Finding the perfect occasionwear outfit to flatter your figure is easier than you’d think

Making peace with the woman in the mirror is a lifelong journey, but you’re mother of the bride in a few months’ time – you need an outfit now! 

Metallic floral print dress with beaded belt and matching jacket (style 26359), £POA, John Charles

We can all learn from Ashley Graham. The 29-year-old model from Nebraska has been a busy bee, appearing on the cover of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour and Elle. Like any supermodel, she gets plenty of press attention, but the key difference? She’s a healthy, curvaceous size 14 – not exactly a shocker to us ordinary girlfriends but groundbreaking in the fashion world. 

Ashley is not the only role model out there whose message is that your silhouette doesn’t define you, but somehow we’re still low on self-esteem. Just when we think we’ve embraced our imperfections, a shopping challenge – say, oh, I don’t know, shopping for our son or daughter’s big day – presents itself and knocks us for six. How do we get through it without losing our minds?

Luckily, there’s more support out there than you might realise. The occasionwear boutiques have a brigade of enthusiastic yet sensitive stylists happy to hunt down the outfit for you, while you have fun. Yes, fun.

Overcoming your nerves is about facing the fear head on – and having the right people with you while you’re at it. Before you hit the boutiques, decide which friends, if any, will be by your side. “Friends of your own age can be invaluable to bring along,” says Lisa Middleton at Edinburgh and Dunfermline-based Kudos Bridal Boutiques. “They understand what’s important to you and will be honest about what’s working and what’s not.”

“The bride is also a good person to take,” says Candice Nicol at Catherines of Partick. “She knows how she wants her wedding to look and feel.” A word of warning: “Don’t invite too many people though, as it can get confusing with all of their different opinions,” she adds.

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Ruched two-tone dress in Silver Shadow with detachable ruffle (style ISL-720) by Ian Stuart London, £1,260, Catherines of Partick
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Dress and cape (style CY24570) by Cabotine, £595, Kudos Bridal Boutiques
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Pleated stretch dress in Midnight Blue with three-quarter-length sleeves (style IR8624A7) by Irresistible, £POA, Patricia Forbes
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Picking the professionals who’ll steer you in the right direction deserves just as much careful deliberation. “It pays to go to a specialist store because the consultants will have lots of experience matching looks to your exact requirements,” advises Lisa. “And it’s worth making an appointment to ensure you have the team’s undivided attention.”

Karen Charles at Patricia Forbes in Broughty Ferry knows how difficult it can be for some women: “Mothers of the bride or groom are anxious when tracking down their special outfit,” she says. “Many women aren’t used to ‘dressing up’ but when a customer finds an outfit she loves, she often can’t believe how great she feels about herself!”

Dressing for your shape is essentially a process of elimination. “You need to determine the most flattering styles for your body,” Candice points out. “There are so many variations out there. Do you want a dress only? A bolero? A coat? You won’t know until you give it a go.”

“It’s the opposite of trying on high-street clothes,” guarantees Karen. “The outfits are made for ‘real women’ and not cut for teenage figures! Break out of your mould: consider straighter styles if you wear fuller skirts day-to-day, and vice versa. The stylists will suggest something you wouldn’t usually entertain. You can just take it off if you don’t like it!”

Seren headpiece, £185,Stephanie Gallen Millinery

Curvy? Prioritise comfort and fit above all else. “Women don’t like to feel constricted,” says Candice. “Try Lewis Henry, who creates lightweight outfits that are cut in a way that enhances the shape. Ann Balon is another designer we find particularly suitable for plus-size women, producing timeless lace pieces that come in a range of colours.”

Certain types of outfit will suit some mums more than others. “Shifts are best on slimmer figures, whether tall or short,” says Lisa. “For apple and pear shapes, opt for a loose chiffon dress, a tailored dress with a full skirt or a trouser suit.”

“With a pear shape, select a dress or bolero that finishes at the narrowest part of the body,” recommends Candice. “The skirts incorporated into a classic Condici outfit are of a softer design, making them a great option for curves.”

Milliner Stephanie Gallen has this advice when it comes to headwear: “Round faces should avoid dome-like crowns (like cloches) and go for a brim worn at an angle. It’s also generally understood that the brim of your hat should be in proportion to your stature. This means that if you’re petite, pillboxes, buttons and perchers are a better idea. Meanwhile, if you are fuller-figured, a wider hat will balance out any broader areas on your body, especially the shoulders.” 

Another final benefit to boutique shopping is that off the peg doesn’t necessarily mean off the peg. “Remember, everything can be altered!” points out Candice. “We will always pin a garment to show how the look can be achieved with a tweak or two.”