Sarah Jane Lewis, former Fashion Editor of Brides magazine, shares her tips for bewildered mothers in the run up to a wedding day.
When it comes to hosting a wedding, the Mother of the Bride is very often as much on parade as the Bride, and their outfits can be even more complicated – with a number of hurdles to jump over.
Sarah Jane Lewis is a former fashion editor of Brides magazine – and even more importantly, has been Mother of the Groom twice in one year. She shares her expert tips on how to get the perfect dress, hat, shoes and accessories.
My search for the summer wedding started in London, worth it for the fun shopping trip alone. There’s a list below of some top-notch places – I also visited several places closer to home in Wiltshire and Somerset, and have recommended them as well.
But after my initial explorations I had the rather sudden realisation that for such a large wedding, perhaps I should choose bespoke to eliminate the possibility of wearing an outfit worn by another guest.
So I emptied the piggy bank and trotted off to Catherine Walker – couturier to Royals – and will never regret it. After 5 fittings, I took delivery of the most immaculately tailored coat dress which I felt rightly regal in.
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For the second wedding on New Year’s Eve, I was lucky enough to find a beautiful Spanish made coat at Moda Rosa Boutique, Alresford, Hampshire. The label Miss Etern is exclusive to Moda Rosa in England, so that was a big plus. Under the coat I wore a cocktail dress – for the party later in the evening – by well-known Canadian designer Joseph Ribkoff.
Whether you go down that route or choose something else, here are some general tips to help:
As far as possible be flexible, not rigid.
Take a friend or relative
Perhaps your daughter if she is the Bride, this will be a fun outing, and always calls for a celebratory glass of bubbles once the shopping has finished. Above all take someone who will check you from all angles, and ask questions you may not have thought of, plus be totally honest of course.
Boutique or Dressmaker?
Boutiques showing special occasion wear usually offer 3 choices; ready to wear, in house tailoring and (some) entirely bespoke. Prices escalate accordingly.
Dressmakers are generally less expensive but there are considerations. Do not use a dressmaker you have never visited before – I’ve heard too many stories of wayward necklines, puckered seams and poor fit. A calico toile (dummy outfit) is essential for proper first fitting and precision cutting for the chosen fabric.
Colour is important. If you are Mother of the Groom, it is etiquette to ask the Mother of the Bride what colour she intends to wear, to avoid any clash. Also, avoid loud patterns that will overwhelm in photos.
Creasing is something you have to consider, particularly if you have to travel far. There is nothing worse than having a perfectly ironed dress, to then get out of the car faced with a creased mess. Fabric mixes tend to crease less than pure fabrics, so in this case opt for silk or wool with polyester
Shadows can show on shiny silk, cast by overhead sun. It’s not good in photos.
Places to try – London
- Try Suzannah, behind Marble Arch, for her beautiful 1950’s inspired designs, impossibly chic and not an ounce of frill or fuss – www.suzannah.com
- Pop to Lalage Beaumont on Beauchamp Place for her sleek, tailored designs (she uses the same Scottish mill as Chanel) with gorgeous hats to match the outfit, right there and then – solving the issue of hat-hunting once you’ve found the perfect dress and jacket. – www.lalagebeaumont.com
- Favourbrook on Pall Mall is an absolute must and their service is superb. The new shop on Pall Mall is home to unique patterned jackets to be layered over silk dresses, and then worn again for years to come –www.favourbrook.com
- Then visit Stewart Parvin on Motcombe Street for understated made-to-measure and glamour. They have heavenly bridal too – perhaps a mother daughter trip? – www.stewartparvin.com
Places to try – Wiltshire and Somerset
- Claire Mishevani in Shrewsbury has romantic designs – www.clairemishevani.com
- Carina Baverstock, Bradford-on-Avon, near Bath – www.carinabcouture.com
- Kimberly, Bath – www.kimberley.co.uk
- Diva, Sherborne – Yellow Pages listing
- Preview, Wincanton – www.previewwincanton.co.uk
- Retail Therapy, with five five locations in south-west – www.retailtherapyltd.co.uk
The real dilemma is the search for all-day comfort without sacrificing on elegance. I tried Emmy London, as well as Raffinee in Salisbury, Behind Clouds (Somerton), Russell & Bromley (Bath) and Preview (Wincanton).
I also made multiple, unsuccessful web orders – my husband teases that I had delivery vans stacking up the road to us in Somerset for 3 months.
Emmy Scartersfield of Emmy London is a pro in the wedding shoe market – her heels are a feat of physics and I defy you to not end the night still wearing them. Here are her key shoe tips:
‘Many people have one foot that’s bigger than the other and the best way to stretch shoes is with your own feet – have a hot bath, dry your feet and, while they’re still warm, put on stockings, then the shoes and pad around the house for half an hour. The warmth will make the leather stretch more quickly.
‘Suede has a bad reputation for marking and staining, however, a cleaning block (not unlike a pumice stone) gets rid of marks easily by brushing up the nap. Suede also absorbs colour well and will dye easily if you want to wear white bridal shoes again or match a pair to a specific outfit.’
Here are some general tips on what to look out for:
Court/Pump shoes are more formal and secure than sling-backs, especially in a countryside setting.
The current trend for block heels are a wise choice for standing long periods, but not necessarily as elegant as kitten or stiletto heels. Whichever you choose, keep heel height below 3 inches if you want to stay upright!
Buy half a size larger then add half insoles which can be removed if your feet become swollen with standing, particularly if you wear synthetic/satin topped shoes. Gel insoles are great. (remember to stock the loos with plasters for guests suffering with painful feet on the day).
Wear your shoes around the house several times before the wedding. Take flat shoes for evening dancing.
For winter weddings, have an elegant pair of boots ready in case of inclement weather.
If you aim to wear your outfit again you may wish to change the colour of your shoes and accessories for a different look, therefore, look at reasonably priced shoes.
Practicality is a key consideration here. As Mother of the Bride or Groom as you have a rather terrifying amount of embracing ahead of you throughout the day, so a small hat or percher is the best bet.
For both weddings I chose hats crafted by Juliette Botterill of Wimbledon, whose collection contains lots of options for both to help you find something to go with your outfit – www.juliettemillinery.co.uk
Etiquette – check if the Bride’s mother is wearing them – not usually required nowadays, even at the smartest weddings.
A clutch with optional handle/chain is elegant and best. Emmy has these too, in lovely subtle shades of suede.
Keep small or tilted for embracing guests. For winter weddings, consider velvet, cashmere or silk in contrast to straw. Etiquette – guests should not remove their hats at the reception until the Bride’s mother does.
Essential in case of a tear or two – find a beautiful cotton or lace hankie as opposed to tissues.
A simple ‘body’ should help eliminate lumps and bumps! Heist make fantastic tights which are seamless and utterly comfortable all day.
I would recommend getting your haircut around 10 days before the wedding – never the day before – so that it can settle into style. If you’re having an ‘up do’ wash it the day before so it has more grip.
If you are having gel nails (which look natural but stay put for two weeks), make sure you have a bottle of exactly the same colour ordinary nail varnish to touch up in case of last minute chipping.
Practice in advance. More definition may be required for photos, particularly around the eye area. If nervous, hire someone to help on the morning and perhaps book a trial first to get it spot on.
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