As human beings, we seek approval for almost everything. We want our friends to approve of our significant others. We want our bosses to approve of the work we do. Most importantly, we want our parents to approve of our life choices – and our wedding gowns. Unfortunately, we don’t always get what we want. And we don’t always have the same taste in wedding dresses as our mothers.
What happens when you need your mother’s approval and financial help to buy your dream dress? What if your mother has the checkbook clenched between her fingers, and she’s not going to release it until after you try on that poufy princess dress? What do you do when you and your mom will never like the same wedding gown?
This is a problem countless brides tackle during their wedding preparations – and it’s a complicated issue. If her mom is willing to pull out the big bucks for the wedding gown, should the bride sacrifice her idea of the perfect dress? I don’t think actual sacrifices should be made, but perhaps sometimes a compromise can be worked out.
By the time most women get married, they know their own personal style, what they like, and what looks good on their bodies. The same thing holds true when it comes to wedding dress shopping, or any type of dress shopping, for that matter.
I grew up competing in pageants for the opportunity to dance onstage and win scholarship money. Part of each competition is the evening gown phase, which is one of the most highly-weighted categories in beauty pageants, if not the highest. My mom would go dress shopping with me and veto anything she didn’t like. She would say, “That’s too sexy,” or “There are way too many jewels on that dress.” Or my personal favorite – “IT’S HOW MUCH???”
I had to put so many gorgeous dresses back on the rack for some other lucky girl to wear. At my age, my mom had the money and the power so I had to follow her rules. With wedding dress shopping, it should be different. You’re an adult and it’s your big day. But if you need your mother to swipe her credit card at the bridal shop, it might not be that simple.
Now don’t get me wrong; I absolutely believe that the bride should be able to wear whatever dress her heart desires, regardless of whether it’s white, pink, or covered in rhinestones. The bride doesn’t want to cringe every time she whips out her wedding album to show people photos of her dress. But it’s also important that the mother understands it’s her daughter’s day, and the bride needs to wear what makes her feel confident and happy.
Moms don’t usually tell a bride-to-be daughter “no” just to be mean. There are legitimate reasons why a mother may refuse to pay for a certain dress – and mom isn’t always wrong. It may be too expensive (and it’s her money, right?), maybe it isn’t flattering to your shape, or it may be too revealing. Seriously, if the dress you like could ever be compared to something Hugh Hefner’s girls are wearing, you may want to reconsider your style choices.
A few years ago, I attended a wedding at lovely chapel in New York City. Everything about the wedding was perfect until the bride walked down the aisle. Immediately, guests began whispering and fidgeting in the pews. Even the groom’s eyes bulged to the size of half dollars.
The bride wore a dress that was sheer, and completely backless, all the way down to her bottom. But to make matters even worse, she used stick-on rhinestones to line her spine all the way from her neck to tush. She definitely achieved a Pippa Middleton moment.
Although the bride was happy in her gown, not everyone invited to her wedding was comfortable with her choice. It was very revealing and some of the older guests didn’t even feel comfortable admiring her. It was the talk of the evening, but not in the way it’s supposed to be.
Listening in on the chatter, I learned that the bride’s mother did not approve of the gown and hadn’t actually seen it til the final fitting – when she went ballistic. But as the big reveal to mom was just a couple of weeks prior to the actual wedding date, there was nothing anybody could do about it, short of finding something off-the-rack that would make the bride happy.
And with her designer gown ready to go, that wasn’t going to happen. Because the bride didn’t want her parents’ input on her dress choice, she hadn’t asked for any help paying for it. Although they’d picked up the tab for the rest of the wedding, the bride’s decision to pay for her own gown was deliberate because she KNEW that her mother would never agree to THAT dress. And I’m pretty sure the rhinestone body art was an extra-special surprise for the Mother of the Bride on the wedding day.
That’s an example of why a mother may refuse to pay for a dress even if it’s what the bride really wants. Sometimes her mother is looking out for the bride’s best interests, even when the bride sees herself walking down the aisle looking like Beyoncé. In some venues and with some guest lists, that wouldn’t be appropriate.
So does the mother of the bride have a say in what wedding dress her daughter chooses if she’s paying for it? You’d better believe she does. Most mothers aren’t trying to crush their daughters’ dreams of finding the perfect dress. Mom is there to tell the bride what looks good, and to keep her in check when she tries on something that would challenge her grandmother’s pacemaker. Sometimes, if the bride has significantly more liberal opinions about how much skin should be showing, there has to be a compromise. Perhaps even a second dress option if it’s in the budget. You can switch things up late night at the reception without having the same impact of walking down the aisle half-naked.
Unless the dress is outrageously awful, most mothers get emotional in a happy way when they see their own daughter in a wedding gown. Moms realize they have to compromise on what they’ve been picturing, too, even if they’re helping pay for it. But they want to have their say about the wedding gown and they want their opinions to matter. In the best case scenario, trying on a few more dresses might result in finding something you both really love.
If that doesn’t happen, and both mother and daughter are adamant about what the dress is going to look like, the bride may have to bite the bullet, dig deep into her purse, and pull out her own credit card. With that said, if your mom is having a really strong negative reaction to the dress and you’re fighting about it, don’t buy it right then and there just to make a point. Go home and think about it. Unless you’re at a trunk show or some special sale, you can buy the dress after you and mom have both cooled off if you still think it’s the gown of your dreams.
Just like you don’t want to look at wedding pictures of you in a hideous dress, you don’t want your mother to hate your wedding album either. Do your best to strike a compromise. Nobody wins if either one of you is really unhappy. It’s your wedding day, but your mom has been waiting a long time for it too. Her feelings do matter, even if you end up buying the dress of your dreams yourself.
Julia Steinly, intern at Weddings in Vieques