What Should a Mother of the Bride Wear? How to Master the Venue and Dress Code

The modern wedding comes with a huge variety of dress codes and venues, from the traditional to the more unexpected. By breaking down the best options for all of these, we hope to take the stress away from the mother of the bride choosing her outfit.
Photograph of a wedding reception with a long table and pillars overlooking a lake

As a mother of the bride dressing for your daughter's wedding can be an important and often overwhelming prospect. As you are expected to set the tone for the outfits of the other wedding guests while ensuring you look your best too.

A mother of the bride in 2019 is no longer expected to be seen in the 'matronly uniform' of days gone by. Now with such freedom of choice, mastering the mother of the bride outfits is more time-consuming. Especially because of the huge variety of venues and dress codes that come with the modern wedding. 

This is why we have worked to break down many different wedding venues and dress codes, to help you nail your mother of the bride look, whatever the invitation calls for. 

What to wear to a more traditional church wedding? 

Church ready for a wedding

Although the traditions of wedding and wedding dressing have moved from a traditional focus to a more individual one in recent years. There are still some rules it's recommended the mother of the bride should follow, especially when it comes to dressing for a church ceremony.

As Vitleè Rooney, founder of VilteCo, a creative agency that works with fashion brands, describes: 'I've been to my fair share of Catholic weddings and while the styles have definitely shifted in the last ten years when I see a young woman in a church wedding in a mini dress, I think to myself 'amateur". 

Although we do believe that the modern wedding brings with it a much more open atmosphere for dressing, we do agree with Rooney in the idea that it is most appropriate to sport your more conservative dresses for a church wedding. 

So, to best make sure you achieve this, we suggest that you try to make sure that your shoulders, the majority of your chest, and your knees are covered. We think that mother of the bride tea dresses can be the perfect option for a day time church wedding. 

The suggestion of mother of the bride tea dresses comes from both their length and style. They usually fall just below the knee, which will leave you feeling comfortable inside the church. While the hourglass cut enables you to keep covered while not looking frumpy. 

Being a garment dating 'back to the mid 1800s' they do come with a little history, most of which is still present today in their lightweight fabrics. This means that they are the perfect option for a day time wedding. But, if you add a shawl and a little jewellery they can be a great nighttime option too. 

Check out this dress for the perfect mother of the bride tea dress. 

Positano Pencil Dress in Cashmere pink

Or this wonderful more structured dress would work perfectly for a more formal church wedding. 

Seed Agatha Dress in steel blue

What to wear to a formal vs. semi-formal evening wedding

black and white photo of people toasting with glasses

Nowadays there are so many different phrases used on a wedding invitation, from, formal, semi-formal, black-tie-optional. All indicating a difference in dress expectations, it can be hard to know what each calls for. We will break down the differences to help you best dress for the very special occasion of your daughter's wedding. 

First, formal or as it is otherwise called, black tie optional. For this dress code Martha Stewart weddings suggest that men sick to black tie, while women opts for a chic cocktail dress. 

While InStyle compares it to the more formal end of the spectrum, focusing on the leniency allowed on this dress code. Suggesting 'For the ladies, a long dress or a formal tea-length dress works. While you might be inclined to wear black, you can go brighter or bolder so long as you do not overshadow the bride. Amp up your look with bold jewels and heels!'

For those who want a formal look without the floor-length skirt, check out this wonderfully elegant dress below.

Monet Pencil Dress in black and black

As for 'semi-formal', it is described 'on the spectrum of wedding attire, semiformal falls somewhere between formal and casual’. Pollak believes semiformal means ‘fairly dressy’ but too admits that this gives you a lot of flexibility. Again cocktail dresses or even mother of the bride pant suits would work very well. Heels and jewellery are to be worn to.

InStyle also notes how you should take account for the time of day when considering what to wear for this dress code. For the evening, opt for a ‘cocktail dress in a dark hue and interesting textures. For daytime, have fun with it! You can liven up your dressed up look with bright colours and fabrics’.

In breaking down the differences in dress expectation for, formal, semi-formal, and black tie optional, we hope to have taken away quite a bit of the pressure. Really a long cocktail dress or even a pantsuit would work very well. We hope that you now are able to realise that is isn't as complex as it all may seem, really it does just mean, quite smart. 

What to wear to an even smarter wedding, black or white tie. 

table setting, gold plate

First, we will look at white tie and for this, we think that Emily Patt sums it up perfectly: 'white tie is as formal as it gets, and it isn't very common these days. But, if you're invited to this type of event, dressing the part is imperative.' 

You very rarely see a white tie invitation to a modern wedding, it is the type of dress code that is only really called upon for royal balls and stately dinners. It is a dress code that dates back to the 18th century, and unusually, has the most influence on the outfits of the men. Calling for a 'tuxedo jacket with tails, a white pique vest, a white bow tie, and gloves'. 

If your daughter has chosen to go for a white tie dress code for her wedding this is your opportunity to really dress up!  As this article states 'call your stylist! Time for a formal Oscar-worthy, Old Hollywood gown'. 

Since a white tie event will almost always happen in the evening, we think that you really might as well dress to the nines. For the mother of the bride, go for the most special cocktail dress or gown you can find.  

Just like white tie, you would expect to see the dress code black tie for an evening wedding. But, unlike its slightly more formal counterpart, this is a dress code you are quite likely to see on a wedding invitation. 

As stated here for this type of event 'Think formal, upscale, and long and luxe! While some modern Black Tie requests allow for a shorter dress with a luxurious detail like sequins or beading, it’s appropriate to stick to a longer length. For the gentlemen, tuxedo and a crisp, black bow tie are the way to go!'. 

So what's the difference between these two dress codes, well for the mother of the bride dressing for a modern wedding, not a huge amount. Really both of them offer the opportunity to go all out!! Maybe for the white tie you would wear a little more jewellery, but both call for you to take quite the effort. Look at the dress below for some inspiration for real special occasion dressing. (Read our article on if you should wear black to your daughter's wedding here if you are in any doubt about that). 

Isabella Velvet Dress in black

 What to wear to an outside, causal wedding. 

photograph of decoration and flowers for an outside wedding

If your invitation brings with it a 'casual' dress code then we advise that you consider the venue, the weather, and if you are still in any doubt, ask your daughter for advice. Your daughter could be planning an outside wedding that is in a grand county house or it could be a more relaxed affair in the back garden of a friend. 

Our advice for the mother of the bride is to never go to relaxed with your outfit, leave the little flirty sundresses to the friends of the couple. Florals are often an expectation for an outside wedding, however just because you would like to wear something in keeping with our surroundings, this doesn't mean you have to fall for a sundress or maxi dress, you can do chic and floral, we promise. Just look at this beautiful dress below. To help your pick a dress of the perfect colour for your daughter's chosen wedding aesthetic check out this article. 

Sandhurst Print Dress in Linear Tulip

Or try this one for a more standout print. 


Manderley Stretch Satin Print Dress in Rose Print

If florals really aren't your thing then another great option for the mother of the bride dresses for an outside wedding is a swing dress. The fitted waist and flared skirt give a fun and breezy impression, while an off the shoulder neckline can really create an elegant and sophisticated look, just take a look at the dress below

Portobello Swing Dress in powdered blue

Another thing to consider when dressing for an outside wedding is the type of footwear you should go for. Weather permitting a wedge or a sandal is the perfect option. 

For those mother's of the bride who is after the hight of a heel, we suggest you go for a wedge shoe. Making sure you stay far away from any smaller heel will ensure you look elegant at all times, whatever terrain you are walking across. 

If you would prefer a flat shoe a sandal can also work very well. The openness ensures you won't get overheated throughout the day. But, we do recommend that you go for something on the more delicate end of the spectrum, to avoid looking too casual. Wedsite such as ASOS and for the more high-end options check out net a porter for both sandals and wedges. 


What a mother of the bride should wear to a beach wedding? 

bride walking in the sand

 A beach wedding is another fairly new form of wedding and just like with the other venues, it often comes with specific dress codes. Usually, it calls for 'casual' but we will also get into the details of a formal beach wedding, just to cover all bases. To help you decide if it is barefoot and light layers or a more dressed up option. 

As ... states 'if the invitation indicates that you should wear beach formal attire, then a long elegant gown is perfectly appropriate'. When the word gown is mentioned we know that many people automatically think of a formal ball gown. This is not what is intended for formal beach attire, think light layers, smatter than a long sundress, but don't feel you need to sport a structured black tie option. 

A semi-formal beach dress code enables you to wear more tea-length dresses. This is great as, described in this article 'they won't drag in the sand, plus they transition beautifully to a reception venue held at a restaurant or oceanfront hotel'. Why not try the beautiful dress below

Abberton Swing Dress in nude pink

As for a more casual beach wedding, we suggest that you opt for a maxi dress. Making sure that yours is lose fitting, especially in its lower half, means that, as described, 'you can easily sweep it across the sand and brush it clean on the land for a seaside reception'. 

We have stuck to the suggestion of longer layers when dressing for a beach wedding, this is because, as stylist Emily Henderson says 'being near the water means windy conditions so we kept most of the dresses long to avoid any Marilyn Moments'. 

So really 'dress your best—but dress for sand!' just as we suggested earlier for an outside wedding, sandals are your best friend for a beach wedding. 

Always remember to consider the weather, usually, if you are at a beach wedding this means that it should be hot. Remember to wear sunscreen, as a burn will probably not compliment whatever beautiful dress you go for. We also think that it could be a good idea to slip a fan into your bag, to cool you down while you sit in the heat watching the ceremony. It is also a good idea to bring a shawl if for the night, as it will probably turn much cooler. 

What to pack for your daughter's destination wedding? 

photograph of Venice

The move of weddings outside the setting of a church, onto the lawns and beaches, has also come with the rise the destination wedding. More and more couples are opting to leave their come country behind for a wedding in the churches of Italy or further afield. 

For the mother of the bride considering her outfit, an overseas wedding can often be a little more challenging to dress for, especially if you have never visited your daughter's chosen destination before. We would suggest that first, you do a little google, look at images of the church, the venue, research the weather, consider what the invitation dress code is and ask your daughter. This article provides a helpful note to different wedding traditions around the world. 

When you have worked out a little more about the way that the day will take shape, from having a chat with your daughter and a little look online, you can start to think about what you would like to wear. For this, we think that the above guides will still work very well for a destination wedding if it is black tie wear a cocktail dress, and so on. 

The only thing to really consider when packing your wedding day outfit for a destination event is what fabric your dress is composed of. Many fabrics, such as linen, silk or even some cotton would be your best option. This is because they will wrinkle while they are packed in your bag. 

To ensure that you look elegant and put together, we suggest a fabric that won't crease, such as a quality stretch fabric. A stretch fabric dress is not only the perfect option because of its wrinkle-resistant qualities, but it also is a very breathable fabric. This means that it is able to keep you cool as you move through the streets of Venice for from the ceremony to the reception. Look at the beautiful stretch fabric dresses below to help you master mother of the bride dressing for a destination wedding or this article for a longer list of options. 

Shayla Swing Dress in Rainforest Print & Black

Or try this one for a more simple option.

Rococo Marvel Stretch Dress in cobalt blue

We know that dressing a modern wedding, often with it's unexpected wedding venues and varied dress codes can seem like a hard task. But we hope that the advice we have provided you with has helped you realise it isn't all as complicated as it may at first seem. 


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