Thursday, July 21, 2011

Let's burn this bridge BEFORE we get to it


So many of your "dear ESB" writers say, "I never thought I would be writing to you..." Not I. I always knew I would have some conundrum requiring serious spunk. So, here it is.

My brother and I are getting hitched almost exactly one year apart, and my mother is super nervous about what to wear to both weddings. She has some reason. She's a gorgeous, curvy, size 14/16 woman with, umm, well, big jugs (and the sass to match). She's really insecure, so I have been trying to encourage her long-distance while she shops. Oh, and she hates shopping. And trying clothes on. And has very little (read "no") fashion sense.

So, she finally called me in happy tears the other day after having found "the perfect dress" for my brother's wedding this summer. It fit great and she felt beautiful in it. I was ecstatic for her... until she sent me a picture. Yeah. Awful.

Two questions: One, do I tell her how awful this dress is? The wedding is in less than a month, and she has already bought accessories. Two, if it's too late for this wedding (as I suspect it is), can you give me some tasteful yet, um, not atrocious suggestions for what she could wear to my wedding next summer? I love the woman, and would proudly stand next to her in photos if she wore a bedazzled trash sack. But, I want her to feel as pretty as she is.

As mentioned, it must fit and flatter a busty size 14. And she likes yellow. And I won't be able to talk her into anything over $250 (she refuses to spend money on clothes). Oh, and the wedding is outdoors, in Wisconsin, in July.

A million thanks.


I'm posting this too late to tell you to tell her, "NO, MOM. JUST... NO."

So she'll look a lot cooler at your wedding. Oopsies.


After LPC had such great shopping-for-the-MOTB advice to offer here, I figured I'd ask her to help me out with this one.

Here's what Our Lady of Privilege and Anxiety came up with:

1. Don't tell your mother something she's bought after ages of searching is hideous, UNLESS you're willing stick by her side until she finds something reasonable. If she could have done better herself she would.

2. Tell her what you want her to wear for your wedding. BTW, Mothers of the Bride don't have to match anything if they don't want to. But if they want to, help them out.

3. If you love her so dearly, my guess is that most of all she loves you too and wants to make you happy.

4. However, she will have no objection to looking beautiful and even a little bit cool. That's what we used to say when we meant bitchin'. At our age, simple is better, judicious use of color is better, silk is the best.

Amsale makes some great dresses. Nordstrom has a wide range, here

This one's my particular favorite. Something about the slight raggedness makes sense. $290.

[Editor's Note: Definitely worth keeping your eye out for a sale. And according to the reviews, these dresses run small, so your mom should order a 16 or even an 18.]

Alternatively, there's a company called Siri, in South San Francisco, that has a really wide range, here

This one even comes in yellow. It's a little pricier than your mom's ostensible limit, but hey, silk.

Siri's short sheath dresses can be had for $250-$280. The long dress (I just can't use the word gown) above, known as the Sorbonne, is $380 
in duppioni or shantung, up to size 16. They offer up to size 24, but there's additional cost for plus size. In silk taffetas, the same dress costs $410.

If your mama just can't get comfortable with arm-showage, she can always resort to those ubiquitous little jackets, but I'd rather ask the people at Siri if they could add sleeves, or wear a spider-webby cardigan. Most mother-of-the-bride jackets are stodgy.

Finally, give her an esb-approved necklace with a garnet-eyed snake charm. Or something. If it's small enough, she'll wear it and smile her face off. We never meant, really, to leave all that behind.

Top Image: Kristen McMenamy by Juergen Teller for Marc Jacobs 2005


  1. Great guest post, Lisa. Loved the last sentence (and sentiment).

    MOB outfits are bad enough but if you are plus-sized and not overly confident, then I can imagine it's much, much harder. My mom wears boot-cut jeans, button-downs with the collar popped and clunky shoes, like, every day. It's very hard for her to dress up. I'll offer my opinions on her choices for my fall wedding, but very lightly so.

  2. Don't tell it's awful - she clearly had a hard time finding a dress and is relieved, if not giddy, that she found one that suits her so well. Just help her find an awesome one for your wedding. The ones Lisa suggested are fab.

  3. Haling from WI myself (the land of zero fashion sense because we value practicality over appearance), I can safely say that no one will be the wiser about what is a "cool" MOB dress and what isn't.

    Less-than-hip colors and fabrics are less important than how she FEELS in the dress. If she feels comfortable and pretty, then she is going to look it, and she is going to have a better time at the wedding because she won't be glancing in every reflective surface all night long, worrying.

    Th goal in dress shopping for her should be finding a color, cut, and fabric that flatters her and is practical for a hot July day. My best guess would be Nordsroms. It's a great store for people that hate trying stuff on...she can take a bunch of dresses home and try them on in the comfort of her own bedroom and then return the rejects.

    My mom was similarly worried about what she would wear to our wedding, but she ended up with one she really loved. It wasn't my first choice because I didn't think it was hip enough, but all said and done she looked really relaxed, happy, confident, and beautiful in it because she felt good.

  4. well done, lisa. i love that amsale dress, and would promptly steal it from my mother if she wore it.

  5. I second Tonia. Also, I don't think the dress your mom picked is all that bad. Especially for plus-size ladies, it's hard to find a formal gown that makes you feel good, and I think she picked something that she would feel elegant and appropriate in, that was slimming, but probably also made her feel special.

    Dressing age-appropriate is also hard, and at 27, I don't think I can tell my mom of 57 how best to attire herself. I can offer tips and feedback and tell her when she looks amazing, but it's ultimately up to her how she feels in a dress and if she will be comfortable. If she think she looks great, that is what matters.

    However, I think you lucked out in that your mom probably won't want to wear the same dress to two family weddings in one year. So you might be able to steer her to something a little more in line with the wonderful suggestions LPC had. Just remember to be sensitive to her own taste and preferences - she's not some unhip middle-aged lady on What Not to Wear. She's your mom, and she's dressed herself for years without your help.

  6. Many of us plus sized types (and your mother is on the border of plus) are willing to go sleeveless, but not in photos. There is something about the camera and flash, even fill flash used outside, that really emphasizes our less than toned upper arms. Lisa's dress selections are great, but plan for some arm coverage for the photos.

  7. Ohhhh man. So I read 'My brother and I are getting hitched' and almost had a heart attack.

  8. I had the same sentiment as Janie at first, haha.

    Having a similar conundrum with my mom, although honestly, I don't think that brown number is THAT bad, considering the types of clothes targeted towards the "mom" subgroup. My mom is obsessed with Belks and Chicos, y'all.

    If she feels snappy in it, let her wear it. There's no way in heck I'd get my mom into a more fashionable Amsale number, although that dress is quite pretty.

  9. That dress looks like shit on the hanger, but maybe, just maybe, it could look good when your mom's in it. Big jugs can work wonders--trust.

  10. I don't get the hate of the brown number - it looks to me like a mother of the bride dress. The poor woman is delighted with what she's finally found and she feels confident and comfortable -- that's all that matters.

  11. I just did the mother-of-the-bride shopping with my own mom. A few tips:

    1. If there's any way to go shopping with her (presumably you'll see her between now and your own wedding next year?) do it. Make a girls' day out of it. She'll feel more confident with a trusted advisor at hand. My mom was a wreck when she only had sales people to advise her, and bought and then returned several dresses. Together we turned into a dress-shopping-machine.

    2. UNDERGARMENTS! My mom bought this insane body shaping suit. I would have totally laughed except that thing did wonders. My mom is in great shape for her age, curvy in a great way, but as she put it, there are some rolls that are just inevitable after you hit menopause. This thing was miraculous, felt comfortable, and every dress she put on looked like a million dollars.

    3. I can't second the Nordstrom's recommendation enough. There was a great selection, and the lingerie department rocks (see tip 2).

    My mom and I found a dress for her a week before my own wedding, and we had fun doing it. Good luck!

  12. DVF for MOM.
    tamara dress in anthracite

  13. My mom HATES shopping. Her closet is full of cheap junk that even she hates. She doesn't have a great sense of her own style, and doesn't have an eye for what will be flattering on a boobalicious 50 something. So basically, I FEEL YOU RIGHT NOW.

    I would highly suggest going the Nordstrom route because of their amazing return policy. Nothing really beats that stunning Amsale number, but be aware that she may refuse to wear something that won't allow two straps. Here are some more ideas that are a little more friendly for a full bra:

    Lastly, tailoring will be your mom's best friend. Buy a size up and have it taken in so it fits her perfectly.

  14. I am choosing a mother-of-the-groom dress right now too and every corner of the family (with love)is telling me, "No, no, no." So I am still looking.

    I am angry at the garment industry for pushing those "mother of the bride" dresses on us as the only correct look. UGH! I think that is why I am struggling so - most of my trusted and loved advisors are waiting for me to land on the "expected" dress and quit struggling with it. And I am purposely looking for anything except that expected dress.

    I guess you could look at it that way.......anyone in your mother's age bracket or older will LOVE her dress and highly compliment her on it at the wedding. This will be meaningful to her and help her get through the day in confidence. Anyone younger will just politely smile and nod. Because, really, how often do you see an older, non-skinny female in anything creative or special to play to her strengths and personality? I'd say never.

  15. For an outdoor wedding in July, I would go for a shorter (but still appropriate) hemline. Here are my picks:

    Good luck! xo.

  16. I think her dress is a done deal. She's already purchased it, and she says she's happy. Remember, everyone will be looking at the bride, it's HER day. In the long view, it really doesn't matter what she wears. I must be completely alone here, but I think she could look lovely in this dress with the right pearls if she's conservative, like glittering bright yellow citrines or crystals, or a combination of both pearls & the yellows since it's summer. For me, the only reason I wouldn't have chosen brown is because it's summer, but if brown goes with the wedding's theme I think it's fine. The main thing is that everyone be comfortable, enjoy the day, and have lots of fun.

  17. I vote for Anon's first pick! Jug room, arm coverage, and some space for a little tummy. Its super cute!

  18. i agree with splenderosa. there is nothing wrong with that dress!!! jeez. what is the issue? you just think it's ugly? focus on something else!

  19. I'm not sure how formal you want your wedding to be, but maybe try a 2-piece outfit instead of full dress? My mom hates dressing up, even though she has a great body especially for her age, but she's just a very low-key type of person. So for formal occasions, she would do a wicked bright blazer with black skirt. It's slimming, eye catching, age appropriate, and she gets to wear cool shoes with it.

  20. I'm with Tonia, Brooke, danae and Splenderosa.

    It's not that bad, it covers her arms (a ludicrously rare trait in MOTB dresses), she found it All By Herself, she likes it...

    ... so let the poor lady wear it.

    My MIL wore a similarly fugly dress in our August wedding (swap the sequins for brocade). I held my tongue when I first saw pictures of it, and I'm glad I did... because she looked regal and comfortable and happy.

  21. Dudes. That is a standard MOB dress. Nobody effing cares what the MOB is wearing anyway.

  22. I spent a crappy day this summer shopping for MOB dresses with my mom for my sister's wedding next month... similar size and confidence issues, with the added stressful bonus that she hasn't seen her ex-husband in years. She ended up having a seamstress make something for her from scratch and she seems happier in that than in EVERY DRESS EVER at Saks, Lord and Taylor, Bloomingdales and Macy's. I say let her wear whatever boosts her confidence, and definitely don't burst her bubble. Especially if she's helping pay for the wedding, she deserves to feel good about herself!
    I really don't agree that nobody cares what the MOB is wearing, I prefer to think that my mom looks beautiful no matter what I might think of her dress.

  23. I love Lisa's selections! In fact, can I have those dresses? Mother of the bride or not, I'll find a place to wear them.

    I've been a mother of the groom and had some anxiety about my dress choice. I had look and looked and had tried a number of things on, but could not make a decision. I finally took the bride with me to see what I had seen and she loved one of the dresses, made me try it on for her and pronounced it perfect. Problem solved. I pleased the bride and the dress was lovely. The designer was Carmen Marc Valvo.

  24. Anon - Love that Amsale you picked too. Everyone - if DocP says plus size needs arm coverage for photos, I suggest we believe her. There's a Siri dress, here,, called the Loretta (as in Loretta Young). I'd wear it. Very Mad Men, but I don't hold that against it.

  25. I mean to say thank you too, esb and you evil hipster brides. Never let me forget my manners.

  26. let the mama wear the dress she likes that she picked out herself! "it fit great and she felt beautiful in it." enough said.

  27. If her mom was really that excited about the dress and how it looked then she's going to look beautiful anyway. She was comfortable, and obviously felt good about the find. When I'm shopping with my mom for formal stuff nothing looks good until she likes what she's wearing.

  28. I have been through 2 of my siblings' weddings in which my mother lamented about shopping for MOB dresses. She's petite but still body conscious like this post, and we wanted her to be smoking hot but she kept gravitating to traditional MOB dresses on her own.

    You really, really need to go dress shopping with her at a nice store without MOB dresses (if that's not the look you're wanting). We did Nordstrom and Von Maur (does this store exist outside of central IL?) and had lots of fun just throwing dresses her way to try on.

    She felt pampered, we "ooh"ed and "ahh"ed, and even though she typically despises shopping, both shopping trips ended with dresses in hands and smiles on faces.

  29. Katelyn, interestingly, I just saw a picture on a college parent forum of a MOB dress someone got at, yes, Von Maur. And it was not bad at all.

  30. As a big busted woman myself I just want to let people out there know-
    1. We need to wear bras - they provide support and make our boobs look perkier
    2. Strapless bras are not amazing once you are past a certain cupsize. This means that one-strap / strapless(unless there's serious boning involved) /spaghetti straps are pretty much out of the question. I know they're out there, and people wear them, but I'm not sure if people wear them and then spend the whole time readjusting them.
    3. Shopping online is difficult if your cup size doesn't closely correspond with your dress size.

    If your mum is comfortable in the dress she chose, and thinks it's beautiful, she will look beautiful. If you want her to wear something else for your wedding, I agree with other people's comments - you need to go shopping with her.

    Good luck to you and your mum!

  31. ^^I agree with Anonymous. As a 54 year old size 16 who wears a 38DDDDDDDDDD bra (OK, I'm exaggerating, but not that much) ... my ideal dress is one that doesn't require me to buy specialty underwear. Hell is being trapped in a dressing room while a sales associate keeps bringing in strapless bras for me to try on.

    Because of this requirement of mine, certain styles are out of the question: strapless or one-shoulder or halters are out, and even sleeveless is pushing it.

    I also agree with the Nordstrom recommendation. Their evening dresses are lovely, and their bra fitters can be insanely good.

    If it were my mother, I'd let her wear the yellow dress to the brother's wedding and then take her out shopping for a dress to wear to mine.

    I'd start in the lingerie department just to see what's available. She may need a new bra. If so, a new minimizer will put the girls where they belong and make your mother look 10 pounds thinner and 10 years younger.

    Once she has her lingerie for the big day, look for a dress. Victor Costa and Ricki Freeman for Teri Jon both make great formal dresses.

    Good luck!

  32. sorry but I think the dress she picked out looks way better and more age appropriate than Lisa's first choice, which would not suit a woman wiht bigger breasts.

  33. Can I share a sentiment here?

    I live in Ohio (currently--but not for long, bitches!) and rarely see my mom. My mom has hyperthyroidism, and as many, many women know, huge weight problems because of that.

    Tack on the fact that she's had EIGHT CHILDREN,and hyperthyroidism her whole life, and BAM! twenty-five years later she's in a body she doesn't understand or know how to navigate.

    Shopping is a downer, to say the least.

    The last time I was home, Mom asked if I'd go shopping with her. And I loved too. So out we went. I began asking her questions, "What do you like? What makes you feel good?" and on every single question (ones designed for her own specific, unique experience with clothes) she began to bawl and tell me that she didn't know, that nothing made her feel good.

    So I took control. Big time. Enlisting the help of my sisters, I gave them the directions "Find shirts/wraps/dresses that YOU LOVE, and then pull them in Mom's size (16/18)." And we were off!

    Twenty minutes and approximately thirty garments later, we crammed into a dressing room, and I (ummm....somewhat militantly) whisked my Mom in and out of clothes. She would begin to cry. "This doesn't look good on me. I'm just so wrong." And I would QUICKLY obliterate that sentiment.
    "Mom, these clothes are wrong. There is nothing wrong with you."
    The Twins caught on.
    "Mom, that shirt isn't made for you. This one sucks, it's not right."
    I expressed the sentiment that the clothes were the issue, not her.

    Of course, we found loads of things that suited her and were her style. I was just struck by how totally lost my mom was, and how amazing it was that she thought she was WRONG. That's so crazy!

    I just wanted to say that I know completely where you're coming from. This Mom/Daughter business can be tricky!

  34. p.s. i'm a big fan of

    this dress

    this one:

    and this one:

  35. Daughter of the MOBJuly 22, 2011 at 6:41 PM

    Hey, questioner here. Thought I would give folks an update. Aside from the fact that the aforementioned dress shed glitter EVERYWHERE the whole evening, she looked lovely and happy at my bro's wedding.

    While I have loved the dress suggestions (really, I have), my favorite pieces of advice are those in which you all have told me to just suck it up and live with any dress that she likes. Advice, taken. I won't push her. I will, however, have better ideas of how to relate and be a compassionate co-shopper.

    And, if I get the chance, I will stick her in this hot number.

  36. The Amsale gown you feature is actually the bridesmaid gowns for my daughter's wedding. Good taste!