Privilege Blog

What To Wear At A Garden Wedding When You Are The Mother Of A Groom

MJ asked me a wonderful question in yesterday’s Garden Party comments, “Do you have any suggestions for the mother of the groom at a garden wedding?” Well. First of all, congratulations. The human spirit rises for a wedding. I wish you and your son all the best.

And now for what to wear. Weddings are the purest single ritual we are likely to experience. Style serves clearly as a handmaiden to culture. But cultural expectations spill into style, as they will, bringing anxiety. To say nothing of the most hideous garments known to mankind. Can you say boat-necked, beige, polyester satin, topped with dolman sleeves of crocheted lace? Scattered sequins? Knife-pleated skirt falling 2 inches below the knees? A large pink-throated cattleya corsage? Deep breath in, between the teeth. And my apologies for unleashing the sorry sounds of High WASP style disdain.

Let us deconstruct the occasion, shall we?

We will have to guess at MJ’s goals. I imagine were she to make a list, it would look something like this. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

  • Support my son on his wedding day.
  • Make a good impression on his partner’s parents. If I know them already, that’s pretty easy. If I don’t, I’m nervous.
  • Enjoy my outfit. I will be seeing pictures of myself in whatever I wear today for years, and years, and years. In albums, on mantelpieces, as laptop wallpaper and social networking homepages.
  • Add to the overall aesthetic of the wedding.
  • Participate responsibly in the society where the wedding takes place.

1. Support your son. The good news is that this should be easy to accomplish in the what to wear category. Most likely, he won’t give a hoot. As long as you don’t wear something weird. Or embarrassing. You know how we mothers do that to our sons? If you do have a fashion-focused boy child, ask him what he thinks is appropriate. If not, proceed to priority number two.

2. The in-laws. They matter. If they are nice people with good taste, they will want you to wear what makes you happy. Again, as long as it isn’t weird. If they aren’t nice people, or are nice people with terrible taste (it does happen), they may want you to wear something hideous. In that case, you are in a difficult position. Just remember that it’s about your son’s happiness, grin, and think of England. Endure beige polyester.

Given that your son’s fiance and future mother-in-law have told you only that your dress should not be long, I infer that they are very nice people indeed. With the good taste not to ask you to match anything. I suggest you engage in the time-honored ritual, “What are YOU wearing?” Not to match, certainly not to match, but to establish context. A friendly, mutual, contract of shared intent.

3. Enjoy how you look. In general, we like how we look when our clothes suit us and the occasion. Only you know what suits you. The colors, silhouettes, and proportions. Skin color, hair color, height, weight, shape. Go with what you know. Now is probably not the time to experiment.

As a member of a garden wedding, High WASPs will wear garden party clothes, with a touch more intent to honor the event. A little bit more style. By the way, in case I haven’t made this clear before, unless the in-laws, or the surrounding culture, reek of High WASP, you should feel free to ignore our opinion altogether. Oh, a few of us may widen our eyes, or lift one eyebrow, at style missteps, but it would be very rude if we let you see. Please do not encourage our bad behavior by caring one whit about what we think. Unless, of course, you want to.

Garden Wedding Style Guidelines For The Mother Of A Groom

You face a veritable matrix of choices. Mainstream silhouette or fashion forward? A dress, a suit, or skirt and top? The Polyvore below provides a few examples..

The current mainstream silhouette is narrow. If this suits you, a good choice is a sheath, or elegant shirt dress in an sophisticated fabric, silk gazaar, organza, dupioni. You can edge towards shiny. It is a celebration, after all. But you want the impact to be subtle, in the details rather than the first sighting. Wear a jacket if the wedding ceremony is in a church.

A pretty suit is another alternative. For weddings, the prohibition against knits is waived, especially for a nice boucle. We all have to bend the rules for Chanel sometimes. Just be sure to avoid all traces of the board room. You’re not displaying power, you’re the loving, supportive, chic, proud, intelligent mom of a groom. Wear flowered sandals with a 3/4 sleeve, for example. No navy. No black. No Nancy Reagan red. Gray only if it flirts happily with lavender, rose, or teal.

If you want to take your silhouette a little fashion-forward, think Mad Men. And no, I don’t mean Don Draper. If you have the Artsy Cousin chops to pull off vintage, this is the full-skirted, shantung moment to do so. That dress is out there somewhere, and if not, you can have it made from a vintage pattern. If, like me, you’re a tad Sturdy, think Sharon Stone at the Oscars with her Gap tee and ballgown skirt. Get yourself the Most Beautiful white shirt you can find, and pair it with a gorgeous skirt in as lovely of a color as you can wear without becoming the center of attention. Not above the knee, needless to say. I’d have to go with forest green.

Up the bar for your jewelry. Pearls are a little too bridal in this situation. I love the Vera Wang camellias pictured above, and you can even rent them from Avelle. Yeah. Times have changed, huh?

Shoes? Avoid black, and don’t sink into the lawn. Wedges, flats. You can have some fun. Flowers? Whatever the wedding plans decree. I abhor corsages but suspect that’s just personal opinion. And hats? Well, they’re hard to carry off in this day and age. If the other mother is wearing one, feel free. If the guests are wearing them, all the better. Just please, we beg you, make sure it is small-brimmed. There will be a lot of hugging going on, and if you are forced to hug with one arm so you can hold your hat on your head with the other, sub-optimal. Sub-optimal, my dears.

Most of all, find out just how dang fancy this shindig is going to be. Are veils involved? White ties? Cocktail length white dresses? Blue blazers? Khaki suits? Seersucker? Converse and polos? Then pretend it’s a party you are attending and dress accordingly. After all, as Meg reminds us all the time, a wedding is a party, not a costume drama. And having a good time should be top of someone’s list.

4. Your costume and its role in the wedding aesthetic. This is a High WASP pet peeve. We don’t think people should be treated like furniture. While I might prefer that my armchair compliments my sofa, and that my walls offset my Persian rug, I do not require that my friends dress themselves like upholstery at my events. I know there’s a long tradition around matching bridesmaids, and in some regions it’s de rigueur, but the highest WASP I know grew up in Texas, and even 30 years ago had all us 9 or 10 bridesmaids match in color but not in actual dress.

5. Participate responsibly in society. Frankly, in this case, you don’t give a damn. The society that matters is the society you are building, you, your son, his partner, both families together. If you care to abide by certain protocols, carry on. If you like to flout convention, carry on. With music. And I’m terribly fond of passing high-protein hors d’oeuvres before much alcohol has been consumed. Keeps Uncle Perry from making untoward remarks to the bridesmaids.

*To play fly on the walls of young women and their weddings, I suggest you read Style Me Pretty for the highly styled aesthetic, The Company She Keeps for traditional bride style, Souris Mariage and Bowie Bride for the more indie feeling. Just homework, of course.

**Anonymous, thank you for your idea of an “Ask LPC’ function. I do let questions languish more than I would like. Right now we have plus size WASP fashion, perfume, skin care, hats, all in the queue. I wonder how to do this. Formspring might be an option, as I understand it.

***And a post on mother of the bride, with more shifts, vintage, and suitings, from Duchesse.

24 Responses

  1. i just thought i'd say that i love your blog a lot and that i would let you know that i gave you the over the top award!! thanks for all the entertaining posts!

  2. Thank you for your sage advice. You're correct on all of the goals, and the in-laws are indeed nice but the other mother does not yet have an answer to the "what are you wearing?" question. I'd like to be fashionable, but not so much that I look like I'm trying to upstage the bride or her mother. A summery dress that won't look too busy in the photographs is my ideal. Guess I'd better start looking.

  3. Such good advice! I do love a pretty suit at a daytime wedding. For a garden setting, a fuller skirt appeals to me.

  4. Absolutely wonderful post LPC…. extremely thorough and confidence building too which is after all what the mother of the groom (or bride) wants to feel too.

  5. such a great post, have saved it to my memory for when that day comes for me…my boys are under 4 so a long way off still. found you via summer is a verb and will be back for more. Now following.

  6. Oh, this was such fun! First-Born Son has a new girlfriend, and altho I do not want any weddings in my near future, I'd be lying if I said I don't think about being mother-of-the-groom from time to time. I need at least another decade to go by before I would remotely even daydream about being mother-of-the-bride.
    In either case, I'd be sure to consult you for your wonderful ideas!

  7. Great advice. I wish my mother-in-law had it when she, five years ago, decided to wear white to my brother-in-law's wedding. His wife (and the balance of us pearl clutchers)was mortified.

  8. My mother-in-law wore THE most elegant dusty rose/almost pink suit to our outdoor-but-not-garden-party wedding. The only thing more delightful than how gorgeous she looked was that my Dad wore a bow tie.

    Someday I shall be the stepmother of the groom and have already picked out my outfit, so he better have a wedding to accomodate it ;-)

  9. If your outlaws to be are atheists* who told your fiance that not only are they not coming to the wedding but he shouldn't marry you, "something nice you would wear to church" is not the fashion advice you should give to them when they ask what to wear to the ceremony.

    Unless you don't mind a dowdy black and purple polyester/velvet something that is appropriate for a funeral.

    Oh. Was that an ugly thing to say?

    Mea culpa.

    * Not the "live and let live" kind but the "everyone else is so stupid" kind.

  10. Patsy, how lovely. My mother also wore a rose colored suit to my wedding and looked smashing, though I don't think I could ever talk my father into a bow tie. It's a shame, as I love them. Now, if I could only talk my husband into seersucker…

  11. Recent news in my family has me wondering if I'm going to have to find daughter-of-the-bride duds. Seniors' nuptials, I'm imagining, demand a whole different sartorial approach. I think, for now, I'll just enjoy your charming post and look forward to my son's eventual wedding — much more fun in a garden or even at the beach!

  12. The first garden wedding I ever went to, I still remember the green flowered short-sleeved Albert Nipon dress I wore…

  13. Sher – the cotton and the print would be fine if it's an informal garden wedding. But in that case you'd want to shorten the skirt somewhat. The length and the print and the fabric together put it in the beach/resort/family fun category, to my way of thinking.

  14. Ha! This post made me laugh, Lisa..! Ah, all I have to look forward to…


    ps: I loved Sharon Stone's choice, by the by. I love it when different styles are mixed, but mixed well. I thought she pulled that off beautifully that night.

  15. Can I add my advice to mothers of the groom at summer garden party weddings? Long black satin dresses worn with a black cardigan and black shoes will give the impression you feel you are attending a funeral. Accessorising with your most disapproving face with compound that impression. You may well *feel* that you are attending a funeral but please, keep it to yourself.

    Not that I speak from experience of course.

  16. Peonies, you mean it's rude to show disapproval for your son's choice of wife?

    I guess that tiny bit of etiquette news has not made it to certain people who happen to be related to my husband.

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