How to shop for your daughter’s or son’s wedding without losing your mind

No shopping experience seems to create more stress than shopping for the gown you’ll wear to your daughter’s or son’s wedding. Regardless of how laid back you or the bride-to-be might be, everyone wants everything surrounding this wonderful event to be just right – and that includes you! mob2.jpg

No one knows this better than the ladies here at Merrick’s. We’ve not only been M.O.B’s and M.O.G’s ourselves, we’ve been dressing you all for more than 23 years! There’s little we haven’t done – whether a formal ceremony in a candle-lit castle, a Hollywood wedding on the beach, or a fun-filled event in front of the monkey cages at the Bronx Zoo. But while wedding styles and venues come and go, what doesn’t change is how to put it all together and how to make sure that you look and feel your most relaxed and beautiful.

With that in mind, we’ve put together a few tips on how to approach the whole blessed event without ever losing your cool.

  • Rule #1: Gather the Basics

Once the engagement has been announced, it’s pretty easy to get bitten by the “wedding bug” and head pell-mell to your nearest store to begin perusing the goods. That’s OK, as long as you recognize that you’re no where near ready to begin serious shopping and you run the risk of wearing yourself out before the real work begins. What you need before you can seriously shop are the “who, what, when, where and why” – in other words, you need to talk to the bride.

Good communications between the bride, the MOB and the MOG right from the get-go will eliminate a host of headaches down the road. If geography isn’t an issue, this is the perfect time to plan a casual lunch or get-together. Understanding the bride’s vision in paramount. What is she envisioning herself wearing? What about the bridal party? Does she have specific guidelines for you? Discussing this with her now is critical (especially if what’s in her mind’s eye may not work on your body!). If what she’s envisioning makes you uncomfortable now’s the time to establish your “range”. If head-to toe-fuchsia isn’t your thing, discuss choosing an ensemble with fuchsia highlights. If you’re a plus size woman and she’s seeing strapless, discuss the practicalities. Some brides are very specific some are not, but now’s the time to find out.

Consider yourself ready to start if you can answer the following questions:

    • When is the wedding? What month, what time of day.
    • How formal is the wedding? Is the bride in a long gown, is the groom in a tux or will the men be wearing suits or blazers and slacks?
    • Where is the wedding to be held? A country club, a tent, on the beach? Is it indoors or outdoors? Will it be air conditioned?
    • Are there religious or cultural traditions to consider?
    • Where will the reception be held? Will you be dancing, and if so – to what kind of music?
    • What is the wedding party wearing? Is there a color theme? How closely does the bride want you to tie into that theme? Does she have other specific requests for your attire?
    • If you are the MOG, what is the MOB wearing? How closely coordinated the MOB and MOG must be in their attire is really up to the bride, but even if the bride doesn’t care, remember that you will be appearing in photographs together, so you don’t want to clash or look like you’re attending two different weddings. Traditionally the mother of the bride takes the “lead” and sets the tone for what the two mothers will wear (e.g. if she’s wearing a tailored St. John suit, you probably don’t want to be in a fluffy chiffon gown). If you are the MOB, remember your role and that the MOG is waiting to hear from you. If possible, the mother-of-the-bride should provide the mother-of-the-groom with color swatches and pictures as soon as she’s made her own choice. And remember, she’s under the same time constraints you are, so the earlier you can inform her, the better.”

  • Rule #2 Give Yourself Enough Lead Time to Get What You Want

Generally you have three choices of where to look for your gown: department stores, bridal shops and private boutiques. Regardless of where you look, remember that no store has the money or the space to carry all the styles of any designer. In addition to what you see hanging on the racks, most stores will have catalogs and sketches to show you what else may be available in your size, color and/or desired style.

In some instances, you should be ready for the fact that you may not be able to try on the actual gown you are going to wear until after you’ve bought it. It may need to be ordered for you. Frequently we are able to show you a gown in a size close to your own that will give you a substantial idea of how that particular cut and style will look on you. If you’re a size 12, you can approximate with a size 10 or 14. We can also show you color swatches, trims, sketches, etc. Our seamstress takes you measurements, we confer with the designer and we place an order. It’s not custom, in that the designer is not making a pattern for you, we are ordering the size that matches you measurements and then we handle the final fitting and necessary alterations in-house. We’ve done this for thousands of women and it works. Never the less, the idea of ordering from fabric swatches and samples, while quite common in menswear, makes some women squeamish, and understandably so. The true issue, is one of expertise and confidence. You must find a store you can trust. Their guidance in ordering a dress that you cannot actually try on is invaluable and should remove the risk of disappointment later on. Many of these stores have been around for generations and their reputation is based on you looking your absolute best. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Finding out how much of their business is “by order” will help bolster your confidence. Also, be sure that they have a seamstress on premises ready to handle whatever alterations you may need. A good store will “take ownership” of the sale from start to finish – and this means right down to the final pressing.

The issue of when to start looking varies. If the store is a bridal shop that carries “mother of the bride/groom” clothing, you may begin the minute the engagement is announced and you have the “basic” information, because they carry the same basic dresses year in and year out. The only caveat would be the lead time for ordering the gown you want in the size/color you need, as this can be several months.

If you are looking in a specialty boutique such as Merrick’s, or in department stores, 6-8 weeks will get you whatever you want in the season you need it. Then add another 2-3 weeks for alterations. Nearly every gown needs at least a hem (a service Merrick’s provides at no additional charge), and often there is a nip or tuck required elsewhere for the perfect fit.

If you’re reading this in February and worried that you haven’t started looking for your March/April wedding don’t completely panic. You’re late, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean you absolutely can’t order a gown. Many designers will work faster if they have a good relationship with the shop and it’s humanly possible to get the work done in the time remaining. Of course there is a rush charge, but it’s usually a moderate amount and well worth it under the circumstances.

  • Rule #3 Beware the Shopping Posse

As tempting as it might be, and no matter how much they beg, try not to bring hordes of people with you when you shop. If your daughter or future daughter-in-law has very strong opinions,by all means bring her. If you need your husband’s opinion, bring him. But too many opinions invariably cause confusion, headache and all too often, bruised feelings. Keep it simple! Also consider bringing a digital or disposable camera to take pictures of the designs you like to email to a distant bride-to-be, or to show your husband. Be sure to ask the store sales person if this is permissible though. While most stores are happy to take a picture or two of a dress you are serious about, photographing their inventory is a “no-no”.

  • Rule #4 Avoid Fashion Traps and to Thine Own Self be True

While everyone wants to look fashionable, this is not the occasion to change your basic style. If you’re a tailored person, this is not the time to break out and go all ruffles, lace or beads. But keep an open mind as well, she admonishes. Too many women pass over terrific dresses that don’t have much hanger appeal. Or they lock themselves in the “it’s just not me” room. This is a good time to test your fashion range, just don’t go overboard. And here’s where a great sales person really helps. If you’ve armed your sales person with all of the “basic” information, it’s time for you to size her up. Did she listen? Does she “get” you? Does she know her merchandise? Is she involved and interested in your quest? If the answers are “yes” then relax a bit and let her show you a range of gowns or dresses – including one or two that you might not have chosen for yourself. We have customers who come in convinced that they want a fitted jacket and skirt and leave looking glorious in bias-cut silk. Once again, it all comes down to communication and trust.

But what if you’re not a perfect size 6? What if you’re a plus sized mom? Must you be relegated to the frumpy, matronly racks? “Never!” Regardless of your size, shape or figure type, you can and should look beautiful. This is no time to beat yourself up about your body. You’re stressed out enough as it is.”

When shopping, the bottom line is, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Again, no store can carry every color, size or style so there are probably many more options available to you than what you’re seeing.

Most dresses have numerous color options and even a few style variations, so if that bateau neckline is less preferable than a v-neck, don’t be afraid to ask for a change. With some designers, “what you see is what you get”, but don’t make that assumption. Ask.

When choosing a color, focus on what shade or hue looks best on you. Even within a color theme, there are many variations and one may be better for you than another. Here again it’s good to see if someone in your store has color expertise (Merrick’s owner, Barbara Racich is a trained colorist).

Consider the wedding photographs. You’ll be looking at these for many years to come and any fashion or color faux pas will be recorded there for all posterity. If everyone else will be wearing pastels, you don’t want to be in burgundy….or a riot of zebra stripes. And remember the details – hands, feet, etc. Here at Merrick’s we have apet peeve regarding bare toes. Shoes should have closed toes at least for the ceremony and photographs. Most people do not have beautiful feet, and the eye is drawn to bare toes when they’re peeking out from under gown. If you must show your feet off, wear a sexy closed sling back for the wedding and don your Manolos for the reception. The only exception is when you are wearing a cocktail-length gown, where a lot of leg is showing.

Arms are another huge issue for most women. We know of very few women over the age of 40 who don’t hate their arms, and while our obsession with arms might be a bit overdone, our general rule of thumb is this: if they’re toned show them off (e.g. strapless), if they’re “reasonable” be flexible (e.g. wear a stole during the ceremony, but don’t be afraid to remove it at the reception), and if they’re over the hill cover them up. Covering them up doesn’t mean you need a long sleeve gown, she notes. Many gowns include a substantial stole or shawl that can be done up beautifully, others can be ordered with a matching jacket – sheer or otherwise. Again, the key is to ask.

While most women are too tough on their own bodies, today’s baby boomer moms are physically if not chronologically younger than MOBs of past decades. Today’s MOB or MOB (regardless of her size) wants a younger, less traditional, not-your- mama’s (or grand mama’s) dress. It’s important that you seek out those designers who “get” this”.

Above all, the whole look should flow. If you look in the mirror and all you see is DRESS, forget it! And it goes without saying that you don’t want to upstage the bride. No! No! No!

Make sure you’re comfortable in the gown or dress you wear, you don’t want to be tugging or pulling or unable to breathe. (And forget losing the last five pounds; it’s a pressure you don’t need at this time.) -Your mantra: I am the picture, the dress is the frame.

  • Rule #5 Get the best you can afford, and don’t be afraid to get a bargin

Keeping within your budget is always important, but be aware that this is not the time to buy a cookie-cutter dress. What could be worse than having a guest show up in the dress you’re wearing?” This is where small boutiques can really help. There are many designers who do not sell to department stores who make unique, beautiful gowns and dresses. At Merrick’s prices range from $400 for a washable micro fiber “silk” to $3000 for a couture design. We also carry Amsale and Nicole Miller bridesmaids’ gowns. It’s important to be open with your sales person about your budget range and don’t be afraid to ask about the availability of discounted “samples” regardless of your size. Occasionally the store may have a sampled style that has been discontinued by the designer/manufacturer, is out of season, or is a little shop worn. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

No more rules, but a few heart-felt tips from those who have been there and done it….

  • If your pocketbook can handle it, give yourself a facial and a massage ten days before.
  • If you don’t have a wedding planner, ask a good friend to be the “trouble shooter” on the wedding day – because we guarantee it, last minute problems do arise and you shouldn’t have to handle them.
  • Consider taking most of the family photos ahead of time. We can’t begin to tell you how this will free you up to have a great time at the reception (p.s. no bad luck at all!)
  • Make sure you have non greasy snacks and water for the wedding party while they are getting ready – they never remember to eat on the wedding day and then they are nervous, faint and jittery. Just what you don’t need!
  • Limit the bar at the rehearsal dinner, otherwise everyone might look “dog-eared” on the big day
  • And most importantly, let it all go and have a fabulous time….it will go by in one blink of an eye.

Merrick’s carries one of Central New Jersey’s most extensive line of Special Occasion clothing. For a preview of some of our lines, click here: Amsale, Ania Zofia, Badgley Mischka, Carmen Marc Valvo, Carol Peretz, Chetta B, Frascara, Lafayette 148, Mack and Mack, Mark Heister Nicole Miller,Paule Vasseur, Sue Blankinship, Teri Jon and more.


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