I am getting married next August, and I have already found my bridesmaids’ dresses. My fiancé and I have chosen black and white as our colors. I have also found a very beautiful dress for my mother, but it’s black and white too! It is a very different style from the bridesmaids’ dresses. Can my mom wear the same color as the bridesmaids? And would it be appropriate for my mother to wear black?

Many a bride comments that her mother and her future mother-in-law put more time and energy into choosing their “perfect dresses” than she put into choosing her bridal gown. Perhaps for Mom, the stakes are higher: she wants to look youthful, but not as if she’s trying to upstage the bride.

The basic rules of “Momwear” are simple:
◾ Both mothers wear dresses of the same level of formality. In days of fewer fashion choices, this meant dresses of the same length. Today, the mothers need merely look as if they’re dressed for the same event.
◾ By custom, the mother of the bride chooses her dress first. However, this tradition dates from the time when she also determined how formal the wedding would be. If the bride is making the decisions, both mothers may have enough information to make their separate choices in any order.
◾ The mothers do not dress more formally than the bridesmaids.
◾ Both mothers should dress so that they do not clash with the wedding color scheme. If the wedding colors are royal blue and silver, the mother of the bride would not wear navy. However, it is up to her whether she wears royal blue, silver, or a coordinating color such as deep rose.
◾ Traditionally, the mothers do not wear white/ivory or black. This rule can be waived if the bride wishes.

Since you’ve chosen a black-and-white color scheme for your bridesmaids’ dresses, it should be clear to your guests that your mother is wearing black in order to coordinate with your wedding colors, rather than to show disapproval of the marriage. The reason black indicated disapproval is that black was the color of mourning and therefore was taken to mean that the wearer was mourning the marriage. Bridesmaids also were once never clothed in black.

May your mother wear the same colors as your bridesmaids? There is no “rule” or custom forbidding it. From an aesthetic standpoint, it might look odd to match the mothers to a colored bridesmaids’ dress-in ordinary life, we seldom see crowds of women all in hunter green at the same party. But black-and-white is a very common color scheme for dressy women’s clothes. If your mother’s dress is quite different in style from the bridesmaids’ dresses, it is unlikely that anyone will think, “Gee, she’s dressed to match the bridesmaids!”

One point never to forget is that it is ultimately your mother’s decision what to wear. Some mothers, remembering their excitement over their own weddings, are eager for their daughters’ advice. Others have strongly defined tastes and wish to choose their own dresses by themselves. Giving a mother orders is a far worse etiquette faux pas than allowing her to show up in a dress that clashes with the color scheme.