Timing is important.

By Blythe Copeland
March 30, 2020
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Any bride or groom who's planned a wedding can vouch for how hard it is to get an excited mother to calm down a little bit—especially when she's ready to start shopping for her own wedding-day attire. But bridal fashion comes with its own etiquette rules, say the experts, and that starts with the bride choosing her wedding dress before anyone else in the bridal party lays down her credit card for their attire. "The bride's gown sets the tone for the whole wedding, so it's safe to say her gown should come first," says BHLDN stylist Lindsey Love. Following the bride's example will also help the mothers focus their search. "Should the dress be very formal, suitable for a beach event, short or long—the bride's choice in a dress will answer these questions," says Melinda Ladyzinski, owner of Elizabeth Johns bridal boutique in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.

The bridesmaids typically choose their dresses next—with direction from the bride—and then the mothers get their turn. "Most moms select their dresses after the bridesmaids because they want wedding photos to reflect a cohesive look," says Ladyzinski. "They should not try to match colors to each other or the bridal party, but should find colors that complement the bride's colorway." This could mean choosing a subtle neutral or metallic that doesn't compete with the bridesmaids' gowns, or an opposite shade for bright contrast, but should always take into account the mother's preference. "First and foremost," says Ladyzinksi, "mothers should choose a color they love."

The style and silhouette of the moms' gowns also depend on each woman's taste, but they should make sense alongside the bride's and bridesmaids' gowns. "I think it's important that mothers' dresses match the feel of the bridal party," says Ladyzinski. "If it's a beach wedding and the bridal party is wearing simple, flowy dresses, the mother's dress should be similar, rather than a dress with very ornate beading that you would expect to see at a black-tie event."

Once the moms have their direction, they're free to start the search. Etiquette usually dictates that the mother of the bride chooses her gown before the mother of the groom, says Ladyzinski. "Typically the bride's mother is offered the courtesy of first choice," she says. "But the bride's mom should make a timely decision to give the groom's mom sufficient time to find her dress." The couple's mothers rarely choose matching gowns, but can coordinate with each other to make sure the gowns won't compete in family photos. "Ensuring both dresses have a consistent aesthetic, whether through embellishment, color palette, or length, will guarantee a perfect pairing," says BHLDN stylist Cassandra Baden.

While the dress search can result in some friction—either between the moms or among the couple and one or both mothers—Ladyzinski reminds everyone involved to keep the end goal—a beautiful wedding—in mind. "I recommend communication from all parties, and a willingness to compromise," she says. "In the end, we want everyone to feel beautiful on the wedding day."

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