Ask Team Practical: Dressing Shopping with MIL, Not Mom

This week, Liz is out sick (send her some good healing vibes!) so we called in our Emeritus Staff. When Alyssa passed the Ask Team Practical baton to Liz over a year ago, I told her that I would miss her regularly scheduled sass. “Now it will be UNscheduled sass,” I said in a comment, “which is like, the jazz of sass.” Meg, knowing a good opportunity when she sees one, deemed that Alyssa’s new nickname. When I was still just a reader, I loved Alyssa for her throwing around of the word y’all, and her ability to answer seemingly impossible questions. As I read her answers, I frequently imagined myself sitting at a bar and her beginning some real talk with, “Listen,” over the rim of a margarita glass. So here she is, for your reading pleasure, the Jazz of Sass herself.

Emily T.

I’m wondering about going wedding dress shopping with my future mother-in-law. I live in a different country than my family, and in the country where my fiancé’s entire family lives. The dress part of the wedding planning has been killing me, mostly since I don’t want something super bride-y and I’m having a hard time in my city finding places to shop for alternative options. I have some girlfriends to help me, but am missing the mom input. My fiancé suggested I take his mom with me to try on dresses. Now I like his mom and actually think she does totally understand my style, based on presents she has given me in the past.

But I feel guilty about it. I feel guilty because I know my mom would LOVE to go wedding dress shopping with me, but can’t because of logistics. I think that if she heard I was going with his mom, she would be upset/jealous. I feel guilty because even if my mom COULD come wedding dress shopping with me, I think she’s totally disconnected from my sense of style, and I’m honestly not even sure I would WANT her input! Based on the pictures of wedding dresses she has been sending me over email, I can say with almost one hundred percent certainty, that she actually does NOT understand my style. How should I handle dress shopping with the mother-in-law?!?!


Dear Anon,

Just the title of this post caused at least four percent of the readers to sigh and go need a lie-down. Dress shopping with your mother or mother figure is not something that has to happen, it is just a thing that some people do. Some have a lovely time and that’s wonderful.  Some have an alright time and that’s okay too. And some will not be able to understand how this woman gave birth to me and why are we here and oh God, this itches and it’s ugly and why didn’t I elope already, DAMMIT?!? Which is fine also; we have some lovely posts on eloping in the archives. 

The real secret of dress shopping is having people whose opinion you trust, regardless of age or relationship. Not every bride has The Dress Shopping Experience, and often it’s by choice. It’s one of those wedding “traditions,” like a bouquet toss or an engagement ring—if it’s important to you then you should have it. If it’s not, let it go (and stop fussing over it). Make this your own experience, one much less fraught with expectation. Without Mom, you don’t have to be disappointed if you don’t find THE dress right away, or if Mom isn’t moved to tears by seeing you covered in organza or something. (Or worse, Mom is moved to tears by you covered in a hideous organza something that you don’t want to buy.) It sounds like you value honest input more than a memory of the shopping trip, so round up your friends and your mother-in-law, toss back some tasty beverages (adult or otherwise) and strip down to nothing but a smile in every dressing room in town until you find that dress that makes you happy. Y’all will have fun and you may even find a dress. (And please note that I said a “dress that makes you happy,” not transcendent or giddy. Don’t get me wrong; it’s wonderful if your dress sends you into rapture, but the only thing you need to be in love with at your wedding is your partner. Everything else you just have to like a whole lot… or not hate.)

Now, let’s address this guilt thing. I really love that you’re thinking about your mom’s feelings (even if it’s by torturing yourself with a hypothetical situation) but I want you to cut it out. If you were able to shop with your mother, you’d probably end up disliking it because A) you’re not digging the whole bridal shopping experience anyway and B) your styles differ and you’d both end up frustrated. But, as it turns out, you don’t have to worry about it because your mom isn’t in the same country. This means that y’all won’t be trying to create a Mother-Daughter Meaningful Shopping Extravaganza! that you don’t really want, and you won’t end up tearful and exasperated in ill-fitting shapewear and tulle. Sometimes, the universe gives you a pass. Just take it, darlin’.

Your mother’s feelings may be hurt if you go shopping with your mother-in-law, but they might be hurt if you went shopping with anyone. Sure, that you’re with your fiancé’s mother may make that sting extra hurt-y, but ultimately what your mother is missing is YOU. These tiny events in wedding planning highlight the fact that she’s not nearby to assist you with (or argue over) details, and that’s upsetting. But hey, your mom would probably be the first to tell you that you don’t always get what you expect in life and that’s okay, and therefore she will be okay.

It seems like you have a good relationship with your mom, so just be honest with her. (Don’t lie. That sh*t will backfire on you like nobody’s business, and then you’ll have to write us another letter.) Tell her that you are going shopping with your mother-in-law, but she is not a substitute. You just want an opinion from an older woman who knows you, not a replacement mommy. Mention how this isn’t a big deal for you anyway and, while you’d love to have the mother-daughter shopping experience (Fudge a little. It’s your mom.), you’re okay with the fact that it won’t happen. I’m sure the thought of you going shopping with your mother-in-law has already crossed her mind, so downplaying it and keeping this from being An Event will make her feel a little less jealous.

If she’s still a tiny bit sad, then consider using a little technology. Before i-everything, being a country away meant you had to send pictures of your dress drawn with a quill pen on parchment paper and carried across the sea by owls. (Or something. It was a long time ago, like five whole years.) Now you can text your mom pictures as you shop, take video with running commentary from a funny friend, or upload shots to a private album on any one of a billion photo sharing sites. And though I’ve heard of it being done, I do not recommend using Skype. It will be awkward, annoying, and she’ll only be able to see up your nose because it never fails that people delegated to hold the iPad will forget how their hands work.

But overall, don’t stress. All in all, you are a good daughter for thinking of your mother, you’re a nice person for thinking about including your mother-in-law in the process, and you’ve got a great sense of self in that you know what you want and are okay that it may go against what other people are telling you to want. Now do yourself a favor and ease up on the guilt; that sackcloth and ashes won’t look good under that gorgeous dress I know you’ll find.


Readers! I know y’all have dress shopping stories and I know you are dying to tell them! How did shopping with your mother go, or how did shopping WITHOUT your mother go? Spill it!

Photo by Vivian Chen

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  • ALYSSA!!!!!

    Okay, now I’ll go back and read your advice.

    • Alyssa


  • Kat

    I went dress shopping without my mom even though we live in the same town, work together and get along well. A good friend was in town for her sister’s wedding last summer and I wanted to include her in wedding dress shopping while she was in town. I had fully intended on just pre-clearing a few favourites and then coming back a while later with mom and sis in tow but it didn’t work out that way. The first dress I put on I loved, tried on 8 more just to be sure, put the first one back on and said “well that’s crossed off the list!”

    There was a bit of guilt about finding the right dress, and buying it on the spot, but as my friend pointed out, it’s just a dress, there will be other things mom gets to participate in, she would’ve made the whole process very long and drawn out (my sister tried on over 100 dresses at 4 or 5 different bridal stores, and when she found “the one” mom said “BUT I’M NOT READY TO BE DONE TRYING ON DRESSES! LETS GO TO ANOTHER ONE!”)

    I think mom may have been a little hurt, she never said so, and when it came time to find my veil it ended up being a super special shopping trip with mom and sis, so I think that made up for it.

  • AIH

    My mother HATES shopping, no really she’s had the same three pairs of jeans for 15 years. However, she wanted the *experience* of dress shopping with me even though we lived on different coasts, so I planned ahead.

    I went with a few very honest friends to a few dress places before my mom came to visit to have a top five. That way, when my mom came, she could have the experience, see what I was looking for, and feel like she was helping decide.

    I think that when planning a wedding away from your mom, she really wants to feel included, so throw her an electronic bone. Maybe Anon can take pictures of herself in a few dresses and email them to her mom to make the mom feel included.

    Also, I agree with Alyssa, you don’t have to invite the future MIL. Realize that if you ask her, she’ll probably want to go with you. Who doesn’t like playing around in fancy dresses for a few hours?

    • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

      I need to learn how to not wear out my jeans so quickly. How does your mom do that?

  • Caroline

    I say, I with whomever you want. I went dress shopping once with my mom and sis, and I’ve alone. You know what? Dress shopping alone rocked my socks off. I got to try on only what I wanted to, and go as fast as I wanted. If I knew the dress wasn’t a fit in 5 seconds, that was that, go try another. Also, one person can’t really make drama by herself.
    While I enjoyed shopping with my mom and sis also, we had a giant, raging fight that made us miss half our second appointment because we were in the car yelling. Yeah, not ideal.

    When I went alone, the lady at the dress store took pictures on my phone when I asked (only for the best, rather than every single dress like my sis took). I texted them
    to mom and sis, for their input. We’re going back to try on the dress I liked
    most for them and maybe buy it.

    My advice is, yeah, your mom can’t make it, and that may make her sad.
    The reality is even if she could, it probably wouldn’t be the experience one sees in pop culture. That’s okay. Take your mother in law, your friends, your fiancé, or no one. Dress shopping alone is underrated. Then send your mom pics of the dresses you like best. (And maybe a few of the ugly
    ones she won’t like either and you can laugh about.)

    • Yup, I also went alone a couple of times (once for my best-friend who wanted to try a specific dress) and once for me, when I tried my dress for the first time (and then called mom-in law to come with me and see as well, before settling with it).
      It can be fun too. If you are lucky you will get honest, helpful girls to assist you.

      • Rebecca

        The saleswoman at Nordstroms and I had a great time picking out dresses. If you go alone, go someplace with good customer service.

        I like shopping with my mom, but we live in different halves of the country, and neither one of us was invested enough in the “dress shopping experience” just to buy plane tickets. I emailed photos. It worked.

    • yet another Meg

      Reported by mistake. Sorry!

  • This was exactly my experience. I live in the country where the (now) husband’s family is, and all my family is across the ocean.
    It was natural (because I have a very good relationship with mother in law, and a similar style, as well) that I went with her.
    At the same time, I had already spotted a few dresses that I liked / planned to try on online and we Skype’d, emailed and exchanged photos, advice and opinions with my mom, sister and best friend. There was a lot of chatting and calling.
    It turned out that my parents came to visit a few months before the wedding (for our civil ceremony, which was supposed to be an elopement-before-the-religious-ceremony). This was unexpected, but wonderful, so, my mom was able to come for my first dress fitting, together with my husband’s grandma, and mother-in-law. Even if the dress had already been chosen, having 3 generations of women with me, while they measured me and while I saw *my* dress (not a sample), was very special and emotional.
    So, do it :) , no guilt, it’s just one of the things you miss out for living away, but it does not have to be, nowadays technology does really let you share.

  • Miriam

    Not shopping with my mother was amazing. I got my dress on ebay, and went with my best friend to get it tailored. My mother and I had a special weekend together going to the opera, getting massages and manicures, and went shoe shopping instead. Way less stressful, and stuff that we were both likely to enjoy way more. Also, we managed to get a mother-daughter experience without any of the crazy expectations around dress shopping.

    • KEA1

      That is SO the weekend I would want to have with my mom, especially if I had a wedding coming up! %)

  • Mags

    I went dress shopping with my mother-in-law. And two of my husband’s friends, my sister-in-law, and fiance’s grandmother too. The only person that I really felt close to during the dress shopping experience was my now-husband who tagged along (cause this was clearly a family outing). I know that my mother wished I could go dress shopping with her (she even mentioned doing it when I visited over the holidays, but I wanted to get it done ahead of time, plus the store selection in my city would be so much better than in the dinky town where my mother lives, plus I don’t like shopping with my mom), and maybe it hurt her a little extra that I went with in-laws rather than my own people. But the dress shopping experience wasn’t a big deal for me and I think my mom soon realized that (her back-up plan was to take me shoe shopping, but I just bought my wedding shoes online). I told jokes to my mom about the dress shopping experience (“and then grandma said …”) and sent her a picture of the dress soon after I chose it. Instead my mom and I painted chalkboards together for the centerpieces, we potted plants together for the decorations, and we peeled 150 eggs together for deviled egg appetizers. And I appreciated her help in those tasks so much more and also enjoyed those processes so much more. There’s a lot of wedding memories to go around, so there will be a chance to do some things with your mom; hopefully she will understand that.

  • Laura C

    I went with my best friend to look at dresses on what turned out to be the day she bought her dress. And we sneak-photographed her in it and when she sent it to her mom, her mom HATED it. Only then my friend figured out that part of the reason her mom was not a fan was that SHE had wanted to be there on the dress-buying trip, at which point she said “well, that wasn’t going to happen since we live on opposite coasts” and stopped worrying so much about what her mother was saying about the dress itself, and focused on the other stuff. So at least that left me only feeling slightly guilty about maybe having pushed her a little too hard to get the dress she did.

    In the end, her mom loved the dress and was the one who insisted on having the whole preservation thing done. And also, her mom made the unbelievable cathedral-length, lace-edged veil that would have cost a minimum of $500 in a store, so she definitely felt like she was part of the whole wedding look.

  • fermi

    I would say invite your future mother in law and just tell your mom honestly that you going to look for dresses. I think since she is in a different country, your mother will understand. Yeah she might get a little hurt but still…what can she do – you all are in different countries.

    My situation is a little different. My future mother in law lives in a different state that my fiance and I. I went dress shopping with my mom, not thinking I’d find anything, but I did. I bought it and when I went to visit her, I showed her pics and we talked about hair styles and necklaces and stuff like that. I think it made her happy that I could show her pictures and talk girly stuff. Especially since she only has boys!

  • Earlier this year I was planning a trip to visit my mom (she’s in OK, I’m in SC) and made a few appointments to try on dresses while there, mostly just to give us the experience of dress shopping. I also had an appointment at a local boutique before the trip. As another person mentioned – I didn’t intend to buy anything but it just happened. It was the fourth and eighth (last!) dress I tried on.

    Fortunately I have a wonderful relationship with my boss, I call her my workMomm and she went along and did a fantastic job of taking pics, texting with my mom the whole time and making her feel like she was a part of the action. I think my mom was probably sad that she wasn’t there for this occasion, especially since I ended up cancelling the OK appointments after slapping down cash for the dress locally. But you know what? I think overall she was just really glad that I had someone there that cared for me as much as she does and ultimately, that I found a dress I loved.

    Your mother loves you and while she may think it sucks to not be a part of the action – she’ll be glad someone that loves you is still there with you!

  • C

    I went dress shopping with my mother, my FMIL, and my MOH. It was a lot of fun, and I think everyone had a good time. I didn’t expect it, but I did cry when I found The Dress. However, the whole thing was a little awkward because my mom isn’t able to help with the wedding financially, while my fiance’s parents are helping out a lot. Like, to the point where it’s almost TOO MUCH. (I haven’t told my mom who is helping with what, or that we’re getting help at all, to spare her feelings [is that okay do you think?], b/e I know she feels bad that she just can’t help out financially, which is totally fine that she can’t.) Anyway, while we were trying on dresses, my FMIL offered to buy me a dress preservation kit, in front of my mom… she wasn’t doing it to be conniving in any way, she just really wanted me to have it b/c she’s so happy that I’m marrying her son, but I could tell that my mom was a little upset about that. I was just happy that people I loved were there, I wasn’t even expecting to find a dress. So the whole financial aspect of the wedding has been a little awkward, and that situation in particular was just a little uncomfortable.

    • Melissa

      We have a similar situation. My mom can barely afford to come to the wedding–I see myself paying for her hotel room come August. My MIL is sending us on our honeymoon and offered to put my dress on her credit card (the bridal salon didn’t accept AmEx, and the lady didn’t check my card before she swiped it. Good grief!). I could tell my mom felt awkward, and she frequently voices her unhappiness that she can’t help pay for the wedding. To ease things a bit, she threw my shower in her backyard. It’s awkward, but including her in other places like the shower, or calling her with updates every time something big happens or asking for help with DIY decorations, has been helpful. That way she feels included and it’s not linked to money.

    • Katy

      I’m in a similar boat, finance-wise. My parents can hardly contribute anything, while my fiancé’s family is going to be paying for almost half of the wedding! (We’re on a tight budget, so that’s only a few thousand dollars, but still!) It’s a bit awkward, but luckily both our sets of parents are at a fairly equal state of financial hardship, so they’re both upset they can’t pay for more of it! (Did I say “lucky?” Ha. You all know what I meant!)

      I think it’s fine to be fuzzy about who is helping pay for what! Prevents hurt feelings. Good for you for being sensitive to your mom’s feelings.

      Also, from watching years of Say Yes to the Dress, I had thought I had to invite my mom, MIL, all my bridesmaids, everyone! But then I just went one night with my only bridesmaid who lives within 500 miles and found the dress. Didn’t live up to the hype in my head but it was an easy and comfortable experience, and I’m glad I didn’t have any drama!

  • Melissa

    I knew my mom would want to be involved, because I’m her only daughter and she values our relationship (f*cked up though it is) over everything else in her life. So, despite the fact that she has zero understanding of my style, I scheduled a weekend for her to come down (she’s in CT and I’m in PA). Knowing that dress shopping with just my mom would make me absolutely crazy, I invited my MIL along as a buffer, and also because this will be the only time she’ll get to go wedding dress shopping for her kids (my BIL is gay, and suit shopping is just not the same!). It was crazy, and a little awkward because my relationship with my MIL is better than my relationship with my mom, but it was the right choice for me. If my mom lived in California, or if I was living in Scotland, it just wouldn’t be realistic for us to have shopped together. In the end, you do what makes the most sense for you.

  • I went dress shopping with my mother-in-law with my mother’s blessing. It was fun, actually, to have my now (new) husband’s mother there helping me try on all of three dresses (I bought the third one I put on), and her face when she saw what I would be wearing when I married her son was so sweet. While I was a bit sad not to have my mother and sister there, they got tons of photos by text, and my mother was able to be with me at my first dress fitting, along with my father, which was just as fun as the first day I put on my gown. I was happy the whole dress buying and alterations process to have folks who I loved there with me, offering support, advice, and good vibes along the way.

  • Lydia

    I also went shopping with my FMIL and two good friends. At the time my mom was working in a city hundreds of miles away from where I was living and couldn’t arrange her work schedule to be there — which was fine, because she’s never been one for “girly” type things (as I’ve written about on this site before). It was a wonderful way to bond with my FMIL, whom I really, really like and whose input I valued immensely. My mom had no problem with it at all though because, as I said, it was really not “her thing” to begin with, so this worked perfectly.

    If you are living in another country, your mom can’t really expect you to wait for her to visit to go dress shopping. Take lots of pictures, ask her what she thinks, and perhaps she can come to your last dress fittings before the big day (if you’re getting your dress tailored).

  • Aly

    Haha. I went shopping with my mom, my dad (!!), and my three best friends (we’ve all been BFFs since second grade). It was…um…interesting. My mom was so hyper and excited she just couldn’t reign it in. I’m glad that she was happy and she wasn’t trying to be annoying, but she kept being overly enthusiastic to the point of not paying attention. She kept trying to take pictures (you’re not allowed, really, until you purchase) and kept loudly asking about the price. While I completely understand that those were meaningful things to her (pictures for remembering and price because my parents generously offered to pay), her usual decorum flew out the window. It stressed me out because I felt like I was prioritizing her wishes and she just kept trying to remind me to not forget. Blah. Overall, can’t complain!

    • Laura

      Argh, I can totally identify with moms being so hyper they can’t reign it in. Worst. Made me feel like a teenager again in a bad way, embarrassed to be out in public together. I know she’s just excited, but geeeez.

    • I also went shopping with my mom and dad (….and fiancé.) :)

  • Kristen

    Like so many things about wedding planning, doing things the way you always do them, tends to work out the best. If you don’t normally go shopping with your mom, shopping for a really important piece of clothing with her maybe doesn’t make sense – right?

    I also want to just throw in the concept that sometimes when we anticipate someone’s reaction to something, we make things messier than they need to be. Personally I try hard not to predict how someone will react to something. Instead I figure out how I will respond given a variety of reactions, and then I let them have their own feelings. Spending lots of time worrying about what might happen, doesn’t always seem like the best use of energy. So maybe just tell your mom you’re going dress shopping with whomever and leave it at that. If she has a big reaction, then you’re prepared to respond kindly. Or at least that’s just my jam.

  • Martha

    I live about 900 miles from my Mom, so I went dress shopping with her only days after getting engaged because we were home at the time and it was fun and stress free. It was kind of nice to go with just one person, I would highly recommend it, no matter who. I went a few more times with just one person (a friend, my sisters, etc) and then went one last time with mom, MIL, and Grandma. To be completely honest, my Grandma was the only person who asked me to try something on which I hated. I did it anyways and it made her super happy just to see me in it.


      I have to agree with the ‘going with one person’ approach. I usually do all my clothes shopping alone, but went with a group of friends wedding dress shopping and I felt a bit out of my element. I went a second time with a good friend (but not any of my bridesmaids or very close long-time friends) who has a good eye for fashion and I feel like understood my sense of style. It was much more relaxing and easy to handle – and voila! we ended up finding my dress.

  • Jessica B

    Oh man, was my mom unhappy when I told her we would be shopping with my future mother and sister in law. I had my bridesmaid organize the shopping trip since she didn’t have the means to throw a bridal shower. She sent out a facebook message to the moms to get the date–MIL responded immediately, I had to remind my mom for weeks to respond so we could make appointments.

    A couple weeks before the shopping trip, I called my mom and said “let’s go shopping with just us.” She responded “Oh, you just made my heart so happy! Can I bring my two best friends?”

    It was probably the most awkward shopping experience ever, I felt super bad about it since dress shopping was the first thing my MIL was excited about in regards to our wedding, and my heart still races at the thought of the crazy attendant of the place we went shopping at (from anger at how she treated me like I was 7 and had a limitless budget).

    The trip with mom, MIL, SIL, and bridesmaid went swimmingly. Everyone got to pick out a dress they thought I would look good (or goofy) in, my bridesmaid tried on dresses as well so I was sharing the spotlight, and the moms got to know each other more. For me, it was a nice reminder that if I do things I don’t want to do just to make someone happy it probably won’t go very well

  • KE

    A practical note about sharing shopping photos with your mom– A lot of bridal shops won’t allow you to take photos except for one of the dress you purchase. Sometimes if you have a favorite but want to sleep on it, they’ll let you take a couple of that one. I’ve heard lots of explanations for why these policies are in place. Honestly, they all sound like bullshit to me, but if a bridal shop-employed commenter is more knowledgeable, please chime in.

    That’s not to say you can’t involve your mom with photos. But instead of dresses, the photos might need to be of you outside the shop, you on lunch break, etc– photos of the overall experience instead of photos of dresses.

    • The main argument I’ve heard is that they are afraid you will take a bunch of pictures to a seamstress or your grandma, and have her make the same dress, so the prohibition of photos is a safeguard against losing revenue that way.

      • Rachel

        That…seems like a stretch. (And I know you don’t necessarily agree with it but are just passing the info along.) I mean, you could just look up the dress online and get photos of it there if that’s your goal.

        I dunno, as a bride who is planning long-distance (as are all my friends, so I’m a long-distance bridesmaid too), I have a hard time wanting to purchase anything from a store that’s not sensitive to the fact that brides/friends/families are super spread out these days.

        • Yeah, I think it’s a problematic policy. But I’ve also been told to delete photos from my phone after taking pics of my friend in a goofy hat in urban outfitters, and this was the reason given, so maybe industry-wide there is anxiety about this?

          • Rachel

            Oh FFS…considering Urban Outfitters notoriously steals designs from Etsy artists and other smaller designers, that’s just absurd.

        • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

          I take pictures of any more expensive than normal clothes I’m considering and wait a week before buying them. And yea, sometimes I think “I should sew something like this in that fabric I have designated for a dress.” But if I were to sew it, either something would be fundamentally different between the two pieces (like color) OR it would be crazy over-priced. (DIY is not always less expensive. Especially when you credit yourself with time.)

          Rachel, I’m totally with you in the decision to not support places with a no-photo policy. (And loved your comment in your other post about sneaking the photos anyway.)

        • The shops I went to had removed all the tags from the dresses, too, so you couldn’t see the brand name. That way, they were SURE you couldn’t look it up online.

        • Hypothetical Sarah

          Some of the bridal stores by me went even further: they wouldn’t tell you the designer/name/style of a dress unless you bought it. The goal was clearly to prevent you from comparison shopping online or in other stores. As someone who was also planning long-distance, I made sure to avoid any stores that played games like that.

          • Alyssa

            I get why they do it, I do, but there are other reasons that people may want to see a designer. I know that when I was dress shopping online, I purposefully sought out certain designers because if I like at least two of their dresses, I’d probably like more of them. (I do this with clothes a LOT.)
            Also, some people are very conscious of their buying choices when it comes to picking a manufacturer or designer based on their business practices. You can’t search out those details if you don’t know who made the damn thing…
            BUT, it is their business, they can run it as they see fit. I just wouldn’t shop there. Which I’m sure they’d be broken up about. :-)

      • KE

        Yeah, that’s the main one I’ve heard, too. I’m not a seamstress, but that never made sense to me because it’s seems like you’d need A LOT of photos to have a dress replicated. One photo from the front and one from the back isn’t going to result in a full-on copycat dress, right?

        I’ve also heard the even more ridiculous argument that it’s not useful for you to have photos of you in a dress because the EXPERIENCE of wearing the dress doesn’t shine through and therefore the picture is not accurate and useful in decision making. Which like… what?

        • ElisabethJoanne

          Actually, I brought just a couple ebay photos of a vintage dress I loved, but was too much the wrong size to alter, to a seamstress, and had it made. It was a fairly simple dress, though.

          • KE

            Interesting! Learning new things all the time around here.

        • dragonzflame

          Actually, all you really need is to know where the seamlines go, where the darts are, what the neckline looks like, the shape of the skirt, and an approximate length of the train, and you’re pretty much good to go. You just look for a pattern that’s similar enough and make the required tweaks to it. This is exactly what I did ;-)

          If you look closely at dresses, there are only a few basic patterns and everything else is just variations.

      • Emily

        Actually I’m pretty sure that stores won’t allow that because they don’t want you to go buy the same dress somewhere else – sometimes they’ve been known to even take out the tags so you can’t Google it. That said, I went to a wonderful bridal salon that let us take all the pictures we wanted, and comparison shopping never entered my mind because they were so great to us they deserved the sale!

    • Alyssa

      This is a good point. (For a stupid practice in my opinion.) Maybe make sure to check that pictures can be taken beforehand; if they can’t, alert Mom so she doesn’t expect or hope for pictures. And then try to take down designer and items numbers (I’ve heard of the tag cutting thing too, total crap) and then google that sh*t post-haste for dear ol’ Mom.

      And though your second suggestion is good, KE, I’d warn y’all to think about your mom’s personality before doing any overall experience photos. Some moms might think it was fun, and other, more sensitive moms might be like, “Look at how much fun they are having without me AND I don’t get photos!!!” (I might be that mom one day. I won’t mean to, but I’d be texting “So much fun! Have a good time, sweetie!” through tears. I’d never let her know, but there would be happy/sad tears.)

      • KE

        Oh yeah, definitely dependent on the mom-personality. If she’s upset not to be there, it’d be pouring salt in the wound. But if she’s eager to be a part of the experience in any way, a couple of goofy pics in the parking lot might make her smile.

  • KM

    Yes to all this. My mom would have loved to go dress shopping with me, even though she did not understand my preference for a short off-the-rack nontraditional dress AT ALL. I wanted to avoid big bridal stores in NYC at all costs, especially considering that I did not want a dress anything like that. So we scheduled a weekend for her to visit me and I explained to her the options for subway to and from several large stores with crowds and waiting lines. Then I tried on for her the simple cocktail dresses I had ordered from Nordstrom and while she did not really “get it,” she was gracious enough to accept that I was pretty much decided on one of these dresses I already had in my apartment. So we spent the weekend enjoying the city together in other ways. She was disappointed in the absence of dress shopping, but I think the time together was better spent for both of us.

    For what its worth, the only person that really understood (read: accepted and got excited on my behalf) my preference for short cocktail dress was my now-wife (who ultimately chose a much more traditional dress for herself). And so, I knew it was “the dress” for me when I tried it on for her in our apartment and she smiled and said “I would definitely marry you in that dress.”

    Almost a year after our wedding, my brother and his longtime lovely girlfriend are getting married and my mom went dress-shopping with her — my mom gushed to me about how great a day it was and how fun to spend that special occasion with soon-to-be-daughter-in-law. I wondered if I should feel upset about my mom having that experience with someone else…but they have much more similar styles, and everybody got the dress they wanted. Nothing wrong with that.

  • Kate S.

    I found a seamstress to make my dress, found the inspiration and went alone to each appointment with her. When I finally tried on the dress last week, it felt awful, so I went home, found a dress online I loved and ordered it. Only after I had tried it on and knew I would wear it did I send a photo to my mom, telling her I was keeping it, not necessarily asking if she liked it, so she knew to say, “oh my gosh, it’s beautiful!” and leave it at that.

    Shopping with others is a tricky thing. I appreciate the advice above to evaluate whether you normally take people with you when you shop. I’m afraid that a part (just a part!) of this dilemma is rooted in the media’s portrayal of how finding a dress should go, and while that doesn’t necessarily mean you *shouldn’t* do it the media way (i.e. have a mother figure with you), it does mean you can take a step back to honestly ask yourself whether you really *want* to have somebody with you.

    I’m the kind of shopper who knows whether or not I like something when I put it on. Other people’s opinions usually just confuse me. What I realized in my dress shopping experience was that I don’t want to buy a dress based on others thinking it’s beautiful; I want a dress that feels like me. Thus, only I know which is (one of the) the right dress(es). If I had other people with me at the dress appointment, I’m sure they would have told me the dress was beautiful and it would have taken me longer (and probably been more stressful) to decide it wasn’t the dress for me (lesson learned: tread carefully in custom!).

    This all goes to say you don’t have to have anybody with you, and if you do think it will help to have people with you, choose to have people who will truly be helpful, not distracting or confusing. This approach might sound selfish, but you’re the one who’s going to be wearing the dress. Sometimes it serves to just be practical (i.e. take your mother in law and let go of the rest) rather than sentimental–if you choose, you can have this exact same exhausting dilemma a million times during the planning process, so set the precedent now.

    As a professor of mine used to say, “You’re shoulding all over yourself. Stop it.”

    You’ll figure it out! You just have to let go of the shoulds (which are usually cultural) and key into what you know you want and need to do.

    • Kristen

      “I’m the kind of shopper who knows whether or not I like something when I put it on.”

      EXACTLY. I always shop alone – partly because I don’t really like other people’s opinions. I know what I like and what I want – I don’t need a jury to decide anything so group dress shopping for me wouldn’t have been fun.

      Another thought too – I never ended up liking either of my dresses – despite the fact I’d had them custom made. Maybe I’m an odd ball but if you think you might have a hard time deciding or loving something, having a big audience for that will only make it harder. So just another reason to consider shopping alone.

      • Lena

        I have the opposite problem – I don’t like shopping with other people because I take so long to decide if I want something or not! I like to pick stuff out, try it on, and then wander around the store again with the items on my arm – if I still love them 15 minutes later, THEN I’ll get it. I feel bad making people mosey around until I decide what I want.

        • Kristen

          Ha! I do that too. But whether I decide instantly or need to carry it around the store for a while, I kind of never want anyone else’s opinion on stuff. Which has led to a lot of conflict with my ultra-opinionated husband. *lesigh*

        • I’m a group shopper- but a very specific one. This comes from being brought up shopping with my mom and all my female relatives.

          Now that I’m trying to curb my shopping instincts, I often pick things out then just carry around the store for a while, just to hold them and love them a bit, then put them back and leave. It helps me to spend a little time appreciating the article, even if my partner thinks I’m weird :-)

  • This is such great advice, and I think pretty universally applicable. My mom and I are super close (and actually do have very similar tastes and styles), so dress shopping with her was actually fun (and one of the only wedding things we did together that didn’t make me want to strangle her), but there was a lot of other stuff that, for a laundry list of reasons, I went to with my MIL. I am super fortunate to have a very close and loving relationship with my MIL, and I know I totally hit the jackpot there.

    While I know my mother loves and appreciates how wonderfully my MIL and I get along and how kind and welcoming she has been toward me, treating me like family even when my now-husband and I were just dating, I know she had jealousy. However, this has softened when she realized that it was not a replacement, it was an expansion. And more than anything, I know she is super happy that I have an MIL like her.

  • A mom here.

    The technology bit would make it all OK. Even more than OK. That the daughter would make the effort to keep me involved would be amazing. Facetime, photos, texts, all of the above. It would be wonderful.

  • ANI

    I am going dress shopping with my mom and sister for the first time TODAY, and I’m a little nervous about it, but I respect both their opinions and I feel like I’ve gotten some good advice, so hopefully it will all go well!

    • Alyssa

      It will be lovely! Chuck your expectations and HAVE FUN.

      And try on at least ONE ridiculous dress, if you’re up for it. Something completely out of character, just to break the stress a bit!

  • Abby Mae

    I went dress shopping with my best friend and my FH. My FH took pictures of me wearing all the different dresses and sent them to my Mom and FMIL. I got my dress that day. And honestly, it was great to get something I really liked without worrying about what my Mom would think. I got to choose something that was right for me to make me happy on my wedding day.

    My Mom also hasn’t been very into doing any of the traditional things I thought she would with my wedding so maybe it just worked out the best way for both of us. But, I think the fact that we sent pictures probably pacified her. I made my Mom feel like she was apart of the experience even though she wasn’t there and even though she may not agree with my taste/style. I thought it was a win-win.

    Good luck, anon! Hope it all works out and that you find the right dress for you! =)

  • Hannah

    I accidentally bought my dress without my mom. I went to a shop with a friend and my sister for fun, and I happened to love the first dress I tried on. I know my Mom was a bit sad, but I think she got over it pretty quickly.

  • I was planning on going dress shopping with my mom and future mother-in-law, and was surprised when not only did my dad come along, so, too, did my future father-in-law! It helps that the four of them get along like gangbusters. I was worried at first, because I typically hate shopping, and am not one to enjoy being the center of attention, but I was actually really moved by the way they all responded/reacted to the dresses, because I value my relationship to each of them, in different ways.

    I think there are as many ways to try on dresses as there are to do anything else – and that whatever situation works out for you, in the end you’ll find a way to involve them in your exciting day.

  • I didn’t try dresses on. I ordered one off the Internet from India.

    When it arrived, I took it over to my mother-in-law’s to try on. Because she loves dresses and jewels and frills and my mom is not so much into that. (Also my MIL is local and my mom is not).

    When I sent a picture to my parents, it was my dad who started gushing. lol.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I ordered a dress on ebay and had it delivered to my mother’s office, where I stopped in to try it on when I had an errand in the neighborhood. It’s a medical office; Mom owns it; I used to work there – so, not so weird as it might seem. Anyway, Mom, Dad, and I were all “meh,” but Mom’s office manager started crying. (Part of the “meh” was the dress was stained; I eventually got a very different dress.)

  • H

    For the record, you can also fix this problem after the fact – I went dress shopping with a friend in this city just to look and see what was okay; my mom doesn’t live here.
    I told my mom I went, and she said, “WHY WOULD YOU GO WITHOUT ME?”
    I said, “Because I was curious. I didn’t buy anything.”

    I went again with another friend who is my regular shopping buddy, when she actually suggested a particular place to go, and we tried on the whole freaking store. It was awesome. The last dress I tried on was it. I knew it was. The lace was too pretty.

    We had taken pictures of everything and sent them to mom, and she said, “Oh, I like that one. But I don’t think any of these are your dress. You need to come home and we need to go to David’s Bridal together.” Note that the dress that she liked was not the dress that I wanted to buy.

    I said, “Well what about this other one?”
    She says, “Ugh. You like that?”
    Me: “Why don’t you?”
    She says, “Well it’s strapless – you don’t need a strapless dress.”
    Me: “Okay. We can go shopping at home.”

    The next day, I go back and buy the dress I want since it was on 50% clearance. And, go searching the internet for a strapless dress solution for it.

    I then tell mom to go ahead and schedule the David’s Bridal appointment. Mom, Dad, and I all went a month or two later. I knew I wouldn’t like anything as well as I had liked the one I tried on, and BEST OF ALL, Mom and Dad were arguing against each other which one was best, and the one they settled on looked like a cheaper version of the one I bought. Then, I convinced them out of buying anything that day.

    Then, I lied and told my mom I bought a dress a few weeks later (even though you know, I already had the dress and got it altered to include these BEAUTIFUL straps that made a keyhole on the back of my neck).

    She said, “Which one did you buy?” I said, “Oh, none of them. I found a different one. Though, I don’t have pictures, cuz I went by myself.”

    When the wedding day came, she says, “Oh, you got the one I picked from David’s Bridal!” Me: *smile* “No, I didn’t! Though I’m glad you think so!”

    No mom, no I didn’t. I got the one I wanted. I told you you’d like it. *Cue internal satisfaction.*

  • Amy

    I went dress shopping with my friends first and sent my mother pictures, knowing my mom is a total control freak and had major issues with dress prices (she told me to look into renting a dress at one point). At this point, I decided to pay for the dress myself to ensure I didn’t have to give in to her desires and allowed her to come on one trip to see me try on dresses. That trip, despite the best efforts of my bridesmaids to lighten the mood, was miserable. My mother was unable to listen to what I wanted and tried to undermine me to the sales lady many times. I left, told her she wasn’t going to be coming on any more dress trips, and bought the dress with my bridesmaids and a killer sales lady.
    Mom came around once the dress was already bought and paid for and I allowed her to participate in fittings/veil shopping. But putting my foot down after that one disastrous trip was the best thing for me, and I have no regrets.

  • ElfPuddle

    I live in the same town as my soon-to-be-mother-in-law, and my mom has lived four time-zones away until last month. (Now it’s only two. Hurrah?)
    Mom has only been able to visit once during the six years I’ve lived here, and that was five months after we were engaged.
    We went wedding dress shopping then.
    But every fitting, and every shower. Every anything-to-do-with-wedding, I’ve had to do with stbmil. It makes Mom and I both sad. I’ve sent pictures. Mom knows I don’t share taste with stbmil or even, really, like hanging out with her. We just accept that we can’t do this together like we wish we could, and commisserate about not being able to live where we’d like.
    It’s sad, but it’s also the story of our lives. (Really. Her aunts had a baby shower for her/me three time zones away from where she/I lived. They had a party, opened all the presents, re-wrapped the presents, and mailed them to her.)
    Moral of the story? Sometimes moms are sad. Sometimes we’re sad. Life is like that, and we make stories about the sad and get on with planning the happy in our lives.

  • Stephanie

    I’m lucky that my mom is thrilled about our wedding, and has helped me with some of the planning, but doesn’t really need to have specific Big Emotional Moments during the planning, like dress shopping. (She may indeed have a Big Emotional Moment at the wedding, and that’s fine!)

    I bought my dress online, after maybe 2 days of browsing various websites. It got delivered, turns out it fits like a dream and looks amazing, and then I e-mailed Mom a picture of it, and she was thrilled with it. (It’s not a wedding gown, nor is it white, but it’s so gorgeous and was the first dress I saw that made me gasp:

    I’m going for as laid-back of a wedding planning experience as possible. Some parts of have been — and continued to be — stressful, and I knew that was inevitable. So when some elements of planning are easy and stress-free, I am going to run with them and be grateful!

    • Vera

      That dress it really pretty omg

  • I didn’t go dress shopping at all–I ordered a dress online, it fit, and that was it (although I wasn’t going for a traditional look/color, so it was much easier to shop for clearance summer dresses online than a big poofy ballgown). My mom was upset because she had all the dreams of a perfect mother/daughter shopping day…but after letting her rant a bit we both agreed that shopping together for a dress would have made us miserable.

    I did invite her to go check out the venue with me, and she hosted a “wedding weekend craft time” to make the favors and table settings. She had way more fun hot gluing stuff all weekend than she ever would have spending a day shopping.

  • Sarah

    I’m not a girly girl nor am I generally very publicly emotional, so I wasn’t sure about how wedding-dress shopping was going to feel. I went a couple of times with my mother, and then I went one time with my mother, her sister (who we are incredibly close with and who is like a second mama to me), my now mother-in-law and sister-in-law. My in-laws-to-be were really touched to be invited. It was almost like a gift for me to share with my husband’s mom and his only sister, and it really drew them into the experience of the wedding and helped that family-feeling to grow.

    But the most surprising part? The personalities at play. My mother-in-law was the one tearing up and telling me how beautiful I looked; my mother was the one cocking her head to the side, pursing her lips, saying, “That one makes your butt look good.” Love you, Mom. :-)

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  • Bahha dress shopping!

    Ok. If you are not comfortable with over sharing, DNR.
    That said. You guys, I don’t really believe in lady underthings. I think they were invented by dudes and mostly pointless. NO JUDGING.
    Needless to say when I dragged all my friends to six (6) appointments all I can say is that I was out of practice in the appropriate lady under thing selections process. And none of these dresses fit me, let’s be honest here. (Who MAKES these things?) So we spent a good majority of said appointment(s) either showing boob, butt, granny panty or unmentionable.

    And now we are all best. friends.

    And after putting them through this especially trying form of torture I ended up finding the dress entirely by myself at a department store. I think I knew I would all along.
    Moral of the story: Enjoy the ride!

    • Underwear humor is some damn funny stuff :-) I’d be cracking ten kinds of inappropriate jokes on such a shopping trip, what a hoot!

  • Mia Culpa

    I did the dress shopping experience with my mother because we needed to do it. She lives in New Mexico, I live in San Francisco, and we don’t get to see each other very often. Because of this, we knew she wasn’t able to be a large part of the wedding planning, but she wanted to have a bonding experience. Cue her flying to SF and us spending a day dress shopping. Did she have a good sense of my style? No. Did I buy the dress that day? No. Did we have a great time wandering the city going from store to store, having a nice lunch in North Beach, and being happy to spend time together? Yes.

    For the record, I also did a dress shopping day with a friend, which yielded no results. Finally, I realized what I wanted thanks to Pinterest of all things (a Blue Willow china/Dior New Look inspired tea-length dress), went by myself to the place I was resisting going (Dark Garden), and ended up with the perfect dress for me custom-made for the right price. And everyone was happy.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    My mother lives 15 miles away. We spent one afternoon dress shopping together. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t really fun, either. I knew exactly what I wanted, and knew no one would have it. (Exactly what I wanted started with “long sleeves.”)

    Eventually, I decided I would have the dress custom made. I invited Mom to all those appointments, but she only came when I picked up the dress. [I recommend the custom route to anyone frustrated with dress shopping. I got exactly what I wanted, spent half as much as I planned, and it was faster than ordering a designer’s dress from a boutique.]


    My mom and sister live across the country and a few time zones away from me, so it wasn’t really feasible to go shopping with them, even though we all wanted to. A few people have mentioned this, but I’ll reiterate… I went shopping with a few friends and my MOH took pictures of many things that I tried on (serious and funny) and texted them with commentary to my mom and sister throughout the day. They both texted back with input and both said they really felt part of the day. I think everyone felt happy about it. I didn’t check on the store policy about pictures in advance, but it might be worthwhile to do so so you avoid having to sneak around.

  • Jackie

    Just had to say that I love Liz’s advice, but I have definitely missed Alyssa’s SASS!!! (And she too gives excellent advice)

  • Laura

    Dress shopping has been kind of tough so far. I really just want an “ah hah!” moment (not necessarily tearful or particularly emotional, just a sense that I can be comfortable with a decision), but so far it’s been a lot of “blah.” (Slash, my specific dress needs, i.e. something lightweight, within budget, and requiring no spanx, mean the selection is limited to begin with.)

    From the beginning, my mom has been really, really helpful, flying across the country *twice* to help me find a dress (once in May and once coming up in August) (although she was just going to come visit anyway – but now we have serious wedding business to attend to). Also, she sometimes says awesome things to me that I never expected her to say, like “You’re going to be a beautiful bride.” Wow. Thank you. I need to hear things like that these days.

    But the thing is, I have never, not *ever*, seen eye-to-eye with my mom on style. Ev. Er. Compound that with the fact that she has never understood the requirements and implications of my D-cup, hourglass figure on clothing choices (sure there are limitations, but different than the ones she thinks!). And, although well-meaning, she has always mistaken judgy/shaming comments for constructive criticism (or maybe I just construe it that way… but I like to think there’s some truth here).

    So, shopping with her has been slightly more fraught than without. Even though I have been thoroughly underwhelmed after most every dress appointment thus far, I usually end up feeling a little extra disheartened and self-conscious after the ones where she tags along.

    That said, I still really want her help and her approval. Argh.

    • Dreading it.

      This! I know this is an old comment but I just want to say thank you. Sadly, I googled ‘I don’t want to go wedding dress shopping with my mum’ to find this, and it’s somewhat comforting to know I’m not alone.

      I live in a different country to my mum but from the moment I got engaged, she started guilt-tripping me. Long story short, tomorrow I am flying over to her just to go dress shopping and I am absolutely dreading it. She has a very clever knack of spewing out negativity and encouraging me to focus on the less-flattering aspects of my image (what she likes to think of as being honest because she cares, or some bull like that), but at the same time she is my mum and I want to give her this experience and also love ‘the’ dress as much as I do.

      I wish I could have the dream wedding dress shopping experience but I guess I’ll just have to make-do!

  • Maybe you can select another special part of the wedding planning process to include your mom on. This may be done via email or Skype, but maybe it would make her feel like the two of you have a special wedding project.

  • Amanda

    My mum and I live only 40 minutes from each other, but on the days I chose to go dress shopping she was “busy” (doing things like staying at home because my dad was in a bad mood). So, I took my mother in law. We have a very close relationship, I see her as pretty much a bonus mum. I told my mum that my mother in law felt it would be treading on my mum’s feet if she went, but that I knew she wouldn’t feel that way. My mum agreed, so I took my mother in law.
    I chose The Dress while at an appointment with my mother in law, and decided to go back the next day to put a deposit on it with my mum & sisters. None of them showed up, so my mother in law took me back and paid the deposit for me.
    I suspect I won the mother in law lottery, and I think my mum is just glad I have someone else to do things with when my mum can’t.

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