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Straight Talk – Mother of the Bride

Straight Talk – Mother of the Bride

For years my daughter, Kris and I have watched countless episodes of ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ on TLC; from the US version, with Randy and his team at Kleinfeld in Manhattan, to the UK versions with David Emanuel and my daughter’s personal favourite, Gok Wan.  Who doesn’t love Gok and his ability to put down on paper what is only an idea in the bride’s imagination?!

We’ve ‘oohed and aahed’ over the fabulous designer dresses being tried on by countless Brides-to-Be and gasped at some of the ‘eye-wateringly’ expensive prices.

 A lot of TV time has transpired over the years which culminated in my daughter being able to say ‘YES!’ to a beautiful and reasonably priced dress, at a lovely bridal boutique on the Quay.  The experience definitely lived up to our expectations, which were understandably quite high given our viewer experience. The dress? Well, that’s still in the ‘top secret’ stages but it’s fair to say that, as so often happens on the TV show, she chose a style that we least expected her to. 

Which leads to my experience of shopping for the Mother of the Bride outfit – otherwise known as ‘Operation MOB’, which I was a lot less prepared for and was not quite as excited about.  Suffice to say that most of the dresses I’ve tried on over the months have been ‘frown at the gown’ moments rather than a euphoric ‘yes!’.

woman dress arm leaning

Lumps and bumps aside (and yes I do have a few, as most of us do) it was not so much that some of the dresses made me look like I’d grabbed a sack and pushed my arms through it; it was the sizing discrepancies that I found most challenging.  Discrepancies which have made ordering online extremely hit and miss. In fact, some online shopper ‘experts’ order multiple outfits in different sizes; one size up, one size down, one actual size, and then multiple colours. They choose businesses that offer free returns, which makes for an enormous order and an equally huge amount of returns.  They are essentially using the free shipping service as a changing room. Perhaps a good idea but not for me, as I’m inherently bad at remembering to return things on time.  

Talking of changing rooms, I had an experience recently, which still evokes feelings of panic; shortness of breath and sweaty armpits! I was in a popular High Street department store and had selected an all in one jumpsuit; it looked elegant and fabulous on the hanger. Unfortunately, it seems that no one told the designer that a hanger wouldn’t be the only one wearing it.

In I walked, pulled the curtain closed, filled with effervescent daydreams that I could be that cool, modern mother of the bride.  The jumpsuit didn’t have much of a zipping system, it seemed that the wearer needed to slither into it, which I did. It looked awful and felt too small, despite being my official size.  The real problems started when I tried to slither out of it! I couldn’t get it off both my shoulders, to slip it back off, it had moulded itself onto my body like a barnacle on a rock. I eventually managed to ease one of my arms and shoulders out but that meant the other shoulder was so tight, it strained against my neck.  I looked for a hidden zip that I might have missed; there wasn’t one. I paused for a moment, catching sight of my panicky red face, and thought ‘I’m going to have to cut my way out of this’. But if that was even a serious option, it wasn’t to be as I didn’t have a pair of scissors in my bag. In the end, after much sweating and wiggling, I managed to ease myself out of the garment, lying on the floor of the changing room, exhausted, in my bra and knickers.  Not my finest moment!

But why does a size 14 in one shop fit me with plenty of room, and in another, I can’t even get the zip up?  And what is ‘large’ about some of the garments found in the ladies’ section? Large enough to fit my big toe, maybe. 

Fortunately, help wasn’t too far away because as the winner of a raffle, my prize was spending time with the lovely Shelley Kelly – professional wardrobe de-clutterer, personal shopper and stylist. After meeting up, we headed out to search for the elusive MOB outfit.

Shelley sagely advised me that it’s about the fit of an item and not about the size on the label, especially as there is no standardised sizing across retailers. 

On a BBC Sounds interview  ‘Why can’t every clothing brand have the same sizes?’ which was originally broadcast on You & Yours*, reporter and presenter Shari Vahl got to the bottom of the issue.  Interestingly, she found that our bodies have changed over the years and, on average, we are bigger today than we were in the 1950s.   A size 18 in 1952 would be the equivalent of an average size 12 today. 

She also found that manufacturers base their measurements on a UK size survey carried out 18 years ago by what was then the Department of Trade and Industry, where leading retailers and researchers used body scan measurements on over 11000 people to create a standard sizing system.  When the Manchester Metropolitan University carried out an experiment, by 3D scanning over 600 women, they found that only 9 women conformed with the bust and hip measurements of the survey carried out in 2001. No wonder there’s a size discrepancy!

Eliana Dockterman, staff writer for Time New York,  states in her online article, ‘One size fits none’ that ‘as Americans have grown physically larger, brands have shifted their metrics to make shoppers feel skinnier’, giving rise to vanity sizing which could be another reason that sizes are so inconsistent today.

She goes on to say that studies have shown that shoppers prefer to buy clothes labelled with smaller sizes because it boosts confidence.  As much as I hate to admit it, I can relate.

On doing further research, I found that today, British women on average are taller, live longer and earn comparatively more than women from the 1950s.  There are pros and cons in both eras as far as I can see. Back in the 50s, there were more women staying at home, doing housework which involves physically moving about; whereas today, we may still do housework (me as little as possible) but more of us go out to work and may have jobs where we sit for longer periods and are more sedentary.  Our diets have also changed and are both more nutritious compared to the post-war years but also, perhaps, more fattening. We have more medication and vitamins that help us to remain healthier, which helps us to live longer.

Our waistlines may have increased but I, for one, am grateful to be living in an era where I have so many choices.  Whether I choose to work or stay at home, wear a dress or a suit, whether I dance or choose to sit this one out, it’s my choice.  And, as journalist Alexis Bowater put it so eloquently, I don’t have to ‘be a boy to be a girl’. I can just be me.

Let’s be proud of the figures that we have and embrace them (literally if you so choose); the way clothes sizing works today, it’s meaningless to dwell on the numbers anyway, so inconsistent are they.  Far better to strive to be the healthiest and happiest version of ourselves that we can be, whatever that looks like. And if we fall off the ‘healthy’ wagon, every now and then as I so often do, just try again tomorrow.  Live life, love, enjoy, repeat!

Back to Shelley’s wise words, that ‘it’s not about the size, it’s about the fit’.  We headed out to a large department store which carries multiple brands, one rainy Exeter afternoon, in search of the perfect MOB outfit.

After trying on around ten different dresses and a pair of trousers, hand-picked by Shelley, we found ‘the one’.  A beautiful occasion dress that fit me perfectly. Size wise? It is a size bigger than I’m used to wearing but looks fabulous and I finally realised that when I’m out and about in it, no one else will know or care what size it is anyway.  Operation MOB complete! Roll on wedding celebrations!

Written by Stella Nicholls
Photos sourced via Unsplash

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