Choosing a look for daughter's wedding is enough to make a grown woman cry Dressing Mother

April 28, 1994|By Vida Roberts | Vida Roberts,Sun Fashion Editor

What is it that causes a woman to fall apart at the prospect of choosing a dress? The same woman who can manage a career, put in hours of volunteer work, keep her plants alive, juggle a guest list of 200, stare down caterers, arrange hotel accommodations for 50 out-of-towners and be friend and mentor to a gaggle of bridesmaids and a bride.

It's the specter of the MOTHER-OF-THE-BRIDE DRESS and all it signifies -- matronly, old, out of the whirl. Mothers have this nightmare, even the confident, smart ones who have learned a fashion trick or two in their day.

It's the way of mothers, who put their own needs aside from the day they dress their darlings in white diapers to the day they dress them in white tulle.

Now, when it's the day to dress themselves up they become unsure.

"The mother at the wedding should wear whatever she feels comfortable with. There is etiquette to be followed in respect to time and formality of the wedding, but that still allows for a lot of variation in fashion decisions," says Martine Aerts-Niddam, fashion editor of Modern Bride.

"Many mothers find their look in the ready-to-wear market," she says, and that eliminates some of the risk of dowdiness. "Mothers' dresses are not really a bridal category, per se, and that has been a void in the bridal market although there are companies that cater to that need."

Many of the old rules no longer apply, what with couples writing their own vows and being married in anything from neighborhood churches to borrowed yachts. The only rule for mothers is to look good and not upset the bride.

Black and white, once taboo colors for mothers, are now among the leaders in color choices.

"Black fits everybody, looks good on everybody. The etiquette is much looser as long as mother doesn't clash with the rest of the wedding party," says Ms. Aerts-Niddam. "Also, the look for spring and summer is simpler -- lots of jacket and suit dressing in navy, black and pastels and also the off-whites, beiges and clay colors.

"I'm just now pulling together a synopsis of the coming winter season. Overall the look is still very sophisticated and simple, not as plain as before. I am seeing sequins and embroidery, but nothing gaudy," she says, noting that by winter long dresses will have an edge after a strong season of short.

"The mother today thinks younger and she wants to look young and sexy. That's true of women in their 50s and 60s. They want the sexiness but they also want to be covered, and that we do with illusion chiffons and laces," says Elliot Sealove, president of Victoria Royal.

"We specialize in special occasion, which happens to fall into the mother-of-the-bride market. We make some pretty elaborate gowns that seem to be doing quite well," he says. "In our business, fashion trends do not necessarily carry through for the mother of the bride."

The continuing quest in dressing for a wedding seems to be finding something which can be worn more than once. That depends on a woman's social schedule. The mother of a bride may have a chance with the dress at a charity function, a nephew's bar mitzvah or the wedding of a friend's child.

"Realistically, a special-occasion dress can be worn two or three times, max," says Mr. Sealove. "Women who dress to see their children married usually buy a new dress, and that helps to perpetuate the business."

Yet that special dress seems to elude so many mothers.

"Mothers are more trouble than brides. One says a dress is too old, another says it's too young," says Mary Gamberdella, owner of Gamberdella Inc. salon. "Most of the mothers today are young in spirit, and I'm doing well with sophisticated suit looks and jackets. We still have some of those grandmom dresses, too, there will always be a call for those."

Not many women are buying into those dusty lace grandma frocks that make even the smartest look like a dowager duchess at the rose show. Nowadays, mothers may be planning their own second wedding as well as their daughter's and they have a sharp eye out for fashion statements.

"Mothers buy all over the place," says Ms. Gamberdella. "Only about 30 percent buy their dress at a bridal specialty house. It's the cost factor. My dresses start at $400 and go up to $2,000. Women just don't want to spend that."

She suggests shopping department and specialty stores as soon as the new seasonal merchandise comes in and reminds women of the time factor.

"So often mothers take care of the bride and bridesmaids and leave themselves for last. A special order takes six to eight weeks, whether it is seven bridesmaid dresses or just one dress for mother."

And please, let's not forget the mother of the groom, who is sometimes left out in the cold or the last to be consulted. Etiquette says style and length are decided by the bride's mother. It is a gracious and wise woman with very good legs who passes on a short dress that makes her look like million and decides on long out of consideration for his mom, the one with piano ankles.

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