Can the mother of the bride wear black?

Quick Answers

Black used to be considered taboo for the mother of the bride to wear, but attitudes have relaxed in recent years. Here are some quick answers about whether it’s appropriate for the mother of the bride to wear black:

  • Black is now generally acceptable for the mother of the bride to wear, though very dark/inky shades may still raise some eyebrows.
  • Lighter shades like charcoal gray, pewter, or navy are considered universally safe.
  • A touch of black, like a black lace overlay or black accessories, can work well.
  • The mother of the bride should avoid wearing all black or being dressed more formally than the bride.
  • Ultimately, the mother of the bride should select an outfit she feels great in that fits the formality of the wedding.

History and Meaning of Black Wedding Attire

Up until the late 20th century, black was traditionally seen as an off-limits color for wedding attire in Western culture. For centuries, black clothing has been associated with mourning and death. Since weddings were happy occasions full of joy and new beginnings, wearing black was seen as very taboo and could be interpreted as the family not approving of or being unhappy with the marriage.

Some of the historical objections around mothers of the bride wearing black include:

  • Black dresses resembled funeral attire and symbolized grief or disapproval of the marriage.
  • If a mother wore black, it could imply that she was “in mourning” over her daughter getting married and leaving home.
  • Black clothing was associated with evil spirits, and people wanted to avoid this symbolism putting a curse on the couple.
  • In a time when weddings were more about uniting families than romantic love, black sent a message that the bride’s family did not support the unity.

While these historical superstitions around the color black may seem silly today, they contributed to rigid rules around avoiding black attire for celebratory occasions like weddings. These rules were so ingrained in social consciousness that wearing black was just not done for centuries.

When Attitudes Began to Shift

As weddings evolved over the 20th century to be more about the couple than political family alliances, the strict rules around wedding attire slowly began to relax. By the 1980s and 1990s, wearing black was still frowned upon but started becoming more acceptable at formal events and weddings:

  • Black transitioned into an elegant, stylish, and sophisticated color option for evening events.
  • As younger generations started bucking traditional etiquette rules, black became trendier and more fashion-forward for weddings.
  • The goth subculture and punk rock movement embraced black as a symbol of being alternative and edgy.
  • Famous and fashionable celebrities started pushing the boundaries and wearing black dresses on the red carpet.
  • With less focus on extended family traditions, the taboo against black faded as couples put their own tastes first.

So while many etiquette traditionalists still disapproved, wearing black became much more common and accepted starting in the late 20th century. Today the color is widely embraced, though the extremely dark shades may still be controversial.

Is Black Appropriate for Mothers of the Bride Today?

In the past couple of decades, attitudes have continued to loosen. While many used to say wearing black was always inappropriate and taboo, today it has become generally acceptable in most cases. Here are some tips on how modern brides, grooms, and their families can approach black attire:

  • Opt for lighter black shades. Instead of jet black, go for charcoal gray, pewter, or navy blue, which read as more celebratory.
  • Black accents and accessories work well. Black handbags, jewelry, hats, or shawls lighten up an outfit.
  • Adding color helps. Pairing a black dress with a colorful scarf, jacket, or shoes gives it a more festive vibe.
  • Consider black and white patterns. Black and white gingham, polka dots, or houndstooth come across more neutral.
  • Make sure it’s not too formal. A beaded black gown may upstage the bride’s dress.
  • Get the couple’s approval. Check with the bride and groom if concerned about offending family.
  • When in doubt, go with lighter colors. Shades like silver, gray, blush, or mauve are always safe choices.

So black is generally acceptable today, as long as it aligns with the formality of the wedding and avoids looking like funeral attire. The mother of the bride should also be aware of any strong views the couple or their close family may still hold against wearing black even in modern times.

Ask the Bride for Her Opinion

To avoid any risk of upsetting the couple by wearing black, it’s wise to check with the bride directly about her preferences. The bride may have no issue with black outfits, or she may prefer avoiding darker shades for the special occasion. Here are some questions mothers of the bride can ask:

  • “Would you be comfortable if I wore a black dress for your wedding?”
  • “I’ve picked out a few dress options, including a black one. What do you think?”
  • “Black dresses have become so stylish lately! Would it be alright if I wore black to your wedding, or would you prefer I stick with lighter colors?”
  • “Are there any colors you’d prefer I avoid wearing as the mother of the bride?”

By having an open conversation, the mother of the bride can get the bride’s honest input and select an outfit that will make her feel confident she is honoring the couple’s wishes.

Contemporary Black Dress Options for Mothers of the Bride

If given the green light by the bride and groom, black dresses can be completely appropriate and look gorgeous when styled thoughtfully. Here are some modern black dress options and how to wear them stylishly to a wedding:

Little Black Dress

A chic black cocktail dress hitting at the knee or just below is a versatile choice. Look for details like lace or bead embellishments and pair with nude heels and jewelry.

Black Suit or Pantsuit

A black skirt or pant suit with some sparkle or a print top brings traditional structure with a twist. Go for wide leg or palazzo pants for breezy comfort.

Black Dress with Florals

A black background decorated with big, colorful florals feels celebratory. Opt for a knee or tea length style in a lightweight fabric.

Two-Piece Set with Black Lace

A sleeveless black lace top or overlay paired with a skirt or pants in a lighter color keeps the look from being too dark.

Black Dress with Metallic Accents

Subtle gold, silver or bronze touches on a black dress brighten it up. Metallic shoes and jewelry complement nicely.

Off-the-Shoulder Black Gown

An off-the-shoulder black gown with a mermaid silhouette makes a striking yet elegant statement. Just avoid overly heavy beading or embellishments.

Black Jumpsuit

A black jumpsuit with wide or tailored legs has an effortlessly cool vibe. Add metallic platform sandals and statement earrings.

The key is balancing black with other colors and keeping silhouettes and fabric lightweight rather than overly formal. Staying away from solid jet black looks and too much black accessorizing helps modernize black dresses.

What to Avoid in Black Attire as Mother of the Bride

While black dresses are broadly accepted today, there are still some specific styles and situations that may be seen as inappropriate or could upstage the bride:

  • All black looks from head to toe
  • Black dresses or jumpsuits with plunging necklines
  • Very form-fitting or overly sexy black dresses
  • Heavy black fabrics like velvet or brocade
  • An abundance of black sequins, beads, or lace
  • Black dresses that could be mistaken for bridal gowns
  • Looking more formal or glamorous than the bride
  • Out-dressing female relatives of the groom
  • Making controversial style statements that draw attention

Mothers of the bride should aim for black dresses that are stylish while not diverting attention from the bride’s white gown. Simple, modest black dresses in modern silhouettes tend to work well.

Ask Other Relatives About Their Attire

To coordinate appropriately, the mother of the bride can also check with female relatives on both sides about the outfits they plan on wearing. No one wants to accidentally match the mother of the groom’s dress. Knowing the color scheme and formality helps guide black dress selections.


Black dresses for mothers of the bride have gone from forbidden to fashionable. While extremely dark shades may still raise eyebrows, black is now widely accepted. The key is choosing black dresses that suit the wedding style and couple’s preferences. With the bride’s approval and mindful styling, black can be perfect for the mother of the bride. Just avoid overly formal black looks that could upstage the bride’s gown. With the taboo relaxed, black dresses can now be sophisticated options – though lighter colors will always be safe choices.

Decade Attitudes Toward Mothers of the Bride Wearing Black
Pre-1900s Completely forbidden as it symbolized grief and not approving the marriage
Early 1900s Still considered very taboo and only worn in mourning situations
Mid 1900s Starting to loosen but still frowned upon by most etiquette standards
1970s-1980s Gaining some acceptance but still controversial and seen as distasteful by many
1990s-2000s Becoming more mainstream and acceptable, but very dark black seen as risky
2010s-today Widely accepted though some traditionalists may still disapprove of jet black shades

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