Interesting that the mother-of-the-bride/groom dresses I saw — whether at department stores like Macy’s and Nordstrom or online or at bridal salons — all seemed to range around $200. Even Saks and Nieman Marcus had dresses in that range. I’d expected to have to pay a lot more.

  6. SUPER fun blog post, barbara! Thanks for it, and all the photos. Your final choice of dress is STUNNINGLY GORGEOUS, and I am jealous that I didn’t find it last May when Nicholas got married. I tried on everything David”s bridal and Macy’s had to offer… and actually ended up finding my dress at (gasp) ROSS when I wasn’t even looking! You can check out the wedding pics on facebook and see the dress in all its glory! Thanks for a great read.

  7. Wow! You look great and I’m jealous. I sure don’t look that good in my dress, and I just learned I have FAT armpits. sigh.
    Liz

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      I’m pretty sure we’re both going to look terrific. Cuz we’re so happy, if nothing else.

  8. Anne Pardee says:

    OMG – I’m still wiping the tears! You are terrific and only wish you had written this in 2010 when I went through the same agony for my daughter’s wedding. Ended up with something similar to “Matronly” and to this day wished I had persevered and found what your final choice was! (Also I was not too fond of their choice for photographer who managed to catch me – for posterity- in every pose that made sure the dress lived up to it’s name!) You definitely made the best choice (just make sure you pull the photographer aside and get some “posed” pix – trust me, you’ll be a happy camper a year from now!) Bless you for sharing! Your ‘ol sorority sis – Anne

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Anne, What a great tip. I’ll see if I can get some shots of me (and Jon) looking good.

  9. You made a great choice, Barb! Very flattering! Does the couple have a preference about color? That was a problem at at least one of our boys’ weddings.

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Dark colors were suggested. Besides, so many of the light colors — dusty rose, beige, mauve, taupe — looked too bridey.

  10. Treacy Coates says:

    Great choice Barbara! Enjoy the wedding.

    Treacy

  11. Jan Lippert says:

    Very funny article. I love the dress you ended up with. My GRANDSON is getting married in June and I NEVER wear anything but pants. I’m still not sure what I’m going to wear!!!!!!! Happy wedding.
    xx

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Jan, Have you taken a look at your legs lately? Maybe you’d like to show them off. Now that I’ve seen mine (below the knees, that is) in all those mirrors, I think I might buy a dress or two in the future. But, of course, pants are soooo easy.

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