How Do I Tell My Mom I Hate Big Expensive Wedding Dresses?

AAPW: I just want one thing to be simple

by Liz Moorhead, Editor, Ask APW


Q: I love my mom, but she can be… intense. She is so excited about the wedding, in a totally exhausting way that has sucked the joy out of planning for me. I have tried to be very kind to her—I know it’s just because she loves us—but I am thinking about doing something hurtful.

I am dreading dress shopping because I know it will be difficult. My mom has a lot of feelings invested in The Dress and nothing less than an outrageously expensive gigantic gown will do. It’s her dream to see me as (her version of) a Real Bride, you know? But I just want a simple knee-length dress that fits well and is comfortable, and I don’t want to spend more than $300. Also, shopping for hours (days???) and being the center of attention is my nightmare. I’ve done it as a bridesmaid before, and I know it’s not for me. My preference would be to order a few suitable options online, so I can try them on in the comfort and privacy of my own home, make a decision by myself, and return whatever doesn’t work.

I fantasize about ONE part of this whole planning being simple and easy, and I’m scared of being pressured into a dress I hate. I know if she sees a dress she likes, she’ll buy it on the spot. I’ve tried to talk to her about my ideas for the dress but she’s not hearing me at all. I want to secretly do the online dress-buying plan, and then only show her the dress I choose, and bypassing the whole “finding The Dress” experience entirely. I know my mom will be really, really hurt if I do this.

What should I do? Is there another option I’m not seeing? Thanks for any advice or perspective on this.



I know, it seems like it would be easiest to just skip addressing the whole thing with your mom and secretly do what you want. But with so, so many of these wedding decisions, you’re talking about personal decisions that other folks are really emotionally invested in. And sometimes, what seems “easiest” just signs you up for a bunch of emotional fallout that isn’t so easy after all.

Instead, what’s probably simplest (while not being altogether painless) is to lay some really, really clear expectations at the outset.

This sounds like, “Mom, we can go window shopping, but we are absolutely not purchasing anything today.” Or maybe, “You can be there when I try on the dresses I order online, but they’re probably not anything like what you’d hoped I’d wear.” But definitely, “If you’re not down for these plans, I’ll just be choosing, trying on, and buying the dress by myself.” Let your mom know up front what you’re doing, and allow her to decide if she’s willing to comply and be involved, or not comply and be excluded.

More than anything, your mom just wants the whole dress experience. And I’m guessing you want to feel great in your dress. Figure out boundaries like the ones I just mentioned to compromise a bit, while you both still manage to get what you really want. It probably won’t be easy for either of you, but yeesh, is mom stuff ever easy?


Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her sons.

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  • Eenie

    Spot on advice. Other ways you could involve your mom while setting boundaries: add her to your dress pinterest board if you have one, make a day of going shopping for the dress SHE will wear to the wedding, or letting her order a (returnable) dress or two for your at home dress finding experience. I hope your mom pleasantly surprises you with her response to finding the dress!

    • another lady

      I like the idea of going with HER to try on dresses that SHE will wear tot he wedding. You could also have her go bridesmaid dress shopping with you and your friends.

    • Amanda

      OH! I LOVE turning the dress shopping tables around for the MOB dress.

    • Classic turn around, that’s an awesome idea.

    • chrissyc

      Yes, I love the idea of shopping for a MOB dress! Mom still gets a bonding moment with her daughter, but LW doesn’t have to be the center of attention and feel pressured to buy something she doesn’t love. I helped my mom pick her out dress, just the two of us, and it was so fun especially since she wasn’t able to shop with me for my dress.

      And showing her LW’s dress pinterest board (or creating one) may her get a better idea of what LW wants for a dress. Maybe LW’s mom is pushing for a gigantic dress because she’s worried “simple” means “boring”… but maybe she just needs to see some dresses to realize that simple can be very very lovely. Great idea!

    • DressDistress

      (LW here) The idea of shifting my mom’s focus to her own dress is a stroke of brilliance! I know she is going to be obsessing about finding the perfect dress, and I would have no problem switching roles and accompanying HER to a bridal boutique to try on MOB dresses instead!

  • anon

    I think laying down some expectations is key. You may find that your mom is super into the idea of doing all this stuff but really doesn’t have a distinct desire or vision for how she wants to be involved. If you really play up trying dresses at home – ‘we’ll have snacks and champagne and some friends can come’ etc. (or no friends, but you get the gist here, hopefully) – then she will probably warm up to the idea a little more. My mom wants to go to ‘at least three’ dress stores and have me try on a bunch. I have gently advised her to look online to see how many dresses she can find that fit my guidelines. I have a feeling that she’ll relent when she sees that ‘absolutely no strapless and preferred actual sleeves… under $1000’ is going to rule out the majority of dresses!

    • Heather

      I was going to suggest something similar. Since it appears the LW doesn’t want to go to a bunch of bridal stores, make it an event at home! The LW can frame it as “Mom, I really want some alone time with you as I try on dresses. It would be really special if you came over, I tried on dresses for you, and we had lunch/tea to discuss them.”

      Since the LW is open to ordering a bunch of dresses and return the ones she doesn’t like, perhaps she can even ask her mother to choose one or two for the LW to order. (I say for the LW to order, because this gives the LW more control than if her mother bought it herself).

      Before trying on the dresses, say “I’m going to think about the choices for X days and then make a decision, no matter what.” By purchasing the dresses, trying them on a home, and telling her mother that she will be waiting a few days to make a decision, that will lessen the urgency of “buying the dress on the spot.” Then, even if the LW chose one her mother wasn’t over-the-moon about, she will be making the decision by herself (literally, since she will be alone), and she won’t feel direct pressure from her mother (side note: she should chose the dress, return all of the others, THEN tell her mother the choice). Ultimately, the LW’s mother might be disappointed with the choice, but she will be glad to have the “trying on dresses” experience. The LW’s might equate ballroom, princess dress with “special,” so giving her a “special” experience might make her a little more open or a little less disappointed.

    • Aw yeah, this is what I was thinking too!

  • Violet

    I think Liz’s advice would work if your mom is open to compromise. A middle-ground approach like she describes would meet your criteria and your mom’s, win-win.

    When you write, “I’ve tried to talk to her about my ideas for the dress but she’s not hearing me at all,” I get worried the middle-ground approach might not work for you. Have you already explicitly described the dress you want (short, inexpensive), and dresses you don’t (large, expensive)? If so, was her reaction deflective (“Oh, maybe you feel that way, but it doesn’t hurt to try on some others just for fun!”) or outright refusal to hear what you have to say/denial (“Silly! Of COURSE you’ll want to be a princess! If you’re worried about money, don’t; I’ll cover it!”). If it’s the former, I think Liz’s approach could work. In that case, she realizes how you feel and just thinks you can be convinced otherwise via shopping. So with middle-ground approach, she’ll be disappointed when you don’t change your mind, but that’s it. She might even possibly acknowledge it was kind of you to go and humor her. If it’s the latter, despite agreeing to any ground rules you lay down pre-shopping, she really might plunk her credit card down for a dress you don’t even want. In that instance, you’ve merely kicked the can down the road- while right now your problem is she wants to shop for a dress you don’t want, at that point it will be that she wants you to wear a dress she’s already purchased that you don’t want. That will be an even stickier situation.

    I’m concerned it might be the latter for you. So far you describe her as “totally exhausting,” “sucking the joy out of planning,” and you feeling “scared of being pressured.” It sounds like you’ve already compromised and given so much in this process that your emotional goodwill is pretty tapped out. You also don’t sound confident of standing your ground, hence feeling scared of being pressured. Setting boundaries is a great approach, but it’s HARD. It takes energy and confidence. You sound really considerate of your mom’s feelings overall. That you’re thinking of doing something secretly, that you know will hurt her when you love her, shows just how far you’ve already been pushed past what you want. I’m not necessarily advocating for a “secret” approach. But you really might be at the point of just being able to tell your mom, point-blank regarding dress shopping: “I love you. It ain’t gonna happen.”

    • Laura C

      This this this. Boundaries are great in theory and eventually in practice, but the first time you start setting them, or the first time you start setting them around a loaded topic like wedding planning, there’s a good chance they’re a fight. A big, messy fight where the boundaries also get ignored every which way. So while I think Liz’s answer had some good strategies, I think it may not have adequately acknowledged that this might not work, that it might lead to the same outcome as not trying to set boundaries at all — ie being totally ignored and MOB buying an unwanted dress — and that the emotional fallout might be just as bad, in the moment, as secret dress shopping. (Though in the long term, you’ll probably be well served by being able to be honest even about difficult stuff.) So while secrecy is probably a bad idea for all sorts of reasons, anonymous asker probably needs to assess how unwilling her mother is to hear and respect boundaries, with the answer possibly being that attempts at compromise just aren’t going to work in this particular case, and that protecting herself by saying no to the whole thing is the best thing she can do.

      • Violet

        I totally agree that the emotional fallout thing is really tricky, because sometimes people are upset no matter what you do. Not saying that’s LW’s mom, just that it could be the case. The emotional fallout might happen no matter what LW does OTHER than capitulate. In which case, the emotional fallout is all on her side of feeling resentful and angry, and that doesn’t seem like a great outcome for either of them, really.

        I truly am all for being flexible and working with people, I really am. It just sounds like LW has already been flexible to the point of breaking. And I don’t think she has an obligation to keep bending for someone if that person isn’t showing the slightest indication of bending in return.

    • Mrrpaderp

      I wanted to highlight your point about LW not being confident standing her ground. If LW decides to allow mom to participate in dress shopping, she should consider bringing backup to help support her in standing up to mom.

      • Amy March

        This is a great job for your bossy friend. She’s probably DYING to say to your mom “wait why on earth would you be buying a dress she hates” and “that ball gown is tacky and belongs at a sweet sixteen.”

      • Violet

        Yes, bring along some confidence in the form of a supportive friend, if she can’t find it in herself!

      • Liz

        Ooh yes. Or, at the outset say, “We’re not buying a THING today, I need at least a week (or whatever) to think about it.” Sometimes in-the-moment ground-standing isn’t as easy as it is after a few hours (days) of solidifying your resolve.

        • Lizzie

          Not to mention being upfront about that with the salespeople at dress shops. That way they’ll be less likely to push the this-weekend-only sale or the buy-now-pay-later options.

      • NotMarried!

        also – depending on her mom, bring back-up might make mom be on her best behavior. This often works wonders for mine.

    • AP

      I was coming to say exactly this. I’m not sure the LW should set foot in a dress store with her mom unless she is ready to do some serious boundary-enforcing, with all the discomfort that entails.

      A few years ago, I got a tearful phone call from my best friend who was getting married. She’d recently bought a simple wedding dress online that she loved and was really excited about. But the day of the phone call, she’d been visiting her family when her mom suggested they go to a dress shop, “just for the experience of trying on dresses together.” Which became, “I just want to see you in *this* dress, we don’t have to buy anything,” and “I know you said you didn’t want a Cinderella dress, but this just looks so amazing on you!” and “This is the dress I’ve imagined for you since you were a little girl!” and “Why don’t I just buy this, and then you can return it if you really don’t like it.” All of this knowing full well that my friend had already bought a dress and lived in another state so returning the dress in the 2-week window wasn’t really an option. My friend called me afterward, devastated because she’d felt like no one was listening to her or concerned with her feelings. And she’d been pressured into an expensive dress that she didn’t hate exactly, but just wasn’t her.

      So I think on this one, you are totally right. Setting boundaries is HARD and if there’s no precedent for it in the LW’s relationship with her mother, dress shopping might not be the time to begin.

      • Violet

        Ugh, : ( for your friend. Yes, this happens kind of a lot more than one might think! It’s that classic “you give an inch, they take a mile” thing that works against people of goodwill who just want to compromise who are dealing with people who are not invested in compromise.

      • Lizzie

        Gah. Reading that made my stomach hurt.

      • Kayla

        “I’m not sure the LW should set foot in a dress store with her mom unless she is ready to do some serious boundary-enforcing.” +1

        I wonder if there’s a middle-ground approach that avoids the store altogether. Maybe LW could order a bunch of inexpensive knee-length dresses, and invite mom (and possibly friends for backup) over to do a little (and private!) fashion show of the contenders? That way there’s no “won’t you just try on this one princess gown” option. There’s no salesperson hoping for a big commission. LW sets the terms, but mom still gets the trying on dresses moment. Maybe?

      • DressDistress

        This is exactly how I see it playing out if I go to a bridal salon with my mom. She is soo good at pushing the goalposts and inching you over that line you said you wouldn’t cross!

        I’m hoping with all the suggestions I’ve gotten in this thread, my experience wont’ go the same way as your friend’s. I hope in the end she was able to feel comfortable on her wedding day even if she didn’t like the dress.

        Thanks for the support!

    • I was thinking this too. From the letter, it’s sounds like LW is exhausted from making tons of compromise and inclusions for what mom wants. It really sounds like she wants just this one thing to be enjoyable, simple, easy and what she wants and given that it’s also the one thing that she’ll be wearing on her actual body all day, I don’t think that’s unreasonable. I think LW should tell mom that she’s ordering a bunch of dresses online to try and then make a day of it with mom so mom still feels special.

      I think it’s important that LW be honest about what she’s doing, but in this case, it sounds like she really doesn’t want to compromise, so it would probably be better to tell mom “this is what I’m doing, you are invited because I want you with me when I pick my dress” No room for argument from mom.

      Maybe get some champagne or plan a celebration dinner afterwards to make it a special day? idk.

    • Lawyerette510

      I should’ve known you would do a great job of saying what I was thinking Violet! I agree that there is a difference between a compromise that is a healthy and respectful compromise in that it gives the mom the opportunity for emotionally fulfilling the desire to connect with her daughter about the dress but ultimately respects the daughter’s boundaries related to style and price v. a compromise of the daughter moving her boundaries to the point of ending up with a dress that’s not what she wants because the mother continued to push and just wore-out the daughter.

    • DressDistress

      Hi Violet! This is the letter writer. Thanks to you and the other commenters for your advice and support.

      Soo, you caught me – I’m a total pushover when it comes to my mom. I’m not generally like that with other people, but when it comes to my mom my boundary-setting sucks. She has a really forceful personality and and has mastered displays of contempt and disapproval like no other.

      When I showed her photos of the types of dresses I wanted to buy, it actually made her angry. Here’s one of the dresses I showed her:

      Her response was: “This is ridiculous, no daughter of MINE is wearing THAT to her WEDDING DAY!” and “This is a joke!” etc. She kept saying I was “cheap”, but I tried to tell her it’s not that, even if my dress budget was five times as big I’d still just buy a higher-quality simple dress, given the choice… it’s just what feels comfortable to me. But she isn’t hearing me at all.

      Some commenters have suggested taking her to a department store bridal section instead as a compromise, which might be my best bet IF she feels the department store bridal stuff lives up to her expectations (which are more in line with the Mori Lee style dresses). If not, it could just mean I get to experience her disapproval in public :(

      • Heather

        Ugh, that sucks. I hope you can try out the different compromises that everyone offered.

        I just want to say, though, that dress you posted is so lovely.

      • Violet

        Oh ouch, I’m sorry it’s the latter situation.

        This is gonna be difficult, no matter what. She’s not going to change her mind about what kind of dress she wants to see you in. She’s literally been imagining it for decades. That ship has sailed. In all likelihood, she ALSO won’t decide to love your dress because you do and that’s enough for her (see: Macrain’s experience). If she were amenable to that philosophy (“If my daughter loves it, I love it”), presenting the shopping experience in a high-end department store will be your litmus test. She either graciously agrees to go, or pitches another fit. That’s your answer to whether or not she’ll change her mind on how to support you, regardless of her personal garment preferences.

        This is definitely the time to decide- do you want your dress, and all the uncomfortable displays of disapproval that will ensue? Or do you want to appease her and get the dress she wants you to get? If you choose option a, you get the one part of your wedding planning exactly as you want, plus an upset mother. If you choose option b, you get a satisfied mother, plus a dress you hate. Only you really know what the cost/benefit works out to, here. There’s going to be pain either way.

        Unfortunately, I reeeeeeally think it’s going to be an either/or. Whether you go shopping with her or not- even if you buy it on your own, she’s still eventually going to see it and let you know she thinks it’s ridiculous. You can control your decisions and your response to other people’s reactions. But you can’t control her reaction (as I’m sure you’ve painfully discovered by now).

        The dress you’re looking at it lovely. You are not ridiculous, cheap, or a joke, no matter what you decide to do. Best of luck!

      • MABie

        LW, I am really sorry you’re going through this! I think I understand. I wanted a simple wedding, but I definitely did not end up having one, and as much as I loved my wedding, I still wish we would have had the simple affair I wanted.

        I have to ask: for you, is this a hill worth dying on? It sounds like it is. What do you think would happen if you told your mom in clear terms that a simple dress is what you want, and you will not be going dress-shopping? It seems like you don’t think that there really IS a middle ground here. If she has had a lot of sway over other wedding decisions, maybe she just doesn’t get to have sway here? It is your body, after all.

        I don’t know. I’m just tossing things out. Your letter struck a chord with me because I am on the other side of this. I had the elaborate wedding I didn’t really want, and it doesn’t feel great. Sometimes you just have to set that boundary, knowing that it is going to be the best decision for you in the end.

        Best of luck to you!!

      • Liz

        Do you feel like you have any sense of that? Meaning, if you had to guess… would saying, “Mom, I know you hate it, but this the style of dress I’m looking for. You’re welcome to come if you’re going to help, but if you’re going to force me into something poofy and spangled, I’ll go alone,” set her straight enough to mostly behave?

        • DressDistress

          Honestly I’m not sure how to answer this question. It’s definitely not the type of thing I normally say to my mom and I’m not sure how she would react. It would make her angry, in the moment, but after…? But it feels like the right thing to do.

          I’ve been reading all the comments here (sorry for so few responses – I’ve been just trying to absorb it all and trying to gather my thoughts) and what I’ve gathered from everyone is that it’s okay for me to stand up for myself in this, and as far as my mom’s reaction, I just need to rip the bandaid off, so to speak. Just communicate to her: “Mom, this dress thing isn’t going to go how you want. Can we make this work anyway?” And let her be mad, and then… see if we can find something that works from there.

          I feel like I’m ready to do this now. Thank you so much to Liz and the APW community for the support and advice. You guys are great <3

          • emmers

            You sound completely reasonable and like you’re approaching this well. Just remember that it’s so not your fault if, when presented with your reasonableness, your mom acts poorly. You are doing a good job! She chooses how she responds to that.

  • Stella

    I agree that laying down expectations is key — and while you have that conversation maybe try to remain super calm by remembering that in the end, no one can actually wrestle you into a dress you dont want.

    What I will say though, is that I thought pretty much the same as you until I actually tried on some really nice (expensive-ish) wedding dresses. So unless the reason for a $300 dollar dress is you actually can’t afford something from a bridal store — before getting into a difficult discussion with your mom, it could be an idea to go to a couple of bridal stores on your own first and try on one or two things. You can be clear to them this isn’t your big shopping day but you just want to get an idea of whether they have anything for you before showing up with your relatives. You can present it in the same way to your mom if you subsequently decide (just by chance) to go that route — like you just wanted to make sure the stores were decent and not waste her time. I say a couple because some bridal stores are literally the pits and the people are super mean — so one store being bad shouldn’t put you off the whole thing.

    If you still decide you’re not into that, you can have the chat with your mom and explain the online/knee length plan. If you do that route, it could be nice to have her over while you try on the different options and try to create a nice mini-bridal store experience with some champagne, maybe an afternoon tea or something — so you’re still having a fun “mother/daughter” experience as a compromise. I think the more it seems like you put a lot of effort into making the trying on an “event” and fun, the harder it will be for her to be down on the dresses/this option.

    • Greta

      I agree – it might be more satisfying to your mom to make it a fun event with your mom. Go out for a nice lunch during or after, get pedicures or facials, make it a fun mother-daughter bonding day with a hint of dress shopping. I did this and it was great total day!

    • Laura C

      I like the idea of making it an event somehow, at least if the mother is willing to compromise and go along with that.

      But on feeling differently once you’ve tried on some really nice wedding dresses … sometimes you don’t want that. I went to one store mainly to look at their bridesmaid dresses and a couple short dresses, got sucked into trying on one of their more expensive dresses, loved it, and then had to wrestle with myself (and one or two other people) over the fact that, while I could afford it in the sense that no one was going to make any kind of sacrifice for me to have it, it wasn’t the decision I wanted to have made. Really nice dresses can be really nice. But the $1000 non-wedding dress I ended up getting on sale for 60% off was also great, and it was the decision I wanted to make. Not necessarily because I felt it was any more, I dunno, virtuous, but because doing it that way felt more like me and more like applying the attitude I was trying to bring to the wedding as a whole to the dress decision specifically. But that’s probably not what LW wants to be faced with as part of a big fight with her mother — at least when I was wrestling with the issue, my mom was in the exact same place I was.

      • AP

        Yeah, I’m with you on this one. I faced this same dilemma while renovating a house. My husband (then finance) and I had set a budget and our priorities, and then we’d make a decision on something (countertops, light fixtures, whathaveyou). But before actually buying we’d check out West Elm or some specialty store “just to see” and fall in love with something that, while we technically could afford it, was way out of line with our overall budget and vision for the renovation. I finally put my foot down that once we made up our mind on something, no more soliciting opinions, no more checking out high end shops to maybe catch a sale. We were way too tormented over talking ourselves into (and then out of) upgrading every little house decision. We definitely carried those lessons over into the wedding planning.

  • Amy March

    I’m not sure this is a compromise that will work for you or your mother, but there is a middle ground between Pnina Tornai and a $300 dress that you try on at home. Once spring dresses arrive most large department stores will have many white knee length dresses. And, conveniently, personal shoppers. You could pick the nicest department store where you live, make an appointment with a personal shopper, and talk to that person before you go. Say that you are shopping for your wedding dress, and you want it to be white, and knee length, and around $300, and that you’ll be bringing your extremely pushy mother who hates this plan, and you want back up.

    You mother might still throw a giant fit about it, and you still might wind up throwing up your hands and ordering something online, but if you want a middle ground it might help. And if your mother is paying, I’d also say go right ahead and try this one on, even though it’s over $300:

    • Jess

      This is exactly what I came down here to recommend doing. It gets the experience (which is probably really what she wants) and gets the dress you want when you have somebody backing you up!

      Nordstroms really does have wonderful dress selections, and you may be surprised at what you end up liking.

    • Emily

      A friend was in the same situation with her mom, they made a weekend of it and went to Chicago to look at the JCrew boutique and Macy’s. Going away gave mom a sense that this was SPECIAL, daughter was able to keep it low-key.

      • Abe

        Love this idea! A weekend in a big city will make it feel special for mom, plus there’s a bigger selection of chill and nontraditional shopping options. Can avoid anything super-bridal altogether with some careful plotting!

      • This is a great idea. I love the idea that LW can get the simple dress she wants and her mom still gets to do the “special” mom/daughter thing.

      • Fantastic idea! Also- post-dress-shopping high tea somewhere maybe? To feed that urge for ‘fancy’?

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    • Eenie

      I hope the mom gets on board and splurges a little to help the LW get a dress they both like.

    • DressDistress

      Hi Amy! This is the Letter Writer. Thank you for responding to my question with advice, and thanks to Liz for taking my question, and the other commenters for your suggestions and support. I’m going to reply here since yours is the top comment, but this is more of a general response:

      One thing I didn’t communicate well in my letter is that my mom doesn’t only want me to be in a elaborate dress, she also hates the idea of me in a simple dress. The first time I tried to show her photos of the types of dresses I was considering, she laughed and said I was being “ridiculous”. The second time she got angry and started yelling: “No daughter of MINE is wearing a dress like THAT on their wedding day! This is a joke!” Here is an example of the dresses I was showing her:

      Here’s the type of thing she’s expecting:

      The idea of taking her to a lower-key place to try on dresses, or others’ suggestions to try them on at home with her and make it a special day, are definitely better alternatives than going to a traditional bridal salon. Although I’m honestly not sure if my mom will be satisfied with them or if she’ll think it’s a farce.

      Does anyone know if there is like a special bridal section that’s really nicely laid out at these department stores, like a traditional bridal salon? Like will it still seem fancy to her and not “a joke”?

      • Scalliwag

        Thanks for chiming in DressDistress and best of luck! To echo the Nordstrom idea, below is the link to their wedding suite locations, where they’d have what you describe. I’d just advise calling in advance and maybe they could bring in some of the “simpler” dresses to that area for you, so you’re not just looking at the more traditional wedding dresses they might have.

      • Eenie

        I’m not sure what exactly you’re looking for, but I had an amazing experience with BHLDN. They seem to fit your price point but they probably treat you like your mom is expecting. They have an awesome return policy too.

      • Liz

        Yeesh, mom.

      • cmarie

        I was in a very similar situation with my mom. She has a very strong personality and had a very specific idea of what my dress should look like. I am not good at enforcing boundaries with her but I learned to repeat my dress “mantra” whenever the topic came up or she showed me pictures of dresses that she liked. In the end, I picked some dresses off of the BHLDN website and then we went to the store in person and tried them on. I ended up getting the one I loved and felt the most true to my style – and even she agreed that it was the right choice. If it comes down to it, my advice would be to compromise on price rather than style. Even though it really didn’t matter to me, it made my mom really proud that she could buy me a dress in a price range that she thought was fitting of a “real” wedding dress (it was the Livia dress for $800).

        • DressDistress

          Thank you for the support. BHLDN dresses are gorgeous, I’m sure yours is beautiful!

      • Annabelle

        I’m mostly writing in solidarity — I was in your exact shoes a few months ago. Perhaps like your mom, mine is very dominant and not prone to compromise. I felt like I had given in on many, many wedding details, but I knew deep down that I couldn’t compromise on my wedding dress. I want to feel like myself, not like a younger version of my mom on my wedding day. And I knew without a doubt that if I went into a store with my mom, she would pick one out that she liked and pay for it on the spot, regardless of what I like. And that’s despite the fact that I’m 31 years old and relatively confident.

        I ended up doing exactly what you’re thinking of doing. I bought a few dresses online from BHLDN (they have such fun nontraditional gowns) and showed them to my mom as her only options to choose from for my wedding dress. And it actually went over quite well! She was mad for a while about missing out on the dress shopping and not getting her way, but she felt like she still had a say. And I ended up with a dress that I love… and didn’t have to go through the misery (for me) of going into a dress boutique! I’ve spent quite a bit of time shopping with her to pick out her dress, which also helped smooth things over.

        Good luck and best wishes with your dress shopping!

        • DressDistress

          This is exactly me! Thank you for your support. I’m so glad you ended up with a dress you love, and I hope my story ends the same way!

          • Anna

            I’m piggybacking here!

            My mom was going crazy “mother of the bride” on me about the dress too! She dragged me to multiple bridal stores; she was over the moon to be talking “sweetheart” cuts and “mermaid” gowns. I was miserable. She was disappointed. It was not working. I tried repeatedly to explain that buying a dress like that would go against who I am as a person. The money, the poof, the trains – none of it is me. She just wasn’t getting it. SO.. I made an appointment at BHDLN. And then I sent her links to a few of their dresses that I loved, explaining that we could order them, and return all of them if necessary. I promised we could keep the appointment and go into the store if nothing worked out. Something finally clicked — she ordered the dresses and picked one out on her own.

            A week later, I was in her living room with just the two of us and my four-year old niece. When I put on the one that she chose, my niece promptly declared that I should “marry him in that dress.” We both cried, and ultimately each of us got exactly what we wanted. She got the mother of the bride experience, I got the comfort of my mom’s home and a kick ass dress (at an amazing price)!

            Good luck, and I hope you find a way to navigate this that makes YOU happy!

      • MRSlw

        Also! start sending your mom wedding photos where the bride (or one of the brides) is wearing your preferred style of dress. I think seeing simple elegant dresses in a real wedding photo is a lot more powerful than when you see the product shots online. The short white dresses often aren’t styled to look as “bridal” in product shots as the cupcake wedding gowns. Start making a visual case that a modern short white dress can look bridal and get her used to the image. Another tip is to take a note from Say Yes to the Dress and “jack” yourself up for the bridal appt. by testing the hairstyle, makeup look, and shoes you are considering for your wedding. If you’re planning on wearing a veil, try your dress on with one too. All the details will help your mom see you as a “real” bride. wishing you the best of luck!

        • Abe

          YES absolutely 100% to this. Styling is so subtle, but it is everything!! Some people really need the extra help to visualize… so jack it upppp.

        • DressDistress

          Thank you for this great idea!

      • Abe

        I’m so sorry to hear that… sending solidarity and wishing you the best of luck finding a dress that you feel amazing in!

        For department stores – I think Bloomingdale’s might have a special section? (also, they so fancy!) As I mentioned in another comment, J.Crew bridal and BHLDN are low-key, they definitely had a different feel but all the nuts and bolts of a traditional salon. Maybe also check for stores that have all the dresses in back so your mom can’t see the selection? (as long as you have a great stylist in your corner!). Also think you would like Saja based on your example dress: (but I am completely biased)

        I did a bunch of preliminary shopping before I went out with my mom, and that helped a lot for me to eliminate options (though the two weeks between finding the dress and showing her was a bit nerve-wracking!). Good luck and hugs!!

        • Laura C

          Agree on Saja being a possible option. Though at least their New York store might not feel pampered-bridal enough for the mother as described? But on the other hand, you could talk it up as a special New York bridal boutique (if it’s possible to shop there, geographically), and have talked to them in advance about sticking with the short dresses…

          • Abe

            Totally true. Saja is a very “New York” experience – a teeny tiny studio, no room for podium or entourage! But the designer (who I’m pretty sure is almost always there in person) is so no-nonsense, she’d be fabulous at advocating for LW’s wishes.

      • Anon

        Is it possible to make this less a conversation about “this dress” vs “that dress” and what a wedding dress is “supposed” to be like, and more about how you want to look back on the photos and feel like “yourself”?
        My mother’s dream dress would have been fancier than mine, and throughout the wedding process she was always asking why we weren’t hiring a wedding planner, why we weren’t doing X or Y, but my theme was “I want this to reflect who we are as a couple”, including my dress. When we went dress shopping, I tried on some of her picks to humor her, but I’d say “this is very pretty, but I feel like a barbie doll, it’s not me.” I think she accepted that narrative. We also compromised a bit in that I let her pay for a dress that cost more than I would have wanted to spend, but was as simple as I wanted it — I think she wanted to feel like it was something “special” and a slightly higher price tag did that for her. The price tag bothered me a bit, but I also understood that the extra money spent on it was for my mom, not for me, and let go of the argument. In the end we were both happy!

        • DressDistress

          You really hit the nail on the head – I just want to feel like myself. I am sorry if I’ve given the impression that I literally “hate” all elaborate or traditional wedding dresses (they are beautiful!), it’s not that at all, I’m just a very simple jeans-and-a-tshirt kinda girl and I don’t want to feel like I’m dressing up as someone else on my wedding day.

          I hope I can come to a compromise that works for me, like you and your mom did. Thanks for sharing your experience!

      • Audrey

        I think there are a lot of lovely compromises here, but if your mom doesn’t have the ability to be supportive of what YOU want then dress shopping with her will be frustrating and uncomfortable. Is there a way to bring that up with her? “I know we have different tastes, but can you understand that I want something different and I’ll have to do this alone if you aren’t going to consider my opinions.”

      • Anon

        I had a similar experience though my mom was less opinionated about it. I ended up with a short dress with short sleeves but agreed to let her add some embellishment. We got a row of pearl like beads added to the top and I ended up getting a fun crinoline to go under it for the reception. I did compromise and go to a few bridal salons just to try things on. And I think she’s still a little sad that I didn’t go with a long dress. But ultimately I got what I wanted and she was able to get the experience she wanted too. I will say that if you call ahead to make appointments they are pretty good at telling you how many dresses they have in the style you like. I had pretty good luck at Davids bridal though ended up with a dress from a boutique in New Orleans (trashy diva).

      • Hannah B

        1) you can definitely get married in anything you want
        2) do you think it’s more the short dress thing rather than the simple thing? There are many simple simple gowns out there that are floor length and may feel more acceptable to your mom without compromising your vision of comfort, that you could find in a low-key bridal salon. There are many non traditional looks out there that are still “bridal” (unless you want to downplay the whole bride thing!) Or you can get a bridesmaids dress in ivory.
        3) Have you considered separates? They look like a one piece but then you could change into a shorter swingy skirt for the reception or wear an overskirt on your simple shorter gown and then take it off (BHLDN has a few of these). This option would probably be the biggest compromise, and you mom will probably hate the idea, but maybe you will find it worth consideration.

        Good luck! APW has a lot of good stuff about the expectations surrounding weddings, and I think it is easy to forget we are in somewhat of a shift in the idea of what a wedding “should be.” I had a friend whose grandmother patted her on the hand and said, “now remember, dear, I planned your mother’s wedding for me, and now it’s her turn to do it for you.” So maybe that’s where your mom’s head is at, because maybe her mom did all her planning and she wants/expects to do the same for you. It can help to just sympathize with that and then move on! :)

        • DressDistress

          It’s definitely more the simple thing. I would be fine with a floor-length dress if it was simple (JCrew has some nice gowns in this category), within my budget, and didn’t need to be hemmed. The reason I said “knee length” is because my cousin (dad’s side) got married in a knee-length white dress and I loved it and it’s stuck with me ever since.

          I actually have not had much luck with separates. Maybe I’m not looking in the right places?

          And as for my mom planning – she never had a big wedding. She got married in the courthouse both times. I thought her 2nd wedding (which I attended) was really lovely and special but she’s said many times she regrets never having a “real” wedding (kinda offensive to elopers, IMO, but that’s what she thinks). So I really think she is just trying to protect me from regret. Her actions come from a place of love, but the way she expresses it is unkind.

          Thank you for the support <3

      • macrain

        Damn. Based on this, I’m leaning more towards your original idea of excluding your mom altogether. If she can’t get through a conversation about this without YELLING at you, maybe you were right all along.

      • OliveMC

        Hang in there! I know mother-daughter expectations differ a lot in the wedding planning process, but from talking to my mother-in-law, a lot of the things that are acceptable/in style now for weddings weren’t when they were getting married. I can’t tell you how much perspective and appreciation for my mother-in-law this conversation gave me, and it basically saved my sanity leading up to my wedding.

        I got married in October and basically went against anything and everything my mother had ever hoped for in her children’s marriages: We did not get married in my hometown, but halfway between there and where I live (2 hours from either direction), we did not get married in a church or married by a priest, had a mixed gender bridal party, and I basically excluded everyone in my family from the wedding planning/dress purchasing process (my own fault, I know). The year and 3 months of being engaged was probably the most stressful time in my life, my mom and sister completely turned against me. I relied a lot on a close cousin and close friends, but I found myself having trouble getting excited about my own wedding because anxiety over what they would do got to me.

        I chose my dress almost immediately after getting engaged (Lucca Maxi in blush from BHLDN, ordered it online) and did share it with them, but neither even tried to be enthusiastic. Things eventually started getting better, when I made a HUGE effort to talk to them about the wedding, every conversation was a small victory, but I still saw looks of disappointment from my Mom on my wedding day. Both she and my sister still talked to my best friend the night before my wedding about how much better it would’ve been in my hometown, in the church I grew up in. But we had an amazing wedding day, I’m happily married and happily trying to rebuild healthy relationships with both of them.

        I’m sorry if this is extreme over-sharing, but from the other side of the wedding, and from someone who approached a similar situation all wrong, the biggest thing you can do is keep your Mom involved. Try to move her focus off the dress and onto another detail you need help with. But remember that (hopefully) she’s not upset with you, it’s a different era for weddings and wedding dresses and she might need time/help adjusting her expectations. It’s ok to choose your own dress and plan your wedding according to what you and your fiancee want.

        Best of luck!

      • Anon

        There’s definitely bridal salons at the Nordstrom’s near me, but I was also able to try on “non bridal” white dresses in the same store. it worked really well.

      • Mandy

        You could also try to find a non-traditional bridal salon in your area. I went to LOHO bride in San Francisco, and they simply didn’t have the David’s Bridal type dress that you hate. Everything I tried on was bridal, but not overly fussy, and we still got to have ~~the experience~~ of trying on gowns in a nice salon. Your mom won’t be able to put you in something you hate because the salon won’t have anything like that!

      • Julia

        Dear letter writer,

        I went through something similar with my mom. Here’s my two cents:

        The solution to your problem does not lie in somehow finding a “compromise” dress halfway between what you want and what your mother wants. Based on your letter, it sounds like such a thing does not exist. But I think you can find a way to make both of you happy – and it has nothing to do with what you wear on your wedding day.

        LISTEN. Sit down with your mom and ask her to tell you what she wants for your wedding day, and why. What does the big dress mean to her? Is it about buying you nice things as an expression of love? Is it because she wanted a really nice dress and couldn’t have one? Is it about making you (and by extension, her) look good in front of friends and family?

        Whatever she says, don’t argue. Just listen and perhaps even repeat back to her what she says, e.g. Active Listening. Make sure she feels heard, and that she feels like you understand her point of view. Make her feel like her love has been accepted (because, as I suspect you know, it sounds like all she’s trying to do is to give you live in the form of a dress. It might be misguided stubborn love, but it’s love ask the same).

        Then it’s your turn. Ask her to just listen, even if she disagrees. Ask her politely to please not interrupt. Let her know WHY you want what you want – because you don’t enjoy being the center of attention, because you want to be frugal and comfortable, etc. Let her know what this dress means to you.

        If you do this exercise right and manage not to fall into arguing, at the end of it you will both understand each other’s point of view. At that point it won’t even matter what dress you ultimately wear or how you buy it.

        Good luck!!

      • Nikki

        I second BHLDN! I bought my wedding dress there and had a wonderful experience with a personal stylist, a pretty sitting area and complimentary champagne! Also, a friend of mine found her dress at J. Crew and it was a bit more low key, but still had a special bridal area and personal stylist. Bonus, both places have fairly simple, reasonably affordable dresses!

      • Anna Wagner

        I’m pretty at least some Nordstroms and Macy’s have bridal sections that would work well for that.

    • Crayfish Kate

      Oh my god I want that dress!

  • macrain

    This stuff is kind of an emotional minefield.
    My mom was not impressed with my simple wedding dress, and what I didn’t expect was that not getting her approval would feel so shitty. She couldn’t bring herself to say that she liked how I looked, because she didn’t. It was like knife to my heart when she casually mentioned how “beautiful” my sister looked in the bridesmaids dress I chose for her.

    I think the LW is right to be concerned she’ll get pressured into a dress she doesn’t want, because the desire to please can be so strong. My mom did offer to buy me a dress I didn’t like, and I just said- “I’d like to think about it.” I can’t emphasize the power of those words enough! Sometimes it’s softer and more effective than an outright “no.”

    • AGCourtney

      It is! One of the most fascinating sessions I’ve attended at a sociology conference was a study on the feeling rules surrounding wedding dress shopping. And one of the biggest ‘rules’ in the ritual – after that all-important, cathartic moment when you “say yes to the dress” – is the approval of your entourage – especially your mother. When things don’t follow the cultural script, we experience ‘misfeelings’ – distress and fear of disappointing others and so on. Even people who really intend to opt out of the whole WIC thing often bow to the pressure of the culture and loved ones (whose expectations are shaped by the culture in the first place.) It was a really interesting presentation.

      • macrain

        That is so fascinating, and an excellent description of what happened. And it wasn’t just my mom I worried about letting down, it was everyone! It definitely leads to second guessing and confusion. (And for the record, I’m so happy I stuck with my simple dress, I still love it.)

        You yourself can bow out of the WIC thing, but it’s a force to be reckoned with when it comes to dealing with parents and friends (and even sometimes your fiance) for sure.

    • DressDistress

      (LW) Thank you for arming me with this phrase! It’s a nice deflection without hurting feelings.

      • macrain

        Good, I’m so glad that helps! Big hugs, lady. <3

  • Jessica

    My mother was way WAY more invested in The Dress than I was. I had pretty much decided to do what you’re planning and order a bunch online, then choose the one I liked most. They wouldn’t go above $600. It was going to be a lot of bridesmaid’s dresses in white or a rent-the-runway situation.

    I asked my best friend to do one “bridesmaid” duty thing, and that was to make an appointment at a bridal shop so we could go try on dresses and invite my mom, my MIL and SIL. We were to have brunch beforehand. My mom was…hurt? put out? not entirely sure what exactly she was feeling, but she said she wanted to go dress shopping with just me and her. So I agreed and made an appointment at Macy’s. Cue her calling me the next day to ask if her best friend could come because she doesn’t have a daughter…then the day after if her other best friend could come because her daughter would be making her own wedding dress. All of a sudden we are Macy’s Bridal Salon and I’m getting naked in front of three women I know and one woman I don’t, and there isn’t even a fucking partition so they are seeing it all out there. That was a bonkers day and put me off dress shopping even more.

    Also, after I had told the attendant my $600 range and that I was OK with bridesmaid dresses, my mom took her aside and said she could bring out more expensive ones. The first thing she brought out looked like an over-styled cupcake for $2,000, and then the one that I could have fallen in love with was $1,600 and the dress attendant made a comment about chopping the bottom half of the silk (!) skirt off so it could be knee length, even though it was drapey and beautiful. Just not for me.

    TL/DR: follow Liz’s advice and give 1-2 options, but make sure you stick to them. Say no when needed.

    • Lizzie

      For some reason it makes me really mad that the dress attendant went over your head to bring out more expensive dresses without asking you, just because your mom told her to. Way to undermine the key decision-maker. Sorry you had to deal with those shenanigans.

      • Jessica

        Yeah, she also treated me like a young child in other ways–I had brought high-heels to test visual-effect and she told me to “put on my shoesies” after buttoning me into a dress, and told me she was going to “rip off my bra” because it was getting in the way of clamping the sample-sizes on. Yes, please expose me more when it’s so obvious I’m uncomfortable already that a vegetable could see it.

        I did send a note about it to the floor manager and left a review on Yelp.

        • Yikes that sounds awful. :( Cringing so hard at “shoesies”

        • Lizzie

          OMG no. If anyone told me to put on my shoesies, they’d get a shoesie up the buttsie.

          • Jessica

            I just cackled. Is that a new acronym? COL

  • Scalliwag

    Unfortunately, there’s no simple way to deal with this. I’d been dress shopping at a few different types of bridal stores with my mom and 2 bridesmaids. However, I ended up finding my dress at a store that only allowed two people to join and based on logistics and personalities, I had the 2 bridesmaids along. We texted her lots of pictures and called her, but I was buying the dress either way. The first time she saw me in the dress, she was zipping me up into it in her apartment a few weeks later and the first words out of her mouth were along the lines of “Ut oh, looks like the zipper’s getting stuck, doesn’t fit, better lose weight.” And that felt really shitty, I don’t know if it was a reaction to her not being there when I bought it or what. She did apologize and loved the dress and the way I looked in it. So involving her is not a guaranteed silver bullet, and I do urge doing what will make you feel best, and working her in where you’ll be comfortable.

    Also, just the two of us went shopping for the dress SHE wore to the wedding, and though it was a long day for my mom who hates shopping, it was much more enjoyable. So I second the posters who called that out as another way to involve her, without the focus being all on you and can be special as well.

  • Abe

    Another middle-ground option:

    LW can set up a “minimalist” shopping experience, only take her mom to a boutique or two with a small range of low-key, less traditional dresses (including short dresses!). That way, her mom still gets the moment of shopping togetherness and seeing her daughter on a podium, but it’s a curated, tolerable selection. I went to a range of places with wildly different vibes, and ended up buying my dress from a small designer, where the princess/bridal look was nowhere to be found.

    And I completely agree with other commenters — scope out these shops in advance, get the consultant on your side (so she only shows dresses you already like), and bring a supportive, assertive friend who can advocate for your wishes!

    Also — and I don’t think the LW has to do this, but perhaps consider letting go of the price issue and not stress about that too much. There are super cute, short bridal dresses she might like, that aren’t $300 and off the rack. If her mom really wants to pay more for the dress… fight for the look she feels amazing in, and not worry about how much it costs.

    • Just Me

      I was going to suggest visiting a Jcrew that has a bridal shop because even though many are above $300, they are relatively simple designs and none are big and cupcaky.

      Personally, I did the online route and ended up with a short simple dress from Nordstrom for $150 but it was a little harder than expected to find something that cheap. I also rocked some killer shoes and second the suggestion above to take mom shoe shopping instead.

      • Abe

        I second JCrew! I tried on the only ball gown they had, for fun, and it was so simple, airy and casual… not threatening at all. JCrew has great “little white dress” options, and zero bridal frills.

        My other recommendations (in NY) for short dresses and chill shopping would be Saja (got my dress, cannot recommend more highly!!), Lovely Bride (mom won’t be able to browse there), and BHLDN (though beware, there IS also tulle). I hunted through a ton of regular white dress options hoping to find something not bridal… and though I didn’t have success myself, I think it’s a great idea!

  • Another Meg

    If you did compromise, is there an emotional bodyguard/momcrazy buffer you can bring along? Someone who understands and can handle being kindly assertive when/if your mom bypasses your boundaries?

    Sometimes it’s easier to have a cheerleader who’s 100% in your corner to help you stand your ground.

  • Ema

    This is a great post. Definitely stick to your guns while also being kind to your mother. I’m in a similar (but less intense) situation right now…but with my mother in law to be. She cannot understand why I won’t go to a bridal dress shop and even talked a bit unkindly to my own mother, blaming no her for my lack of initiative in The Dress Search. You cannot please everyone, but you are the person wearing the dress. You should be happy and comfortable in it. Buy a few dresses online and let your madre be there when you try them on. Good luck!

  • joanna b.n.

    Also, moms sometimes like to know what their daughter is thinking. You might share something about how you’re feeling like you want this dress to really reflect YOU and that it is important to you that something in the day truly reflects your “simple aesthetic” (or some such wording), and just more about your thought process behind going the non-traditional route. Feelings, the whole bit. Only you know if your mom might be open to hearing that, but in lots of cases, it helps family get on board if they really understand more deeply where you’re coming from.

    Best of luck!! As Liz said, mom stuff is tough. But you can do it!

  • up_at_Dawn

    Personal anecdote/word to the wise:
    Not all personal shoppers or bridal store employees will take your side (although they should). One of my friends had a very clear idea of the dress she wanted (red, non-traditional), she went shopping with her mom & aunt. And the consultant together with her family pretty much bullied her into buying a white, strapless ballgown. I thought that was very unfortunate.

    I like your ordering at home idea if you think that this could happen to you.

    • Lizzie

      Yikes. I’m glad I bought my red, non-traditional dress on the internet without getting anyone’s second opinion. (Though it hurt my mom’s feelings, to be sure.)

  • MDBethann

    If you do scout things out before hand and check out some shops, don’t tell your mom that you tried anything on, even if you do so. My mom was super laid back during the whole wedding planning process (except for the veil – I didn’t care about one and both she and my MIL insisted that I have one). I did my first dress shopping day with one of my bridesmaids when we went out for lunch for my birthday. She didn’t tell me herself, but my sister later told me that Mom was hurt that I went dress shopping (for the first time) without her. We had another outing planned for the 2 of us anyway to look at some different stores, but it was clearly more important to her than I had anticipated. Fortunately, she wasn’t set on a style or anything and she was amenable to my tastes (which veered ballgown, but not flashy & cupcakey) so it all went well while we were shopping and we even found THE dress together.

    But YES to setting boundaries and doing some covert ground-work beforehand to lower the stress level for yourself. Good luck!!

  • Katie

    How do you feel about shoes? With a short dress, your shoes will actually be noticeable, they are super fun, trying on one million is much easier than trying on one million bridal gowns, and they can also be expensive. Or maybe some other special accessory? I can’t tell if you are trying to avoid the WICiness of the gown experience, or if you hate shopping… If you don’t hate shopping, maybe you can pick something else to wear that you’d be interested in letting her join in on the “experience” of finding together.

    … I’d vote shoes. Sweet, sweet sparkly bright shoes.

    • DressDistress

      (LW) I have no problem letting her come with me to try on a million shoes. I’d let her control the jewelry too, as long as I had some say in it. This could be a nice olive branch if she can’t get on board with a more laid back dress shopping experience.

      • Katie

        Good luck to you!! I’ve been reading through your responses, and I’m glad this post ended up being soon enough for you to get some strategies before you have to buy your dress. I’m going to second the advice someone gave about a bossy friend… I’m pretty bossy and protective, and I’ve been tapped to run tactful interference with Moms of Friends several times during wedding planning and also with new babies. If you have someone close to you (perhaps a bridesmaid?) who you KNOW will vocalize her own preference for dresses that you like (whether that opinion is true or not!) and downplay the dresses your mom might prefer without being mean about it, you should totally ask her to come along. Then you won’t feel alone!

  • no

    This may not apply to the OP, but we went “fantasy dress shopping” — We went to a dress shop with an agreement that we were not going to buy anything. Then we came up with a bunch of alternate universe wedding plans, and tried on dresses for each. For example, this is the dress I’d wear to my beach wedding, this is the dress I’d wear to my super conservative catholic wedding, this is the dress I’d wear to my vegas wedding, this is the dress I’d wear to my married-to-my-HS-sweetheart-at-18 wedding. It was a lot of fun!

    • Abe

      That is so cute! I have to admit, I enjoyed trying on dresses that weren’t exactly my style. I realize wedding dress shopping can be fraught and tense if everyone’s not on the same page, but I had fun trying gowns that I’d only wear in an “alternate universe”… whether I was humoring my mom, my friend or myself!

  • Kayla

    I went dress shopping alone when I unexpectedly got off work early one day, with no one there to pressure me into anything, and I still walked out with an expensive dress I didn’t really like. To this day, I don’t know what went wrong.

    So in my opinion, if you’re dead set against a traditional dress, avoiding bridal salons altogether is highly advisable.

  • Kayla

    Oh! Has anyone mentioned convertible dresses? There are some really cute ones out there. Mom gets 30 minutes of tearing up at the sight of her poofy skirted daughter in the ceremony. LW gets the rest of the wedding in the knee-length dress she wants.

    It would probably be more than $300, but if it leaves mom and LW happy, that might be worth it.

    • Kayla

      A quick search finds a bunch of dresses that go from “gigantic gown” to “simple knee-length dress.”

    • Birdy

      Yes, this! If your mother’s approval as as important to you as getting the dress of your dreams, standing your ground might not let you have your cake and eat it too, but convertible dresses (or different ceremony/reception dresses) might. My mom has been amazingly laid back through the wedding process, but when she found out I was planning to go bare-headed, she was weirdly insistent that I have something (anything!) on my head. We ended up compromising that I’ll wear a headpiece during the ceremony, and go bareheaded for non-family pictures before and the reception after. It turns out that her own bridal veil looks like it was made for my dress (probably because both our wedding dresses are from the ’80s, ha!), so wearing her own veil is icing on the cake for both of us.

  • Amy

    This doesn’t help with your mom situation at all, but I bought dress online from Ruche. It was tea length and in the $300 – 400 range. Great customer service too.

  • laddibugg

    Is your mom paying for the dress or are you? If it’s the former……I’d just say whatever to the cost (if she can afford it) but insist on the style.

    Also, is your price point realistic for the types of gowns you’re looking at (Simple isn’t always cheap!). I’m super frugal, and sometimes my similarly frugal mom has to snap me out of that mindset when my low budget just isn’t going to work.

    • DressDistress

      (LW) I’d prefer to pay for the dress myself. However my mom has a habit of spending a ton of money buying things for me that I do not want or need and then acting hurt when I don’t use them. I can absolutely see her buying a dress if she deems my choice “unsuitable” and then getting upset if I don’t wear it.

      I’ve found a lot of dresses near my price range, normally closer to $400, at places like Nordstrom’s and JCrew. I’ll likely have to wait for a sale to get it under $300, but I have some wiggle room. I budgeted $500 for the dress, shoes, and alterations… if I don’t need alterations or if the shoes are inexpensive that gives me more wiggle room for the dress price.

  • JC

    The “No daughter of MINE” comment is really bothering me. There are obviously a lot of mom’s assumptions/expectations at play here, but it also sounds like some social/class issues regarding the performative aspect of the wedding itself. Is this something you’ve discussed with your mom– the guest list, the overall vibe, the goal of your wedding?

    I’m not engaged, but I have mentioned to my mom the (excellent) idea from APW of having a wedding mission statement to help guide me and my bf (hopefully fiance someday) in our planning, to make decisions about what is right for THIS SPECIFIC OCCASION and what we want out of it. She was flabbergasted. It was nothing she had ever considered before. If the goal of your wedding is not to make a mark on a social circle or impress anyone other than yourselves, then I think it would be worth sharing this with your mom. (I know…easier said than done.) My point is that there is a “goal” of this wedding, and hence your dress, for your mom that doesn’t jive with your vision. If you can connect it to a bigger picture value– like how you want your wedding to be more intimate and warm– then she might be more amenable to the dress that meets that vision.

  • From your letter I got the impression that you’re excited about a particular ‘look’ and that you think that ‘look’ is what you get for under $300 (rather than being wedded to that particular price range, per se). So perhaps the price range is an area for compromise (especially if she’s paying!). You can load your Mom up with Pintrest pins of your type of ‘look’ styled oh-so-elegantly and bridal-y and start talking about finding that sort of dress but in the absolute best quality fabrics and so on. You could either hunt down the look you want but made by a fancy pants designer (houses like Chanel are perfectly happy to sell you a simple summer dress for thousands of dollars!) or get the dress you want made by a top-end dress maker – your Mom might like the idea of her daughter in couture :)

    If she’s super invested in the trying on the dress spectacle perhaps you could order what you like online and then invite her around and for the big ‘trying-on’ event. The two of you (plus bridesmaids/support crew and a bunch of bridal props – veils, shoes, hair thingies and so on) can have a champagne afternoon testing out all the looks. That way she’s a part of the process but on your terms – and if you like a particular dress but she doesn’t like the quality then off to the dressmakers you go for a fancier version of what you like.

    Maybe that could work?

  • Marisa Talarico

    I found myself in a very similar situation for my wedding a few months ago. I wanted to go dress shopping with only my mom because I knew she would support any decision that I made and she very generously offered to pay for my dress. My husband and I envisioned a simple, small wedding and I wanted my dress to suit that mood. We had 35 guests at a guerilla ceremony in a park followed by supper at a restaurant. What the rest of my family wanted, i.e. my grandma and my aunts (from my dad’s side), was for the big ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ situation, complete with the trip to Kleinfeld’s in NYC (I live in Toronto, Ontario), which like this reader, was my nightmare.

    To be sure that I’d get the experience I desperately wanted, I decided to take things into my own hands and made a couple of appointments for just me and my mom to go look at dresses. We ended up having a wonderful time, making memories that I will have for life and ultimately finding a second-hand dress that I just fell in love with and was a very reasonable $500. However this little high I was on from having the experience that I had hoped for, came to an abrupt halt a few weeks later when my aunts/grandma found out that I had dared to go shopping without them. They started screaming at me over the dinner table during a family meal along the lines of “How dare you?!” “You are so selfish!” “I can’t believe you didn’t think about anyone else’s feelings!” “How could you not think about what we wanted?!” etc etc. It resulted in me leaving in tears and a few follow-up nasty phone calls, where I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Honestly, it kind of soured the whole planning experience for me because they acted like children and didn’t speak to me for months after. That being said, I don’t regret it for even one minute. People get overly emotional about these things, and for me, it was just a dress. I would do the exact same thing again to have the experience that I wanted to remember happily for the rest of my life instead of cringe about. While, this isn’t the approach for the faint of heart, I knew that I’d regret it even more if I had just done what they wanted, which was against my own wishes and values. I can live with the choice I made.

  • Maggie

    Hi LW:

    I’ve been thinking about possible methods of compromise here, or how you could make a dress-shopping situation work for both you and your mom, but I really don’t think there is one. Based on what you’ve said, even if you try to set up a “short, simple dresses! but fancy store/experience!” appointment, your mom will not be supportive, and you’ll end up trying on things you really don’t want to make her happy because you won’t be able to say no to her.

    LW, I strongly suggest that you tell your mom that you really want to do this part alone. Tell her that you’d like to do this one piece by yourself, so you can feel like the best version of you at your wedding, and you need that feeling to just come from yourself. Don’t take anyone else either (that way it’s not that you’re specifically excluding *her*: you’re excluding everyone else). You can acknowledge her feelings (aka that she’s going to be sad about this), but I’d tell her that you don’t need her to understand your choice here: you just need her to support it. (And I’d also remind her that you and her can like different things, with both of those things being good! There’s nothing wrong with a giant cupcake dress for someone who wants one; that’s just not what you want!)

    And otherwise, I love the ideas of going fancy-shoe-shopping with her, or taking her MOB dress shopping. But I would not try on a dress with her in the room, or her opinions will make their way all over your body.

  • Maggie

    Also, maybe think about it this way:

    LW, would you rather have your mom think you look pretty, but feel awful (like a child playing dress-up), OR would you rather really feel pretty (the best, truest, most radiant, whateverest version of yourself) but without your mom’s approval? I think you need to hit a point where your own internal approval matters more than anyone else’s: it’s fine if what makes you feel awesome doesn’t make your mom think you’re the prettiest! (I don’t mean that you can’t want her to like your look, it just means your opinion about you matters more.)
    Determine where you’re at on that one, and that can help you say no to her if you decide you want to.

  • I worked in bridal for 6 years, at a fabulous store with non-traditional dresses. We often (oh, so often) had mothers and daughters clashing over choice of dress. I agree with what someone else said below- either give them a shortlist of dresses you’ve selected, or choose and pay for the dress yourself and bring her along for the fittings.
    The encouragement I’ll give to you is the same I’d give to my lovely brides as I helped them in and out of the dressing room- Other people can give you their opinion, but it is your choice at the end of the day, you are the one who is going to wear the dress.

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  • Sarah

    Piping up to share my story:

    My mom: You need to have a train. A wedding gown (she never called it a dress — always a gown!) needs a train.
    Me: I don’t want a train. That will be strange at a beach wedding, anyhow. And I don’t want to deal with bustling. Also, YOU didn’t have a train at EITHER of your weddings!
    END RESULT: A “sweep” train that I admitted looked nice, but was still obnoxious to bustle. (But I was married by that point and didn’t really care.)
    SCORE: No win. Although she admitted that a full train would’ve been ridiculous.

    My mom: I like this dress.
    Me: I don’t. I like this other dress.
    Very Wise Consultant at David’s Bridal: Let’s focus on getting through the rest of the pile first.
    Me, at the end of the appointment: I still like my choice.
    My mom: I think mine is better.
    Me: I think you like it better because it’s tighter and fits me better.
    VWC@DB: Let’s tighten this with some pins.
    My mom: Okay fine do what you want, I guess it looks nice.
    END RESULT: I got the dress I liked better. She paid for it (which was a surprise). She admitted later that the one she preferred wouldn’t have been right for the beach wedding.
    SCORE: 1 to me.

    My mom: You have to wear a veil! You can’t get married without a veil!
    Me: I don’t want a veil. It’s not going to look right on my hair. It will annoy me. And aren’t there some problematic patriarchal implications of veils?? Maybe that’s why YOU didn’t have a veil at EITHER of your weddings??
    END RESULT: I initially calmed her by saying I would wear a pearl brooch in my hair, but wound up deciding it was dumb and just went with my “best hair day ever of my normal hairstyle” approach and loved it.
    SCORE: 1 for me. She admitted my hair looked great.

    My mom: What jewelry are you wearing?
    Me: Oma (father’s mother)’s pearl necklace and some pearl earrings.
    My mom: I want you to wear my mother’s watch. I want there to be something from my mother, too.
    Me: But I don’t wear watches. Ever. I hate things on my wrists. Also, it doesn’t even work!
    My mom: Wear it as jewelry!
    Me: But I hate things on my wrists!
    My dad, weeks later: Wear the watch, it will make her happy.
    END RESULT: I wore the watch. It was very pretty and everyone said so. Also, it actually *did* work, and it was really handy to have something with the time on it after I had relinquished my cell phone.
    SCORE: 1 for my mom, but I’ll never admit it.

    My mom: What earrings are you wearing? I think you should wear these.
    Me: Um, I’ve thought about this in advance. I like the ones I picked out.
    My mom: These ones are nicer.
    Me, to my maid of honor, without telling her which ones were which: Which do you like better?
    Maid of honor: [points to my mom’s]
    END RESULT: I wore the ones I picked out. Maybe the others would’ve looked better, but I liked the ones I had!
    SCORE: Slight win to me for sticking to my guns.

    -Moms will have opinions, up until the moment you walk down the aisle.
    -Some of their opinions are actually good ones. (But you don’t have to admit it.)
    -You win some, you lose some.
    -Sometimes her opinions are more about her getting to relive/redo/reimagine her own wedding experiences than actually about you.

  • Beth M.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with going shopping without your mom. I was in your shoes last month, and I ultimately decided to include my mother in dress shopping because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. In retrospect, I wish I has just gotten my dress on my own. My mom was never going to see things my way, and she just ended up making me feel terrible about the dress I chose. She told me I should chose the dress that made me happy, and then in the same breath told me that my dress was “blah” and that I wouldn’t look special in it. For the record, my “blah” dress is a ballgown with a lace bodice, illusion neckline and chapel length train. My mom wanted nothing less than a lace dress with a stunning lace skirt—she was not going to be happy with anything less. I didn’t gain anything by taking her dress shopping—she’s still unhappy with me, and I still feel like I’m a huge disappointment as a daughter.

    This is just my experience of course, and I have no idea what your mom is actually like (though I can totally relate to her “sucking the joy out of wedding planning”). I just want to give you a perspective from someone who has been there, because if you don’t have an overbearing mom who blows through your boundaries and won’t back down, you really don’t know what it can be like. You can’t reason with my mom—she doesn’t listen. Don’t let your mom suck the joy out of choosing a dress just because you feel bad about excluding her.

    Best of luck to you. I hope you can find a way to include her that works for both of you, but whatever you do make sure you are happy with your dress, and don’t feel bad if she’s not. You already have some excellent suggesting about including her while controlling the situation, but don’t feel like you have to include her just because that’s what most people do. Whatever happens, I completely feel for you. You’re definitely not alone.

  • A bride like you is just so unique who don’t like costly wedding dresses. I really love your simplicity! However, your Mom just wants to provide what’s best and what you deserve. Glad to hear that you ended to your ideal dress for your big day. It really matters as you will be walking the aisle and needs to be comfortable with what you’re wearing.

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