Each Wednesday, we tackle wedding etiquette. At times, it’s a reader question or one from a colleague, friend or family member and other times we’ll cover a popular issue. (Note: Questions may be edited for clarity and brevity.)
Question: I got engaged a few weeks ago. About a week after the engagement, my mom invited me over for a little luncheon so the two of us could celebrate and kick off the planning. During the luncheon, she ceremoniously presented me with her wedding dress. It was very well preserved and on top of that she had it dry cleaned and got her seamstress to inspect it and fix any issues. It’s truly in pristine condition and is a gorgeous vintage number from the late 70s. The problem: It’s not my style at all. At the time, I just hugged her and said thank you, because I was a bit taken aback in the moment. I don’t know what to do. Do I have to wear my mom’s wedding dress?
Answer: Congratulations on your engagement! What a lovely way to have a little mother-daughter bonding before the planning and wedding-related activities get too crazy. Clearly your mom has been thinking about this moment for a long time. Emotions can run high at times like this, so it’s important to put yourself in her shoes and proceed gently and with compassion. First, it might be possible to take the dress to a skilled professional — perhaps your mother’s seamstress — to have it altered to your style. Sometimes it’s just a matter of adding or removing a few details that bring it up-to-date. If it’s not possible and you want to forego her dress altogether for your Big Day, consider having it reimagined into a cocktail dress or less formal ensemble to wear during your engagement party or rehearsal dinner. Finally, if you just don’t want to wear it in any capacity, let her down gently. Perhaps over coffee or mimosas, tell her a difficult situation has been on your mind and ask, “Is it OK if I talk to you about it?” (Get her permission in order to set the tone and get her “buy in,” for the conversation.) Next, say something to the effect of, “Mom, thank you so much for offering me your dress for the wedding. It is such a meaningful gesture and the dress is so beautiful. I would never want to hurt your feelings, but I’ve been dreaming my whole life about going wedding dress shopping with you and finding the perfect dress. I love your dress, but want to discover my own dream dress. What do you think?” That last question is very important, because you want to invite her to share her thoughts and emotions. Next, you listen, hear her out and repeat some of the things she says, so that she knows you are listening. Say, “To clarify, you were sad that you weren’t able to wear grandma’s dress, so you made sure to preserve yours for me. Is that correct?” Or something similar, based on what she communicates to you. My guess is she will be glad you came to her, were honest and that you heard her out and validated her feelings during the process. Hug it out and plan a date to go wedding dress shopping.
Do you have a solution to share or a wedding etiquette question? Respond in the comments or email Melanie@MyNewOrleans.com.