Dear ESB: My mom wants to wear white

Categories   Wedding Fashion

ACK! Just the title of this Dear ESB is enough to send anyone with just a glimmer of etiquette in their eyes over the edge. And Yay! ESB is back. We’ve missed her.

dear esb,

does the old adage that mothers of the bride (and groom, for that matter) don’t wear white (or cream, or ivory) still hold true?

my mother asked me what i wanted her to wear to the wedding, and when i said ‘i don’t mind, whatever you want, you have good taste’, she insisted i give her an opinion. so i said, ‘well it would be nice if you wore some blue’ – because blue is a theme colour in the wedding. next thing i know, she has found an outfit that a) i don’t think is flattering, and b) is entirely cream/ivory with pale blue accents. she very much wanted to know what i thought of it.

when i pointed out to her that i thought it might look a little odd that she was choosing to wear the exact same colour as me (not just ivory, but ivory with pale blue accents) she got somewhat miffed about it. the thing is, she also wore a creamy colour to my brother’s wedding a year ago, and his bride thought it was pretty weird, too. if my mother is setting a trend with this, i think our extended family might think it’s quite strange. i just think it looks kind of odd – scene-stealing, almost – for the mother of the bride to wear ivory. for that matter, i didn’t think it was de rigueur for anyone to wear a white or ivory dress to a wedding. (except the bride, obvs.)

i’m not worried she will steal my thunder, i just want to know if i’m on the ball about this being a bit strange or whether i’m being hopelessly old-fashioned and people not wearing white/ivory to other people’s weddings is no longer a thing?

p.s. i know i did say to her “wear whatever you want”, but i think there was an implied “within reason” there. like, no circus costumes, no stripper outfits, no quasi-bridal dresses. as my sister said to me later, “if mom was getting remarried now, this is the sort of outfit you’d expect her to wear to her own wedding.”


I’m old-fashioned too. I agree 500% that the bride should be the only one wearing white.

A mother-of-the bride in white is just plain creepsville. Feel free to tell your mom I said so.

(Photo by Irving Penn via Charles Hall via PRORSUM)

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Social Love

lisa on Jan 11, 2011

umm, ya.. i agree that it's totally weird. in my opinion, the bride should be the only one in any shade of white. and i'm sure there are plenty of flattering blue dresses out there that your mother would look wonderful in!

LaDawn on Jan 11, 2011

I agree with you, the mother of the bride [or groom] shouldn't be wearing any type of white to the wedding. It takes away from the bride! My future mother-in-law wanted my opinion on what she should wear to our wedding, and I basically left it up to her because she "has good taste" as well, but after reading about your situation, I wonder if I should still mention to her to "stay away from white, please"? Haha! I hope everything works out for you!

annawithlove on Jan 11, 2011

I agree! This is your turn for your wedding ;) The ladylike thing is NO WHITE to weddings unless of course it is your own. xx

Kyli on Jan 11, 2011

My sister, my only bridesmaid, accidentally wore a dress that was very similar to mine to my wedding. I let it go because a) as someone who is tall and athletically built, she has trouble finding things that are flattering and it was cute and vintage, b) she had no idea what I was wearing and did not realize that my dress was a darkish champagne-colored silk and that we would match, and c) she was 21 at the time and it was the first wedding she'd ever been to. Aside from that, I think it's tacky as hell.

Sofia on Jan 11, 2011

yeah totally odd and not ok. I went to a friends wedding where her mother did the same thing. And honestly it made her look CRAZY and narcissistic (the mother, not the bride).

Nicole on Jan 11, 2011

I agree 100%; NO woman should wear white/ivory to a wedding, least of all your own mother. How do we feel about moms in black? My mom wears black to most formal events, and asked me if it was okay for my July wedding. I am having a hard time articulating why it feels weird to me- too funereal? Not festive?- plus it'll just be plain hot. I don't think it's a battle I'm going to fight, since ultimately it doesn't matter, just wondering what others thought.

ddayporter on Jan 11, 2011

ack, yes! I went to a wedding a few years ago where the MOB was wearing an extremely form-fitting, gorgeous ivory gown. she looked amazing. better than the bride, actually. I felt bad for my friend the bride, but almost worse for her mom because it was so OBVIOUS. maybe I'm old fashioned also, but I agree the MOB (or MOG) in particular should wear anything but any kind of white. seems to reflect poorly on them more than it detracts from the bride.

Annie on Jan 11, 2011

At my friend's wedding, the mother-of-the-groom wore white/ivory, and we all thought it was inappropriate. At another friend's wedding, we could not stop complimenting the mother-of-the-bride who wore a stunning deep blue. If you want to look great as a mother-of, AVOID white. Any other color would be better, and will probably get you a ton of compliments.

Angela on Jan 11, 2011

agreed with esb. but if your mom wants to stay in the same color scheme, maybe just wear another neutral like grey or tan?

Jess on Jan 11, 2011

@Nicole I don't think black is considered inappropriate for weddings anymore. In fact, a lot of brides are dressing their bridesmaids in black because it's easy to find black dresses for all body types AND they'll be able to wear them again.

Jessica on Jan 11, 2011

I think this can be said of any color of wedding dress: if the bride's wearing it, then the mothers definitely should not be wearing it. And, in general, any dresses in the white/off-white/cream family should be avoided by adults in the wedding party. Its just tacky. I had to tell my MIL that the off-white dress she wanted to wear to our wedding might make people think that she "didn't approve" of or had an issue the wedding (I'm from NC and they're from CT). Luckily she was more understanding than your mom and immediately said that wasn't how she wanted to seem and picked a dress in a pretty blue color instead. Maybe you could put pictures of the two dresses side by side and point out that there were a lot of similarities? Lol. Besides, shes going to look a little silly, quite frankly, in a dress similar to her daughter's. And maybe it is a southern thing, but I would def be rolling my eyes if a saw a MOB looking like she was trying to compete with her daughter (or a MOG with her DIL). (oh acronyms)

Katie on Jan 11, 2011

My mother-in-law showed up in an ivory dress to my wedding, and my dress was ivory as well... so... yeah. That was really fun. A little warning at least would have been nice. I definitely agree... mothers (or anyone really) shouldn't wear white/ivory/cream to a wedding.

Michelle on Jan 11, 2011

My grandmother wore a long, white gown to my mom's wedding. The pictures look confusing, like, which one is the FREAKIN' BRIDE?! Totally strange. Also, "accents" do not make a dress a different color. The dress is ivory/white/cream, end of story. No way Jose' should she wear that dress. as for her, or anyone, stealing your thunder: No way in hell will that happen. I don't care if she comes in a Vera Wang Couture gown, your guests will whisper about it for a second, then all eyes will be back on you honey.

east side bride on Jan 11, 2011

@Nicole mom in black sounds like a bummer. since she ASKED, you should tell her how you feel!

Jessica on Jan 11, 2011

@Nicole - my bridesmaids wore black for the reasons Jess mentioned. However, MOB & MOG shouldn't wear black IMO. Dark dresses in general are ok with me, but I'd say black is a no-no in my book.

Noelle on Jan 11, 2011

Did she already buy the dress? If not, tell her it's you wedding and if she loves you at all she won't wear ivory. There should be no argument. If she already bought the thing, you're stuck since I doubt she'll buy another dress. But don't worry. Even though it's weird and a bit selfish of her, all eyes WILL be on you that day and your eyes will be on your new husband.

maura on Jan 11, 2011

my mother in law wore a light cream and a light pink to her daughter's and niece's wedding respectively. that sure wasn't happening at mine.* i told my mom and stepmom in very clear terms that white/cream/ivory/pink/light yellow were all off limits and my husband did the same with his mom. all mother's were encouraged to wear bright colors! i firmly believe that white/ivory is only allowed on the bride, and therefore all guests should abide. (of course, not all brides care about that.) but if you do, best to be super clear to your mom. and might as well convey it to the MOG while your at it. * for the record, my SIL was one of those brides that doesn't care.

Sarah on Jan 11, 2011

ESB I love your short-and-to-the-point advice! It's dead on as usual.

Gloria on Jan 11, 2011

I have heard of this being a tradition in some Asian cultures, but I would say by American standards this is considered inappropriate. So unless your mother is acting out of some tradition that she is familiar with or that is relevant to her culture, this is not okay. And regardless of what she wants to wear, she should be sensitive to how it makes you feel. Having attended many weddings over the years, I've seen mothers wear all kinds of inappropriate outfits. I've learned that they feel that they are as much on display as the bride, and are usually trying to wear a show-stopper themselves. But REALLY, it's not their day and they've got to tone it down! Nothing white. Nothing too sexy. Nothing with too many sparkles. And don't let them over-tan.

lizzie on Jan 11, 2011

normally i'm not about freaking out about the white thing....but it sounds like she really has tried to steal the show if it's the type of dress you think she would wear if she was getting remarried...yikes.

Asiya on Jan 11, 2011

Isn't the tradition that the mother-of-the bride wears a colour of some sort? Some of these stories remind me of when Jane Fonda walked into her son's wedding wearing off-white cause she hated his bride-to-be (Jennifer Lopez). Maybe you could watch it with your mom.

Jessica on Jan 11, 2011

i for real just loled at asiya's suggestion and am totally with lizzie on the yikes

Rachel - theWeddingVine on Jan 11, 2011

I agree too! The only instance anyone else can wear white/ivory to someone else's wedding is if the bride is wearing a colour herself!!

Sofia on Jan 11, 2011

One thing that occurred to me- you said offwhite "outfit". Does that mean tasteful pantsuit? She could maaaybe get away with it if she has pants on? Maybe. Maybe not.

Summer on Jan 11, 2011

All these lovely comments surprise me. Not because I disagree with them, but because I often feel that I'm one of very few who still believes that wearing white to a wedding is, in some cases, downright rude. All three of my sisters are married and I was really floored by the number of guests who chose to wear white to their weddings. It's an epidemic! I only wish more women were taught proper etiquette. Thanks for the great article!

Mary on Jan 11, 2011

Yyyyeah. My mother-in-law wore an ivory Vera Wang dress with a very very very similar neckline and draping to my grecian style ivory consignment store wedding dress. It was weird, to say the least. I never really voiced my weirded-out-ness because the lady's.. special, but it definitely stuck out as the big social faux pas of our wedding. Other than us never sending out thank you notes. Whoops. I just chuckle when I see her in our wedding photos.

alyson on Jan 11, 2011

yes... mother in white - totally not. I went to a wedding where the mother wore an inappropriately short and lacy strapless white dress and I thought it looked completely trashy. like, what was she tying to do, out "sexy" her own daughter on her wedding day?

Lindsay on Jan 11, 2011

I think it depends on the dress itself. Some of the gowns described sound much too similar to what would be considered a bridal gown. I went to a wedding where the MOB wore an ivory skirt/camisole/sweater set. The bride was in white and the MOB's ivory was dark enough that it was ok in pictures, and the style of the suit (knee length skirt, cardigan with ruffles) did not look bridey at all. Is there any way you could try on your dress and have your mom try on her dress and take a picture together? She may just not get it and think that the blue accents are enough.

irisira on Jan 11, 2011

I'm pretty open-minded about most things, but am very conservative about two things: - you do NOT wear white (or something close to white, or a dress that's white with just accents) to a wedding. - you do not wear brightly colored clothes to a funeral (if you're not going to wear black or mostly black, then wear something dark and muted). The second one irks me less than the first, but they both bug the hell out of me.

celia on Jan 11, 2011

here's what you've got to do... confiscate the dress and shove it in a dumpster far far away. what is she thinking?!

Veronique on Jan 11, 2011

Who cares? No, really? Okay I'll admit it feels like she's trying to mimic your dress, but really I'd be more concerned about my mother finding an outfit that is flattering to her figure than an old tradition. Wedding should be fun and represent the bride, and if that's you all good but if its just to continue an old tradition, why bother? Its the colors of you wedding! And you did say she had carte blanche, next time try thinking of anything that would bother you. Maybe your mother happens to think she looks good in white, I know mine does (and it actually does suits her well). Both my mother and my brother wore colors that were not coordinated to my wedding, and at the end of the day I didn't care. They wore outfits that made them feel good and look good and frankly I was so happy on the day that I didn't care either. Of course it's totally okay for you to suggest things that you'd like, it is your wedding, try talking calmly to your mother explaining how you feel about it and asking her why she seems to prefer those colors for wedding. The answer might surprise you.

callmesusana on Jan 11, 2011

I finally--after 7.5 years--don't feel petty about my offense over a guest who wore ivory to my wedding. It was especially weird because: 1) I showed, in advance, a pic of the dress color I had chosen 2) her dress' fabric was silky and more elegant 3) her dress was sexy (a la sculpted around her butt--pictures make her look commando) I feel better now :) Thank you ladies!

katie on Jan 11, 2011

i'm shocked that everyone thinks it's inappropriate. yes, if she wears a white/cream GOWN, that is certainly weird. or wearing a dress with similar detailing. my mom wore a great cream suit and was the perfect complement as she and my dad walked me down the aisle last summer. i didn't feel that any thunder was stolen. it actually looks great in photos, with no confusion at all as to whom the bride is.

Style Maniac on Jan 11, 2011

Pretty sure everyone will be able to tell who is the bride and who is the mom. I say, let her wear whatever color she wants.

Paper Proposal on Jan 12, 2011

I sometimes shocked at how many people don't know the etiquette regarding what one can and cannot wear to a wedding! But I would definitely tell her how you feel...she's your mom, after all!

alice on Jan 12, 2011

i wouldn't be too bothered if it was an outfit in white or cream. my mom has a really nice cream pant suit she's worn to a few weddings. doesn't look weird at all, she wears a cute bright coloured top with it. no issue if she wants to wear something similar to my wedding. i really don't care what people wear as long as it doesn't make them look bad. i will be the bride, regardless of the dress i wear, and more importantly, the dress they wear. if someone else wears a dress that makes them look like the bride, worrying for them, it appears kind of desperate. doesn't change that i'm the one marrying the person i love!

Judith LaFaver on Jan 12, 2011

I don't think it's right for for anyone to wear white besides the bride. It comes off as tacky to just about everyone else. I went to a wedding once where the mother of the groom wore white and I was so thrown off when she walked to her seat down the aisle.

Jamie on Jan 12, 2011

I totally get why someone would be bothered by their mom wearing white or a shade-of to their wedding. she's too close to the bride to be so insensitive, plus she will be walking down the isle as well, so that would just be weird. luckily neither my mom or MIL are self centered enough to have even considered it, so the concern never crossed my mind. my mother wore a lovely gold silk jacket/top and black pants, and my MIL wore a gunmetal grey knee length dress. there were a couple people who wore white tho, my aunt wore a white mini shift dress (and rocked it!) and my friend wore a white short dress with a large colorful graphic on the side. didn't bother me in the slightest. if someone had worn a white/shade of white GOWN however, i think i woulda been shocked lol!

Ninja on Jan 13, 2011

I was at a wedding a few years ago and both mothers wore beautiful and complimenting shades of blue, but TWO of the guests (friends of the MOG...and really should have known better) wore white dresses and both sat on the aisle! It was weird, but most of us just felt sorry for those ladies since it was totally obvious that they were trying to "say something" about the bride (it was her second wedding and some guests felt the need to bring up the fact that they thought it was inappropriate that the BRIDE wore white!!) People are weird and will do what they want, but my personal philosophy is not to wear white or black to a wedding. There are too many great colors out there anyway!!! Stiff upper lip...let your mom do what she wants and have a wonderful day!! The best revenge is a life well lived.

Hollie on Jan 16, 2011

Definitely, definitely not okay! I would be horrified if my mother should choose to wear white or any other variation on my wedding day. Honestly I think that any woman with any sensitivity and respect for her daughter's big day would accept some input about her outfit, and if you feel so strongly I think that if you sit down and speak to her about it that she will be fine about it! If she's miffed for a couple of days, well... she'll get over it and before you know it you'll both have forgotten about the whole thing! Hollie

Heidy on Jan 19, 2011

I totally agree. At my wedding, my mom's friend wore a white mini sun dress to the ceremony and changed into a cocktail dress for the reception thank goodness. And it kinda bothered me, but in all honesty I think the person who wears white to a wedding is frowned upon more by the guests than by the bride. So I think it's nice that you are also in a way trying to help your mom out by guiding her away from wearing white.

Jaci on Jan 25, 2011

Why does what your mother wears have any effect on you or your wedding day? She's a whole other person, and it's not like people are going to be confused about which of you is the bride. If she is comfortable and happy with this outfit, she'll likely be more comfortable and happy on your big day, which will probably make it more enjoyable for you in the end.

Liz on Sep 15, 2011

I agree with Jaci. The bride is the person the guests want to see. Your mother is her own person, I don't imagine anyone confusing the bride and her mother. Be happy that your mother is able to be with you. I am getting married in November and neither of our mothers are alive to join us. Don't be selfish, just enjoy the day.

Famous Features on Dec 14, 2011

Hi, I'm writing a features article about mother in laws who upstage the bride and wondered if anyone could come forward with any stories? I would need them asap! Thanks a lot Phoebe Morgan (Famous Features)

ann on Sep 26, 2013

hi, my daughter wedding will be pink (baby), can i wear a white dress. It was her idea.

Mary Jo on Oct 28, 2013

My problems with someone wearing white is more about the sentiment behind a choice. Bottom line is that is it dissrespectful, and when it comes from someone that is close family?! My mom wants to wear white, I told her under no uncertain terms I was NOT OK with it. I said it was rude and she greatly disappointed me by even thinking it was ok. Two of my sisters have also told her no, but instead of admitting its wrong or even acknowledging the problem she has avoided responding to it what so ever and instead calls me "angry". My relationship with my mom has been tedious at best and she claims to love me and only wants us to be a happy family again. However her actions show much more than words, she is the same selfish and manipulative person she as always been. Her wanting to wear white is nothing more than a tacky play at attention. So yes I guess I am angry. Lol.

jenny on Aug 9, 2015

My mum wore white, and my mother in law wore the same colour as the bridal party. Real tacky. It upset me greatly.

Currently Pinning

100 Layer Cake DIY Projects

See All

100 Layer Cake Trending Wedding Colors

You Might Also Like