On paper, weddings should be such joyous experiences from start to finish, but reports from the bridal coalface reveal unbelievable stress, unimaginable tension, and blazing rows about what the mother-of-the-bride and mother-of-the-groom (MOB and MOG) should wear - and the tensions are not always because there's an opinionated bridezilla on the loose.
Often it's the mums themselves who get hyper about 'not letting the side down', and wanting to impress in front of the new in-laws. Add to that the self-confidence issues and inner demons about not having the svelte figure they had years ago, and what happens if the MOB is 5ft 3ππ and size 14, only to discover the MOG is 5ft 10ππ and takes a size 8-10?
You can imagine the stresses that build up, and going shopping with a committee often results in disastrous consequences where women get talked into colours they wouldn't usually wear - hues like iced pistachio and sorbet yellow - because they will coordinate with the bridesmaids frocks and blend in with the flowers.
Blending in is never a good place for the MOB and MOG to find themselves in, not least because they are probably contributing royally towards the cost of this family celebration and they have an emotional investment in the day too. Based on that, I maintain they should wear what they want, and what they feel comfortable in. So, let's explore the rules…
Does the mother-of-the-bride have first dibs on what colour she wants to wear over the mother-of-the-groom?
Well, that's pretty much how it has worked, but if you're the MOG and you already have your outfit, then you should state your case and take it from there. Working with wedding parties, I always recommend the two mums should pick up the phone and speak directly to each other rather than depend on relayed messages.
Can the MOB or MOG wear cream?
Absolutely - and it's a growing trend for ensemble weddings - but I recommend you stay well clear of white and leave that colour to the bride on her big day. Cream is one of those colours that looks fabulous on Irish complexions and you could build up a seriously stylish tonal story with accessories, creating a very expensive look on a relatively small spend. Cream also goes with a lot of colours you probably already have in your wardrobe, so it's a dream solution to being a savvy wedding shopper.
Should you take this opportunity to treat yourself to an investment piece?
Absolutely, it makes total sense to buy for this special occasion with a keen eye on getting lots of wear. This philosophy is what prompted me to choose the Louise Kennedy oversized coat (left) and if you want an investment buy but the mood of the wedding is more low key, her 'Ana' fluted sleeve top can be worn on the day with a skirt, and then again with a pair of white jeans or under a waistcoat. Aim for long-term pleasure, so buy things you will use a lot rather than a formulaic 'rig out' that you wear one day only.
Does that mean you're expected to spend a fortune and go the well-worn MOB/MOG path of the coat, dress, and matching hat?
That's a definite no and no again. You can achieve wallet-friendly looks on the high street: I was seriously impressed by the new M&S occasionwear edit for mums, bridesmaids and guests. Case in point is the cream and black dress (pictured above right) in a lovely blistered-effect fabric which looks far more expensive than its €80 price tag, and they also have a coordinating cream jacket for €82. Faced with the prospect of a boho, barn-inspired wedding, or a dressed-down, wedding abroad, this sleeveless dress could be the perfect solution. And before the bride even suggests it, no, the MOB/MOG won't do sarongs for a beach wedding. They can do a lovely Fee G wrap and embroidered skirt or, if they want glam with a cover-up, Aideen Bodkin's 'Tonka' dress is ideal as it comes with a matching cape. Watch out for the very useful, coral, bell-sleeved Paul Costelloe Living dress arriving into Dunnes Stores next week. Louise Kennedy reports a definite shift in recent years, and says the "traditional mother-of-the-bride/groom look no longer exists. They want to invest in elegant, chic clothing that can be adapted to their wardrobe. The dress is still the most popular option, and forms the cornerstone".
Do you have to wear a hat?
No, a hat is not obligatory like Ladies' Day at the Galway races. If you do opt to wear one, however, my advice is that you go high rather than wide, otherwise you will spend the day bobbing around as you receive kisses on the cheeks. And if they miss, you could end up with an annoying smudge on your shoulder. Bringing your outfit to the milliner/shop/rental store is probably the best approach, but if you crave an architectural statement, start with the hat and work down. If you wear glasses, consider getting contacts and give yourself a good lead in time to get used to them.
Can you split your buy between shop and rental?
This is a clever move. Do the maths: you will only get back a quarter of your original investment if you try and sell on in a pre-loved boutique, so prioritise what you covet in the shops and what you will use time and time again. I've known MOBs to treat themselves to their dream shoes and dress and then rent a hat and bag.
Is a wedding the perfect opportunity to get yourself a new face?
You want to be admired, not be the topic of conversation. Expert in this field, Patricia Molloy of the Derma Clinic in Blackrock, Co Dublin recommends: "If you want to refresh your look, do some light skin peels to get your skin in the best condition with a combination of skin tightening, which will lift and boast collagen production." If you want to do something more substantial like Botox or fillers, "do it six months before the wedding to make sure the look is something you are comfortable with."
Who gets to call the shots - the bride or her mum with the bank card?
I've seen the bullied MOB, but I'm patently aware that there's also the diva MOB who has a view on everything and tries to take over, and create the dream wedding that they never had. Remember your role, who is saying 'I do', and if you don't want to be compared to Melania Trump, don't wear powder blue, because believe me, there's lots of it in the shops.
Tips from the experts…
I like the sage words of Caroline Hanratty, head of personal shopping at Brown Thomas, who acknowledges what an "emotional investment" the MOB/MOG outfit is. "Aim to be the best version of yourself and for your outfit to be a true reflection of your style and personality."