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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?!?!

–Anonymous

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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