Photo Diary: One Mom's Dress Shopping Experience

The last time that I wore an elegant floor-length gown was in 1985, at my wedding. Every girl dreams of her wedding dress, and I loved mine with its long cathedral train. Fast-forward 28 years, and I will be walking down the aisle again for my daughter Stefania's wedding (in the same exact church where I was married). Shopping this time around was very different.

My friends told me that the second most looked-at person after the bride is her mom. Co-workers and family members bombarded me with questions: "What color are you getting?" "Why haven't you picked a dress yet?" "Are you wearing strapless?" It all made me a little nervous. Several of my friends who had gone through the same process for their child's wedding told me that the most important thing is to feel both comfortable and beautiful in a dress.

Armed with good advice, a new strapless bra, and the best pair of Spanx I could buy, we went to the first store on the list. Nervously, I touched each gown on the rack, slowly flipping through them as if they were pages in a magazine, not pulling any of them out. Luckily, my daughter was there with me! Together with the sales associate, she sized me up and pulled gown after gown. I tried on several ball gowns, but learned that it wasn't flattering on my body type. Several children (and multiple surgeries) later, I was determined to find a style that accentuated my figure, not one that made me feel heavy, dowdy, or older than I am.

I loved the intricate beadwork on this design, but ultimately decided that A-line was a better fit.

After trying on many dresses, we determined that A-line was the best silhouette for me. Towards the end of the appointment, my daughter handed me a baby blue Stephen Yearick dress. It's not a color I would wear on a normal day to work, much less on her wedding day. Undeterred, she asked if I could try it on, just for fun. To my surprise, I loved it! The dress made me feel elegant and beautiful. This was it—just not in that color.

Walking back to the car afterwards, I was thrilled. I wasn't sure that I would ever fall in love with anything. The image in the mirror becomes cloudy as years past, and I have become more critical of myself. The dress seemed special to me, but I had to be sure. This was the first of many dress shopping visits. At each place that we went to, I found myself thinking about the crazy baby blue dress from the first appointment. 

My daughter was dying to put me in blush, but the color made my skin look washed out, so it was a no-go. Sorry!

With the help of the salon, we ordered fabric swatches in two different colors, and I was relieved to find that navy was a much more seasonally-appropriate hue (she's getting married in September). Colors can look very different on a computer screen than they do in person. Also, take the bride's wedding color palette into account. I didn't want to clash or look like an extra bridesmaid!

These one-shoulder sheaths were slenderizing, but I was looking for a style with more pizzazz.

What I learned: It is important to try on dresses that are actually in your size, or as close to it as possible. Some of the stores only carried sample sizes (usually a size 4 or 6), so you might want to call in advance to see what they have in stock. Secondly, shop with someone who loves you, and is truthful. I really needed my daughter's input to see the full picture. It is important to be open-minded. I never would have tried on the dress that I ultimately ended up buying, if it wasn't for her suggestion. Lastly, don't be too hard on yourself. After all, we are the "mother" of the bride! I feel very blessed to have been part of this entire process.

Two more gorgeous dresses that didn't make the cut.

Ultimately, my husband’s opinion was most important to me. I wanted him to have the same reaction that he did when we got married in 1985, and he saw me for the first time in my dress. The 2013 verdict: He smiled and told me that I looked beautiful. That was all I needed to hear...

— Maria Sainato