Wedding Dress Shopping Without Mom

Holidays and Special Days / Holidays and Special Days : Eleanor Haley

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My sisters and I have been helping my youngest sister, Beth, pick out her wedding dress (yay!) via Facebook (booo!). While I appreciate technology making it possible for 5 women living in different parts of the country to come together and give their input on bodices and waistlines, I can’t help but feel how much different this experience would be for my sister if my mom were still alive.

My mother died shortly after my husband and I were married, so my memories of wedding planning are the last ones I have with her pre-diagnosis. I treasure these memories, perhaps more than any others, and I remember wedding dress shopping as a sacred moment between mother and daughter.

A wedding is almost always a blessed occasion; no one would ever want to take away from that. However, death often has the ability to cast a shadow on even the happiest of events, especially when the event is steeped in tradition, family, and parental obligation.

In reality, weddings can be a minefield of grief triggers. Between father/daughter dances, wedding dress shopping, or walks to the altar; virtually every turn can be a reminder that someone is missing.

Sadly, no amount of planning can fill the absence of a deceased parent or family member. Chances are you are going to need that waterproof mascara because you will shed at least a few tears. But that’s okay, you’re going to make it through this wedding and you're going to do this by figuring out the best way to fill a fraction of the void with the following…

1. Flexibility and willingness to embrace changes to tradition (even though it’s not how you always pictured things)
2. Memories of the deceased person
3. Love from those around you

I’m certain my sister’s wedding dress shopping fantasy involved a bright and decadent room with rows of dresses, her sisters crammed on a love seat waiting to "ohhhhh" and "ahhhh" while she tries on various gowns. In the end, this was not to be and she had to be flexible and willing to embrace change. This is how she wound up hosting a virtual dress shopping party via social media and, despite the hundreds of miles between her and her sisters, those who love her, in essence, surrounded her.

three wedding dresses

Of course, not everyone had hopes of shopping with their mother, but for those of you who did, here are a few change-of-plan options...

1.  Choose a special person or persons from your friends, sisters, and future in-laws.  Before I go on you should read this article from 'A Practical Wedding' or at least understand the concept that no one will serve as a complete replacement for your mother.  Don't expect your friends, sisters, or husband to dedicate themselves full-time to your emotional needs and wedding planning the way your mother may have.  You will be better off if you assess your resources and utilize them accordingly.

When wedding dress shopping you should look at your family and friends and decide who's most likely to give you a supportive, objective, and honest opinion.  Who will help you make the best decision and who would you like to look back on this day and see?  The Bridal Guide recommends not bringing an entourage, as too many opinions can leave you feeling confused.  Also, a large group of people may make this already emotional day even more overwhelming.  Think carefully about who and what will help you get through the day.

Of note: If your helpers aren't likely to intuitively know this day will be emotionally charged, it may be a good idea to at least casually mention it, perhaps over coffee or lunch beforehand.

2.  Go wedding dress shopping alone.  Some might argue this is the best way to get a handle on what dresses you really love, as opposed to the dresses your friends and family love. makes the point that bridal consultants (who actually know what they are talking about) will be more likely to give you unbiased opinions than your pals, but they may be likely to withhold these opinions if they conflict with the opinions of your group.  Going alone allows you to go at your own pace and end the trip when you feel you've had enough.  You may choose to go on your own at first and when you've narrowed your selections down to a few, then make a trip to the boutique with someone whose opinion you trust.

3.  Go wedding dress shopping with your Dad.  Yes...seriously.  Read about Alisha's experience wedding dress shopping with her dad on HelloGrief.  Really, it's not that far-fetched.  There are plenty of daddy's girls with sensitive new age guys for fathers. This is not going to be the best choice for everyone, but if your father would be perfect for this task don't rule out bringing him along.  My daughters would be well off with their father's opinion, he has far better taste than I do.

4.  Online shop.  If the thought of wading through racks of dresses with the help of overly attentive bridal consultants makes you hyperventilate, you may want to try looking online to make your preliminary selections. This makes it easy to do exactly what my sister did, send links to the dresses you like to your friends and family for input.  Of course, you are going to want to try the dresses on, so once you have identified a designer or dress you like you can call ahead to boutiques to see if they carry what you're looking for.

5.  Wear your mother's dress.  This may not be an option for everyone; your mother's wedding dress might be 2 sizes too small, really outdated, or destroyed. But for those of you who have this option, wearing your mother's wedding gown is a wonderful way to incorporate your mother into your wedding day (and skip the shopping altogether).  Here is an article from the Washingtonian about a woman who made her mother's wedding dress her own and here is information about wearing an heirloom wedding gown.

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6 Comments on "Wedding Dress Shopping Without Mom"

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  1. Dorothy Keller  September 22, 2019 at 7:39 pm Reply

    I am so upset i was looking forward to weddi ng dress shopping with my only daughter her maid of honour took her with out inviting me however we had set a date for all of us to go maid of honour had something come up so we cancelled i feel i am not wanted and so hurt since i said i would pay for her dress

  2. Jayme Anderson  April 8, 2015 at 7:11 pm Reply

    I am sooooo glad I ran into your post. I am planning my wedding right now, and have lost both of my parents to cancer. My fiance’ loss his Mom to cancer before I met him, so this has not been the ideal setting for us. Lots of tears have been shed on both of our ends. What we are hoping to do to incorporate them into our wedding is to add one of their favorite recipes into the gift bags to pass out to guest so that everyone gets a piece of our family tradition to take home with them. All three loved to cook, so we are hoping these recipes will find their way into our guest homes. Thank you for this Blog! God Bless you!

  3. Annie  July 8, 2014 at 11:34 pm Reply

    Thank you for posting this. My mother passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly due to major cardiac arrest, this was traumatic to me and my family. 4 years ago next week is the anniversary of her death and I can sadly, but honestly say that I have never been more proud or closer to my remaining family. I am the youngest of 3 girls only one of which my mother was able to plan a wedding for. She planned a wedding in 8 weeks for my oldest sister. (much of which was done through her love of online shopping and joann fabrics) We are at the doorstep of my middle sisters wedding. While she is being remembered at her wedding very tastefully, I can’t help but have/have had all of these thoughts that you speak of in this posting and others of this sort. I came across this posting when I googled “my sisters wedding after my mother passed away”. I was looking for something to say or give to my sister as a way of saying “I get it, but c’est la vie”, and I think this is just what I needed. Thank you for such a great post, it was very moving.


    • Eleanor  July 16, 2014 at 8:47 pm Reply

      Hey Annie,

      I’m sorry it took me so long to respond to your comment, your sister’s wedding may very well have come and went at this point. I really identify with your experience having two siblings still unmarried at the time of my mother’s day. A wedding is such a bittersweet day, as are the babies being born and the anniversaries and the holidays. Everything thats happy has a moment of sadness. I know your sister will have (had) an amazing day, surrounded by her family and friends and I’m sure anything you do (did) to acknowledge your mother was meaningful. I’m glad the post helped a little and I hope the wedding was amazing.


  4. Sarah Hasegawa  April 13, 2013 at 10:32 am Reply

    I loved this post. My wedding was the last time I saw Mom truly happy (pre-diagnosis). By the time I got home from my honeymoon, cancer had suddenly appeared in the picture. I have always regretted not going wedding dress shopping with her. On a whim, I went shopping by myself, loved the first dress I saw on the rack and grabbed it. (It was on sale.) While I did end up with a fantastic dress, I’m sorry I sacrificed the opportunity to get mom’s input. While I was cleaning out the basement, I came across a box of loose photographs. One was Mom’s wedding portrait. I went right out and bought a nice frame for it.

    • Eleanor  April 13, 2013 at 7:25 pm Reply

      Sarah, I didn’t realize you didn’t go shopping with Mom. But it does sound like you to go wedding dress shopping on a whim =). I can’t wait to see the wedding portrait you found.

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