When Barbara Bininger went looking for a mother-of-the-bride outfit to wear to her daughter's June 1 wedding, she knew exactly what she wanted:
"Something that didn't look like a mother-of-the-bride outfit," said Bininger, of Orlando, Fla.
So what did she want?
It's a question many mothers of brides-to-be are wrestling with. So are designers and retailers.
"They (mothers of the bride) just know they don't want to look like the traditional mother of the bride," said Carol Francis, the dress buyer for Gibbs-Louis stores. "Sometimes it seems that no matter how many outfits we have, or what they look like, it's never what they want."
But Bininger did know what she wanted: "Something tailored, dressy, simple, non-controversial. A sophisticated theater suit with a long skirt I could shorten after the wedding."
She also knew what she didn't want:
"Mauve chiffon. I'm just not a little mauve-chiffon kind of person."
These days, who is?
The grandmother of the bride still may choose the traditional chiffon shirtwaist dress in mauve, peach, pink or aqua. But the bride's mother wants an outfit that is chic and shapely, youthful and unique.
A dress, in other words, that is a reflection of the modern woman who will be wearing it. A woman who sees herself as more youthful, more fashionable and with a more distinctive personal style than her mother or grandmother had when they played supporting roles in wedding parties.
"They don't want to outshine the bride, but they do want to be noticed. More than anything, they don't want to look matronly," said Francis.
But striking, updated styling is not enough.
The outfit must also be versatile something that can be worn later to parties, dinners, the theater. And it should be affordable. The mother's outfit is often bought last, when the wedding budget is about bust.
"There are plenty of lovely outfits out there if you're prepared to spend $750 and up. I wasn't," Bininger said.
She spent three months scouring malls, department stores, specialty stores and bridal salons for the right outfit.
Finally, 10 days before her daughter's wedding, she walked into The Collection in Winter Park, Fla. and there it was: an elegantly simple suit in the palest mint green, its portrait collar sprinkled with pearls, its skirt long and slim.
"I just said, 'That's it. That's me. I'll take it.' "
Luckily it fit. And the price was right: $269.
But just because the outfit was right for Bininger, doesn't mean it would have suited the next mother of the bride to walk through the door.
"The suit look is really big, but it's not the only look the mothers are asking for," said Millie Harris, owner of The Collection.
For formal weddings, popular choices are long, beaded gowns or beaded jackets over long skirts, Harris said.
But then again, some women want all-over beading, while others prefer just a touch of embellishment at the neckline, shoulders or waist.
Some still insist that the skirt be long if the wedding is an evening affair. But the more fashion-conscious woman might prefer tea-length or even knee-length, if the wedding is in the late afternoon.
And many mothers are turning their backs on traditional pretty pastels. Bright jewel tones, colorful prints and even plain black are now in vogue.