S is for…Scams and Scaremongering

This post would not have been out of place in the AOW A-Z of Getting Married.  It’s a rant and a rage (oh, my favourite kind of wedding planning post) and it’s against my sworn enemy, Bridal Shops and all their ilk (wait…some are ace.  I take that back).  Oh, and Society.  And its Expectations.

Katy went shopping for clothes with her mother, for her mother to wear at Katy’s wedding.  And experienced scams, patronising attitudes, attempts to manipulate and assumptions.  Katy can tell you better than me.  And I do believe she’d welcome some advice:     


I have recently gone through an experience that many brides must go through in their time. Shopping for the Mother of the Bride outfit (I’ll pause here for screams of horror etc etc…).

I loved, absolutely loved, going shopping with my Mummy. She is a beautiful person, she is fantastic. She wasn’t at all difficult or picky. But I’m her only daughter, she will only be Mother of the Bride once (hopefully!) and she wants to look amazing.

She wanted to have the same kind of experience that I had shopping for a dress, trying on everything out there and feeling absolutely beautiful in something. And why not? In fact I found a lot of similarities between bridal shopping and MoB shopping!

We travelled to a good few ‘Mother of the Bride’ style shops, peering into the racks and pulling lots of things to try.

(To clarify the rest of this post, I know there are lots of options outside the traditional MoB shops. My mum just wanted something really special that there was no danger someone else would buy in Debenhams and turn up in, you know?)

We waited with baited breath as they zipped up the outfits, put on the jackets and carefully placed the hats on her head (for all MoB outfits must be a dress and jacket combo (with optional hat, fascinator or hatinator), don’t you know?)

But… Well…. It just didn’t happen.

This is what we were faced with:

-        Strapless dresses

-        Low cut dresses

-        Sleeveless dresses

-        Backless dresses

-        Black

-        Black and white

-        Baby pink and lilac in abundance

-        Silver, taupe, beige, grey, other shades of ‘boring’


Am I alone in this?

The average age of a bride in the UK is 28.5 (source: Wikipedia (yes, good source, I know)), and the average age of a mother when she gives birth is 29.5 (source: ONS 2010 so maybe younger in 1985). OK, so let’s be generous and say the average age of a MoB is 50.

I ask you this – what 50 year old woman wants a strapless, low cut, sleeveless dress?

I ask you this – what 50 year old woman wants to look at an outfit on a 19 year old size 6 model? (sometimes the same as the model for the bridal collection)

I ask you this – why must women over the age of 50 wear only black, white, other monochrome colours and baby pink? Why can I woman not wear bright colours, or other colours? Surely there are many women who don’t want to wear black or white to a wedding?

AOW, I am frustrated. Am I a freak or has the wedding industry literally got this so wrong? My mother does not want to be boring and beige. She also does not want a strapless or sleeveless dress, or to be told she can “just wear the jacket” for an August wedding (this was as the spring/summer collection of outfits had come in).

Worse than this, AOW, I am angry. These shops all employ, basically, scare tactics. They buy each outfit in a couple of sizes (never more than 1 per size), and then they tell you that if you do not commit there and then they cannot order you a different size or save it for you!

Oh really, shop assistant lady? Really? You think I am incapable of writing down the outfit number, phoning up another store that stocks that designer and asking for it in my mother’s size?

I’m sure somewhere in the country in the many boutiques that stock that particular designer I could find another dress. Do you want me to call them?

You think I am about to let my mother (or she is about to let herself, she’s not an idiot!) be scared and pressured into buying a dress because it “might not be there in a week” when she can bring back my dad for approval (which she really wanted to do)?


I understand that it’s an emotional purchase; they want to look special and are maybe easy targets. Maybe some women do get emotional and scared and carried away… But how do they get away with these scare tactics? I remember them coming up when I went dress shopping (“oh the designer could stop accepting orders for that style at any time…”) but I wasn’t expecting it when MoB shopping. I wonder how many women fall for it?

To be honest the entire experience made me happy, so happy. I had some lovely days out with my mummy, which is special. She tried on lots of nice expensive clothes which is exciting. She looked gorgeous in the end, and we struggled to fit the hat box in the car. So win all round J

BUT the industry made me angry. Not only do lots of these dresses not seem to be appropriate for the target audience, but they also play on the emotions and fear of their customers. I understand that they want to sell their stock, but surely ordering them in a different size isn’t that difficult? Obviously it is as we came across this problem in multiple stores…

Also, really, what is it with those models?

So, to conclude, that was a rant. Sorry. I will end with some advice:

-        Go shopping with your mum if you can!

-        Be clear early on if you really don’t want her to wear a specific colour (black/white/same as the bridesmaids), but remember it’s a special day for her too!

-        Take a sample of your colour to check it doesn’t clash horribly (think of all those photos)…

-        Make an appointment. Take shoes and tights and a strapless bra.

-        Take a camera. Take a notebook and pen. Be prepared to write down or take a photo of outfits.

-        Don’t compromise. Don’t feel pressured to go strapless and ‘add in straps’ (suggested so many times!). Find something you love.

-        Try high street. Try designer. Try having it made. Get it altered.

-        Check where else stocks the designers in the shop you’re going to. Feel free to tell the assistants you know they all exist and you will call them if they don’t offer to find what you want in the right size.

-        Make it fun. It’s a special moment. Drink Prosecco.

Categories: Wedding Planning
27 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Posted May 1, 2013 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    I love this. We were lucky in a way, my Mum knew from day one she didn’t want to wear a traditional MOB outfit, and at first this made her anxious about finding something. Anything, actually. In the end it only took one trip to one shop, Vivien of Holloway, and one very awesome 50s style dress. But we were lucky, and I know my Mum was very worried about finding an outfit that would suit her and be the dreaded word…appropriate (I told her to shove appropriate where the sun doesn’t shine and wear what she liked!)

    The thing is, the wedding industry is still so prescriptive for MOBs. It’s your day, your way, but heaven forbid your Mum should want to look LIKE HERSELF. In a flattering outfit. I’m sure if we had gone to traditional MOB shops they would have been awful for my Mum, and I might have punched a wall. Great post!

    K x

    • Posted May 1, 2013 at 7:41 am | Permalink

      Katie, everything I hear about your mum makes me want to sneak into your family as an extra sister. I’m going back through your family photo albums and photoshopping myself into all the pictures RIGHT NOW.


    • Gemma N
      Posted May 1, 2013 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      Your mum wore a Vivien of Holloway dress?! That is all kinds of awesome…

      I have been longing for one of those dresses for a while (in particular the 50s circle dress.. perhaps red with white polka dots… not that I’ve spent hours on the website or anything..!) but have been unable to co-ordinate the figure I want/ need to wear one with a suitable occasion.

      One day it will be mine … oh yes…

      • Fee
        Posted May 1, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

        My bridesmaids wore them with the big petticoats – they looked amazing!

  2. Posted May 1, 2013 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    This sounds very much like my mums outfit!

  3. Siobhan
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    My mum was, so anxious about what to wear. She found something she, loved in Whistles but then my dad started pushing her to wear a lower cut Coast dress. I remember the phonecall from her as I looked up both online. My mum never wears low cut tops or dresses even less now she’s in her sixties, so I told her to wear the one she felt most comfortable in. It was tough though. It was also weird for me that my mum and two mothers of the groom felt they needed to match the colour scheme. In the end my mum was in navy, one mother in law wore the silver dress she’d brought as spare for a wedding the previous year and the other bought a few dresses before settling for a great total blue maxi. All showed me their outfits for approval but I just cared that they were there and happy! It’s so hard.

    • Posted May 1, 2013 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      what that early morning ramble was supposed to get at is this

      My mother and mothers in law felt a ton of pressure to get the dress right without added pressure from a store. So the pressure is there regardless, why add more?

      I had some pressure about the dress but only because my deess is one they genuinely don’t make many of and certainly not in a size 12 (mostly 8s and 10s) and feel mum was lucky to miss out on pushy sales people for her dress as she would have CRUMBLED. I would then have been massively angry as this tends to happen if anyone ever makes my mum cry. It would have been horrible.

  4. Posted May 1, 2013 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    This is so true, and I’m guessing one reason many mums go to the high street these days. My mum did go for Debenhams in the end, but I think she felt a bit cornered by the lack of choice elsewhere and knew places like Phase Eight would stock something that was more her style (and considerably less expensive).

    I think the MoB bit of the wedding industry is just a few steps behind the wedding dress/bridal bit, and as a lot more brides are starting to get a bit more creative and adventurous, MoBs are following suit. The designers will eventually have to keep pace or go out of business completely. My older friends will be MoBs in the next 10 or 15 years – plain fact is a generation of supremely stylish women are starting to filter through and they wouldn’t be seen dead in that kind of stuff.

    It’s a matter of time before these dinosaur stores either evolve or become extinct. No wonder they’re using scare tactics to sell….? Maybe it’s panic…


  5. Becca
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    I would recommend Nigel Raymont. Specifically the female owner. Mum had been saving for her MOB outfit and had ALOT of money to spend. And therefore thought she would have her second bridal experience. Lots of shops (even in London and surrounding) had last years stock or nothing in an 8 or 10. The John Charles things we had seen online looked bloody awful. Mum got really upset and in tears and Nigel Raymont were fabulous. Absolutely GOD DAMN FABULOUS. Now, remember this is a Saturday and they are heaving busy. And they closed the downstairs room so Mum didn’t feel pressured, or didn’t feel stressed or surrounded by size 8s in perfect proportions. They recommended that we leave without buying and go and have a drink. At the end, when Mum went back for her outfit, the owner gave her a massive hug and was almost in years herself.

    Incidentally, the only ones that suited her were the bright purple Condici ones. Now, as someone’s wedding is white on white on taupe on white on gold, bright hot purple was going to pose a bit of problem for the photos.


    Like the photos bloody matter?! What matters is what Mum looks and feels amazing. And if she clashes with everything or wears something bright or black or leopard print then I most certainly do not give a SHIT about the photos.

    FYI For anyone looking for shift style dresses with sleeves and an appropriate length, then I would recommend Condici.

    Good Hunting.

  6. Posted May 1, 2013 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    We also noticed the models, what is that about! Calculated the bride must be under 10 to have a mum the she of the mob models, how does that help anyones self esteem!

  7. Posted May 1, 2013 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    I love this. My mother has got very nervous about her outfit as she didn’t want the traditional MOB outfits (for all the reasons outlined by Katy above – pastel colours just don’t suit her) and wasn’t sure what else there would be. She also really wanted me to approve everything, whereas I just want her to be happy and comfortable on the day.

    I didn’t go dress shopping with her but I did help with shoes and we went on a hat mission to John Lewis together (apologies to the lady trying on ALL the hats who we practically stalked round the department in the hope she wouldn’t buy the one my mum wanted to try on). High street all round for the win.

    It really bugs me that the models for MOB outfits are pretty much the same people as the bridal models – it makes it so much harder for ‘older’ women (ie, over 40, gah!) to judge how they will look in that outfit. The opposite extreme though is outfits so frumpy my grandmother would never have worn such a thing – there doesn’t seem to be anything in between. Definitely an area for improvement in the wedding industry!

  8. Liz
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    So true! Mum and I looked at all the pictures of those models and decided not to even bother looking in the traditional MoB shops because it was obvious that they were going to be so far from what wanted. Seriously I think they use younger skinnier models for them than some of the wedding dresses, ridiculousness!
    Mum ended up with a great coral and slate grey number from Jacques vert, but even there the shop assistants were giving her flannel about hideous outfits being perfect. Do people actually fall for this? I guess they do or it wouldn’t happen…
    One of the most fun parts of our shopping was for undies it was all pretty hilarious, my mum being told her boobs were about 4 sizes bigger than she ever expected whilst I was desperately trying to find a nude strapless bra which made mine look 4 sizes bigger!

  9. Lucy
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    My Mum bought her outfit before I got my dress!

    She had a lovely Hobbs outfit that clashed with everything else going on, but she felt amazing in it, although having had it for over a year before the wedding may have contributed to the fact the zip had perished which she didnt notice till she put it on that morning – We have some amazing photos of my Dad sewing her into it though.

    The staff in Hobbs were brilliant, and like the traditional MOB shops, they can do the whole shebang, or help you to mix and match peices from various collections. Also, their sizes are pretty flattering and have a good range in store. They even gave my mum a partial refund a year later after zipgate!

  10. Posted May 1, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    My mum just really really wanted something not highstreet. Like Becca’s mum she’d saved up for this and was willing to spend quite a lot of money, plus she didn’t want to risk anyone else turning up in something similar/the same from Debenhams (this is my mum personally).

    And she IS a special person in my wedding. She deserved that special feeling and special experience. Just these scare tactics made me angry!!

    And I genuinely don’t know what it is with the sleeves/’you must wear a jacket’/shades of sludge (love that way of putting it!) thing? Surely this thread here is evidence that it’s not just wrong for my mum, it was wrong for all of our mothers!

    P.S. Totally, I don’t mean you need to match for the photos. It was, again, something my mum wanted so we draped fabric around her just to check it didn’t clash!

  11. Posted May 1, 2013 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    I have to interject that my mum had an altogether diffferent experience. My mum is 54 (sorry mum!) however all the dresses that were offered to her anywhere we went would have been more suitable to a 75 year great auntie than my mum.
    She was adament that she didn’t want to look frumpy however whenever she tried on a dress that she liked she was told by the assistant that it wasn’t very “mother of the bride-y”
    I’m sorry – but what exactly is “mother of the bride-y”??
    And no I’m not saying that she wanted strapless or low cut or skin tight. She just wanted a lovely, flattering dress that didn’t make her look and feel like a grandma.

    She eventually found one in Hobbs that was black and bright purple and she looked great and was so happy with her choice.
    And yes, she did wear a little bolero jacket and a hat-inator and they suited her beautifully.

  12. Molly
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Having inherited my mothers passion for beautiful clothes, buying her MOB outfit was a huge deal for both of us. My mum is a shy person by nature and her previous experience of shopping for an outfit for my brothers wedding, had left her crying silent tears in a changing room, dressed in layers of sparkly fishnet (as she recalls it).

    This time I went shopping with her instead of her sisters. I google searched stockists of Condici clothes and we headed off to our local supplier. Our experience was amazing. The women who worked in the shop were not young uninterested teenagers or overbearing shop owners looking to sell. The lady who helped us had been a MoB herself.

    We left that day with the dress (cap sleeves, knee length, high v), the jacket, shoes, necklace, handbag and hat. Not once were we steam rolled into anything. We were simply allowed to pick up and try everything on. I have never seen my mum look more beautiful and confident than on my wedding day.

    The difference in experience from her first shopping trip for my brothers wedding was massive. I think they need to have the correct staff in these shops – who will stand back and let you feel comfortable hunting through the racks and offer advice when needed. I too can’t believe they truly like some of the MoB outfits that they put on women.

    I totally agree with Becca, Condici have so many beautiful outfits. My mum now owns 3 of their dress and jacket combos. Coming from an Irish family, she always has a wedding to go to and an excuse to wear her dresses again.

  13. Martha
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Agree with all of the above! I often cringe at traditional MoB outfits and both my mum and mother in law were adamant that they would a) not wear a hat and b0 not wear anything matching / suit-like or frumpy. My mum despises shopping and hates dressing up and it took us several days of hunting (plus countless cups of tea) before she found somethign suitably comfortable, informal and generally unweddingy, as she wanted to wear it again to parties :-) My MiL on the other hand went straight to LK bennet and picked up an amazing bright blue leopard print bodycon dress which literally stole the show. Both so different but both avoided the awfulness of the pressure of the wedding industry’s “outfit proforma”. As others have said, best place for a wedding outfit is as far away from a wedding shop as possible!

  14. Posted May 1, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    We experienced this on a minor level. My Mum actually ended up buying an outfit she saw at one of the bridal places I tried on dresses. We didn’t like the tactics there either (You can save 10% but only if you order it RIGHT NOW!) Very annoying as we hadn’t even been to look elsewhere for her yet and it was very expensive (not far off my dress in the end actually!) but she really loved it, never spends a lot on clothes (she made her own wedding dress when she got married in the 70s) but she wanted to speak to my Dad first as well, and in a way that wouldn’t make him faint!

    It was actually a very similar colour to my bridesmaids and looked great on her – her concern was would I mind her matching the bridesmaids (or she would have got the raspberry instead of lime green) but I loved that she would tie in with everything else! Dad had a green tie, why shouldn’t Mum get to be an obvious member of the bridal party too? We saw all the other beige-esque and pastel colours everywhere else so we were gla we’d found the nice bright colours with lovely paisley embrioidery on (which we also thought looked a bit Indian so tied in with our fusion theme too!)

    We did go back for it in the end as she didn’t see anything else she liked and they wouldn’t give us anything off it. They also tried to sell her the matching hat for £300+(!!!) and when mum asked for just a small off cut so she could make her own they said no, even though she was never going to buy their hat anyway. (Shhh – the lovely lady in the tailoring place gave her a sliver – she added it to a £14.99 hat I found in Country Baskets and even had a little left over to make a flower to attach to her black clutch!) :)

    • Posted May 1, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      I cannot ever object to you minding her being in green!

      • Posted May 1, 2013 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        I have no idea why that came out so weird – I blame my ridiculously long last 2 days. What I meant to say was ‘I cannot imagine you ever objecting to her being in green’.

  15. Peabody_Bites
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Great post Katy. Particularly because the conventional MoB outfits are often SO unflattering/shiny/ordinary (and disproporionately expensive) I think I would really resent all that sales pressure.
    We avoided the majority of the MoB drama as my mother is mad as a bat and had her outfit made in grey silk with multi-coloured polka dots with matching hat and handbag – pretty spectacular for her and very low stress for me. Obviously she steals the family photos, and I am so fine with that.

    I wanted to share my MiL’s solution though, which looked extremely elegant for a woman who isn’t massively into clothes, was super comfortable and easy to re-purpose – an embroidered blazer/jacket from Beatrice von Tresckow (http://www.beatricevontresckow.com/default.aspx) and silk trousers in contrasting colour. Hat optional. I have seen her wear the jacket again and again for other people’s weddings and with different skirts/trousers to dress it up or down.

    My MiL was quite worried about the whole thing (I suspect partly because my mother was always unlikely to go for anything even faintly conventional and my stepmother is a perfect size 8 with conventional style and good looks) and they could not have been nicer, more patient or more accomodating. Definitely one to consider for less conventionally stylish mothers who want to be covered up.

  16. Fee
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Similarly to Caroline, my Mum had real trouble finding something not frumpy (maybe because I got married in November). She was 49 when I got married and is a very petite size 8 (why didn’t I get that gene dammit!) and in the end struck gold in Hobbs – on the big day she looked fantastic in sleeveless, deep necked fuschia with a fascinator that could probably be spotted from space. Someone in the shop asked if it might be a bit bright and she firmly told them no – quite right too!

    Great post x

  17. Amanda M
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Well I’m afraid I was much less sympathetic than you lovely lot: I kept finding photos of the most god-awful MoB outfits in wedding outfits in bridal mags and shrieking at my mum “you have to wear this” before collapsing into laughter. They were ghastly improbably coloured things that looked like they’d been made of cheap sofa material – and that if she stood too close to a naked flame she’d go up like a torch.

    Of course, I was only able to find it so hilarious (and, oh, I did!) because I knew there was no way she’d have to wear any of these. In the end she wore a cream lace shift dress from Laura Ashley with black opaques and black and cream patent shoes and looked great (it was November). There were a few comments about her wearing cream but all I cared about was that she felt great. And it made for a funny story when the registrar told her to walk me down the aisle on the wrong side and she nearly ended up as the bride!

  18. Posted May 1, 2013 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t had a chance to read all the comments so sorry if I’m repeating what anyone else says…

    First off I TOTALLY agree with you – all MOB photos with 20 something skinny models… WTF is that about?!! Seriously it’s just insane.

    Secondly if anyone is looking for a MoB outfit me and my Mum had the BEST experience in Hobbs (Brighton store if anyone is interested). We went on a weekday when we knew it would be quieter and essentially had a personal shopping experience. The lovely shop assistant that looked after us was thrilled to be dressing a MoB and was so excited that it was just lovely for us. They give you shoes to try on with outfits to help you visualise, you can have as many items as you like and they will suggest accessories and outfits you might not think of – but in a totally non pushy way. The clothes are much more interesting colours and patterns and really well cut etc – super flattering and not too unreasonable in price.

    We were done and dusted within two hours and with a great big smile on our face headed for some bubbles with our lunch – perfect. It’s one of my favourite memories of wedding planning!! xx

  19. Posted May 1, 2013 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    Bit late to the party on this one but for my wedding me and my lovely mum went to John Lewis and had the personal shopper experience – which was free! – and my mum found something she would never normally have been confident enough to try and looked absolutely beautiful on her. Again, the quality of the shop assistants makes all the difference. I can’t even remember the brand of the dress now but noone else had anything like it at the wedding. My MIL bought something from Hobbs and also looked lovely – win!

    Great post Katy!

    K x

  20. Posted May 1, 2013 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    Such a shame to read this- do you remember I tweeted you that day saying good luck Katy? hoping it wasn’t shit but sounds like it turned out to be that way.

    Lots has been said already but booking in a personal shopping session at one of the big stores can really help- House of Fraser, John Lewis, Selfridges etc in London all do them and as long as you get a good person it can really help.

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