There's hardly a more dispiriting selection for 50+ women than "Mother (or Grandmother) of the Bride".
On every site, frumpy jacketed dresses in upholstery-weight fabrics. I guess many designers figure all the money's been spent on the bride's dress, otherwise, why the sea of poly-satin? Dresses that make us look like Mrs. Doubtfire hit a prom.
The dress should of course echo the formality and tone of the occasion. If you're in a place of workshop for the ceremony, you'll want some respectful cover, which can be substantial as an evening coat or as whispy as a chiffon stole.
I set out to find some dresses that avoid the tired jacket-over-long-dress formula.
For a formal evening wedding, I liked these:
Ossie Clark dress in an opulent soft umber (which I took from Linda Grant's The Thoughtful Dresser blog), on sale now for £299.
Tadashi twisted metallic dress in "smoked pearl", a subtle, sensuous shade, $410 at Neiman Marcus.
Both flatter the midsection with soft draping and draw the eye toward the neckline.
I'd also consider vintage, because the fabric quality will be so much higher for your budget, and many evening gowns were not worn hard.
Look at this Dior 50's greenish bronze silk crysanthemum-pattern evening gown with matching wrap (lined in "purplish gray" velvet). It sold for $1395 from Vintageous.
A good vintage boutique will listen to your needs, e-mail photos, or send a few items for you to consider.
For a less formal evening or afternoon wedding, I'd go slightly flou. The dress should be as joyful as the occasion.
Barbara Tfank coat and dress, from the Resort '09 collection is the essence of understated elegance.
Yeohlee's Spring '09 dress is the one I'd choose if 'the kids' are having a casual wedding, perhaps on a rooftop garden.
If you'd like more colour, from Barneys, a Martin Grant silk crepe shift, $1, 446 in ebullient turquoise.
The subtle blush-coloured Milly silk blend shift (below, left) says "spring" and the lurex-striped pencil skirt is sexy yet refined. $445 at Net-a-porter.
Vintage again: an alluring (now sold) 1990s YSL chiffon dress. I'd feel like Catherine Deneuve, with of course diamond earrings. From Swank Vintage.
Another idea is to find a style you love, and have it made by a skilled dressmaker.
My friend Harriet found exactly one dress, by Armani, that didn't make her look, as she said, like her grandmother, but at $5,000 could not bring herself to buy.
She had the design, exactly like this Jacques Heim 1960s pattern ($60 at Sewing Palette) made with a sheer silk velvet devoré skirt in soft spring shades, simple satin bodice and a double-layered chiffon stole that echoed the skirt's pink and soft greens. (I guess Mr. Armani looks through archives too.)
The gown emphasized her trim waist and fit perfectly at the bodice. For about $800, she has a dress she will wear with pleasure many times. After the wedding Harriet shortened it, like the far-right illustration.