Nearly as difficult as a wedding dress

By Mir
February 12, 2008

Most of us who are married know the agony of finding just the right wedding gown. Arguably, the only dress you’ll worry about more is the dress you wear when your baby gets married.

Dawna writes:

In exactly 5 months, my daughter will be getting married. It is an outdoor ceremony and I’m anticipating the weather to be warm (end of June in PA).

I’d like something pretty and special but not the traditional, frumpy (it’s true!) mother-of-the-bride dress.

Any ideas where I could start my search. We live in a pretty rural area so on-line options would be great.

Let’s see if we can’t help Dawna figure this one out.

As per usual in matters of fashion, I refer you first to the lovely Susan Wagner, guru of all things style. Read her posts here and here for some general guidelines and suggestions. You avoid The Frump by wearing something that fits you well, in a flattering color. Do not fear The Frump—it’s easily avoided!

As for places to look online… well, I’ll do what I can, here, but you’ve got two things working against you. First, for whatever reason this is a bad time to find a dress. I don’t pretend to understand how retailers decide what to bring in when, but right now there are not nearly as many summer dress options available as there will be, even though summer merchandise is already hitting the shelves. I have no idea why this is, but I know it’s true because many of my regular haunts are coming up empty. (For example, searching for dresses at Kohls—the first place I thought of—turned up a tiny, pitiful assortment.) In another month, you’ll have a much easier time looking around online, I think.

The second issue here is that if you’ve been paying attention, I said that the major key to avoiding The Frump is to wear something that fits you well. That’s always a good idea, of course, but even moreso for a special occasion dress like this. And ordering online is a bit of a crap shoot when it comes to fit. My suggestion—and I know how unfrugal it sounds, but you will thank me later—is that if you come across something that seems like it might work, order two sizes. Yes, I know you’ll be paying for return shipping. The extra money is worth getting something that fits you properly, I promise.

Okay. That said: Let’s go looking.

I already mentioned that Kohls is more or less coming up empty right now, but keep an eye on them—their Simply Vera Wang line has been turning up some great pieces that are affordably-priced. I wouldn’t rule them out.

Another of my favorite places to find something a little extra-fancy is Liz Claiborne. They, too, seem to be somewhat “between” stock right now in terms of dress selection, but that’s both good and bad. The good news is that this Collection Silk Boatneck Dress is marked down from $148 to $36.99, and I think it’s lovely and simply and elegant and the cut would be flattering on almost any shape (owing to the empire cut). The bad news is that it only comes in that raspberry color, which I happen to like, but it’s a fairly bold color and not right for every skin tone. So if you like that one, fabulous, but if you don’t, we’re sort of out of luck, there. (The other bad news is that they’re out of size small, otherwise I can promise you that dress would be on its way to me right now.)

Of course, I also hopped on over to Coldwater Creek, because they have lots of dresses and I just posted a coupon for them the other day. Now, I know the first specific dress I linked to was a solid color—and such a thing would look lovely with some special jewelry—but in browsing Coldwater I found a number of patterned dresses I think would work well, too, just with tamer accessories. Like this floral dressicon. Also don’t rule out a fancy 2-piece set, like maybe this skirt seticon. Just sayin’. (Please forgive me if things I’m picking seem completely off-base. Without knowing your size, shape, and coloring, I’m just guessing.)

Macy’s is going to be another place to look—and they’ve got plenty of choices in stock–though obviously you’ll be spending more there than at some of these other stores. Edited to add: I can’t believe I forgot this, earlier, but my wedding dress (for my second wedding, for which I wore a silk cocktail dress rather than a gown) came from Nordstrom. Lots of great, albeit not cheap, options there as well.

Hopefully that gives you a starting point, Dawna. Congratulations to your daughter (and you!) and have a wonderful wedding!


  1. My mom had a similar problem finding a dress for my wedding last summer. Believe it or not, she did NOT want to look like a parade float covered in sequins, nor did she want to look like she was wearing an overdecorated potato sack (that’s what my husband said when he saw the selection).

    So! What did she do? She checked department stores’ special occasions selections, and ultimately got her dress at one of these stores (on SUPER sale! She got her dress for $15!).

    Another place we *almost* ordered from is David’s Bridal, if you can believe it! They have a line of bridesmaids separates that come in all sorts of colors, fabrics, styles and sizes. There was a gorgeous taffeta set of skirt, tank-style top, and wrap jacket that she nearly ordered, but then found the other department store dress instead.

    Good luck! Don’t fear the frump!

  2. Another idea:

    I ordered a lovely, two piece dress here, and it fits perfectly. For a long-waisted, pear-shaped woman, that’s something.

    They have pretty fabrics, or you can send in your own. Shipping, is $10 and they are based in New York.

  3. Yes, Kohl’s has a sad selection of dresses overall. I have looked for a cocktail-type dress there. I am old enough to know that I cannot shop in the juniors department. (I lucked out at TJMaxx instead!)

    I vote for TJMaxx or Ross Dress for Less. Coldwater Creek seems like they may have some great options too.

    On an aside, when I got married in 1994 my 2 best friends and I headed to the mall. We were able to find bridesmaids dresses in a store there, and they were worn more than once! Just open your mind to all the possibilities! 🙂

  4. Chadwicks always had pretty, reasonably priced, spcial occasion dresses. I would also suggest (especially if what you but isn’t too ornate), having it tailored to fit perfectly.

  5. It took my mom a whole lot longer for her to find her dress for my wedding, than for me to find mine. Bascially, mother of the bride dresses come in two catagories:
    1. Grandmother of the Bride
    2. Daddy’s new trophy wife, who just graduated from high school last week

    May the force be with you.

  6. well good luck….i’m on dress number 11 for my daughter’s wedding in july! my family has an ongoing bet where i’ll stop.

    i abhor frumpishness! my sweet kate (the bride) tells me to go for the “slutty mother of the bride” look. i think it’s a look that will work.

  7. I think that floral Coldwater Creek dress that Mir linked to is really lovely.

    We had a relatively casual wedding, so my mom wore a simple, black, ankle- length, sleeveless, rayon sheath-dress that had pretty white flowers all over it. Instead of jewelry or a corsage, she had a slender lei made of of little white flowers. She was comfortable and looked really beautiful.

  8. My Mom found a dress for my wedding online at Nordstroms and it was perfect–also an outdoor wedding and in the beginning of July. Also, many online shops have sizing charts with measurements, so it may be worth getting out a tape measure to see if the sizing fits you!

  9. Talbots is always a good option for classic formal/garden wear. Suprisingly updated classics that don’t cost as much as your first car!

  10. I agree with the Chadwicks idea. I have a friend who has gotten 2 of her 3 mother-of-the-bride dresses there. AND, their catalogs always have great coupons attached (20-40% off an item). The dresses are just formal enough, but very simple and modern.

  11. I saw this website promoted on a blog recently. The site is specifically for designing bridesmaid dresses, but the dresses are classical in style and so pretty (IMHO). They are also REALLY cheap. They take your exact measurements and supposedly, the quality is awesome. Read their testimonials. They also appear to have dresses for all body types b/c you can design them yourself. Good luck!

  12. You might try your local (or the next town’s) bridal shop. Some of them have excellent last-season-sales. I’m a classical musician and used to have to buy two fancy things a year for recitals. The nice thing about a bridal cheapy is that they usually have the phone # of a few seamstresses- I think Mir is right on in emphasizing fit, and really, tailoring is the way to do it.

    In my mind, frumpy can come from too much pattern, too- I liked the advice to look at some conservatively toned (or at least solid) things and accessorize.

    Also, keep in mind that if the bridal party is all wearing purple cummerbunds, flowers, ribbons and dresses and you come in green, the pictures might look a little Tim Burton unless you choose to print them all in black and white… my mom had me send a sample of the bridesmaid’s fabric color so she could have an idea what color family to go for.


  13. I think I might just keep that cute dress from Coldwater in the back of my mind. I never get to dress up, but if I did, I would love that dress!

  14. my mom got hers at Macy’s. It was a floor-length shimmery dress with a sheer organza jacket. She got lots of compliments on it. I think it was about $120.

  15. o.k. I too was a mother of the groom (a harder task) and was determined to wear something subtle, and exquisite but not “frumpy”. After all, I’m young! I found the perfect two piece lace dress in celery green from, of all places Stein Mart! I love it still 5 years later. I think it is very important to get something from a store/shop out of town, or mail order so that everyone coming to the wedding can’t identify it and say “oh, I saw that at _____” (and know the price) or worse you could have someone show up in the same dress.

  16. My daughter just got married last July and I looked for a dress for quite awhile. Her bridesmaids were wearing black cocktail dresses. However, I found a lovely black sleeveless dress at Dillard’s. I didn’t want anyone to think I thought I was a bridesmaid and I found a lovely fuschia shawl to wear over it (which hid my arms as well since I’m not crazy about sleeveless). The great thing I I’ve worn that dress again with different colored shawls and it was a bargain at $20! I found it at the end of February in a Dillard’s store in Florida (I live in Oklahoma but was visiting a friend). So don’t give up Dawna…you’ll find it!

  17. When I got married in 1994, my mom wore a beautiful cocktail dress that she found in Marshall’s. She just loved the dress and the price was great – probably around $35 or so.

  18. Holy cow! Who knew there was so much info out there? Thank you so much to everyone who commented and to you, Mir, for the great recommendations. For “just guessing”, you did a great job. I’m excited now to start looking again.

  19. Full disclosure: I blog for And I heart Susan Wagner with only a slightly less puffy pink heart than I have for Mir. 🙂

    Atlanta has a local Brides magazine issue (as does Chicago), and often bridal shops with great MOB selections will advertise this loud and clear in their ads.

    You can also look at nicer consignment stores for worn-once (or never-worn) items. And if you have a Fox’s store in your town, it’s a fantastic place to find trendy clothes at a low low price — I bought 3 dresses to wear to a weekend destination wedding there, and paid about $50 per dress.

Bargain Hunt





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