And the bride’s mother wore white…or how to avoid wrecking your child’s wedding
They say your wedding day is the most important day of your life.
Preparation often starts a year or more before the big day with dress fittings, gym memberships and debates about whether or not to risk falling up the aisle in your the seven-inch stilettos in order to be taller than the bridegroom’s infuriatingly tall and slim younger sister.
Weeks before the event you stop living a normal life: eating and sleeping become a thing of the past.
No single day will cause you such angst and trauma – until your daughter announces she is going to get married.
I am now at the age when I am no longer going to the weddings of friends, but rather the weddings of children of friends.
I have been through several weddings with girlfriends and although the stress was palpable, it is nowhere near as bad as it is for the mother of the bride.
I have seen professional women weep at the prospect of deciding what to wear and how to make the best of themselves without looking like an over-ripe tart.
Women who normally spend their time running multi-national companies turn into jibbering wrecks as they make that allimportant decision between the Gucci and the Chanel clutch-bag.
The problem for the mother of the bride is that she has a double whammy to contend with.
First, people are going to be checking her out to see how well-preserved and well-dressed she is and second, they want to see what the bride is going to look like in a few years’ time.
“Poor bloke,” you have visions of them whispering in their pews.
“She’ll end up like the mother, they always do.”
You see, the reason you know they have these visions is that you have thought the same thing.
Weddings are the most major fashion events of our lives.
Everyone goes to see who is wearing what and discuss the choice of hat/handbag/shoes/ hairstyle in great detail.
It is the family equivalent of the Paris couture shows, and if you’re Chanel your cousin is Dior, waiting to outshine you with some magnificent creation.
I remember going to a wedding a few years ago and being horrified that the woman in front of me wearing some kind of violet polyester creation was the mother of the bride.
I thought she was there to take the church collection.
This is the sort of unkind thought you have to contend with as the mother of the bride.
“I wish I were a man,” said one 50-year- old lawyer friend of mine recently whose daughter is getting married in June.
“Whatever I try on I feel insecure about on some level, either it’s too flouncy or too frumpy or just plain wrong.”
The aim at your daughter’s wedding is to look good enough to be noticed, but not to upstage her.
I remember one of my closest friends was horrified when her own mother showed up at her wedding wearing white.
“She doesn’t even like white,” my friend grumbled into her wedding cake.
We were all slightly shocked, but she is Canadian so maybe they do things differently over there.
So white is out, as is black, for obvious reasons.
The safest thing is to check with your daughter what she thinks of your outfit before you commit.
My mother borrowed a dress from me which was a perfect solution; she didn’t have to spend a fortune on an outfit and I was guaranteed to like it.
She also got around the tricky issue of whether or not to wear a hat rather cleverly.
On the morning of the wedding as I was trying to camouflage a spot on my nose she said “I’m going to pick my hat now” and went off to pick some wild flowers for her hair.
The hat thing is a minefield.
If you don’t wear one people will say you didn’t make an effort, if you do they will say you’re trying too hard.
Many women make the mistake of wearing a wagon wheel on their head in the belief that it’s chic and elegant and exactly what Catherine Deneuve would wear to a wedding. It’s not.
All it does is make greeting your future relations next to impossible and make you look like you are trying too hard.
But just how hard should you try?
As I write one angstridden mother is debating whether or not to have Botox in time for her daughter’s wedding in July.
I have just written a book about ageing and she came to me for advice.
“I so don’t want to look like an old trout,” she told me.
“What do you think?”
I have advised her against it.
Not that I have anything against Botox per se – done by the right person the results can be fabulous – but having seen myself after a treatment with a permanently raised eyebrow I’m not sure it’s the right thing to do before a wedding.
It might give your new family the impression that you’re slightly surprised, not to say amazed and perhaps a tad horrified, by the union.
Instead of the Botox I have suggested she go on a salmon diet between now and her big day.
This is a trick I picked up from Tina Richards, a holistic dermatologist.
“Salmon is great for the skin,” she says.
“Include salmon in your diet a couple of times a week to help firm and smooth your face.
“You can do an occasional course of eating salmon twice a day for five days before an event to maximise the face firming effect.
“I recommend buying wild Alaskan (or Pacific or red) salmon because it is less polluted than farmed salmon and tastes the best.”
Of course, the downside is that if they serve salmon at the wedding you might throw up at the sight of it, but it’s a small price to pay for glowing, firm skin.
One final word: Brides-to-be, please be kind. Being a blushing bride is all very romantic but spare a thought for your poor mother.
From this day forth she is a mother-in-law and she may soon become a grandmother.
If she looks a little frivolous, perhaps you can forgive her.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019