If Allison Kaplan had a rallying cry, it would be, “Down with the sequined jacket!”
Last October, Ms. Kaplan and her business partner, Betsey Kershaw, both of whom are from the Minneapolis area, founded Mother Of, an online resource designed to help mothers or mother figures find the perfect look for their children’s weddings.
“The mother of the bride dress is so tired and matronly, for so many women, it’s a very intimidating purchase,” said Ms. Kaplan, who is known as Ali. “There tends to be this outdated assumption that if you’re the mother, you want to wear a little jacket with sequins on it.”
The website doesn’t sell dresses directly, but displays a curated collection of dresses, jumpsuits and suits from various online retailers chosen by Ms. Kaplan, with her appraisal of each item. For the modern mother of the bride or groom, she suggests fancy jumpsuits, dresses and tops with “flutter sleeves” and yes, even wearing black.
There are categories for daytime, black tie, cocktail, destination and suits, with featured outfits ranging in price from around $100 to more than $1,000.
There are also photos and stories from real women and the dresses they chose.
“Baby Boomer and Gen X women just don’t relate to this matronly, fade-into-the-background archetype of the mother of the bride, and they’ve raised evolved children who don’t see them that way, either,” said Ms. Kaplan. “But the fashion industry hasn’t caught up.”
Ms. Kaplan, 50, is also editor in chief of Twin Cities Business, as well as the former style editor for Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. She is the public face of the Mother Of brand, appearing on camera describing aspects of dresses in short videos on Instagram and TikTok. Ms. Kershaw, 58, who handles the back-end maintenance of the website and maintains their social media accounts, is the founder of her own Minneapolis-based social media agency, BK&Co.
Neither have been mothers of brides or grooms yet.
You haven’t been a “mother of,” so how did this idea come about?
For years, I’ve done a local radio show about fashion and shopping with my mother, called “ShopGirls with Ali & Harmony,” and nearly every week, we get a call from a distressed mother of the bride who doesn’t know how to shop for this dress. Now, it’s even harder as so many stores have closed because of Covid. Even for women who are comfortable shopping online, scrolling through thousands of dresses is time consuming and lonely. I wanted to help more women than I could talk to directly through radio show call-ins or email.
Mother Of cuts through the clutter. The dresses we feature are modern, but chosen with mothers of the bride and groom in mind. The real moms we feature provide helpful context of what a dress will look like on someone who is petite or curvy. The descriptions say things like: “We like this because it has that flutter sleeve, which is super flattering.”
Why is this such a challenging purchase?
Women still want to feel young and look great, but this event often comes at a time when they’re feeling a little insecure about their bodies. Women are intimidated by this purchase because this event feels so monumental in their lives and their family’s lives. It’s a really big day, but not about them, so they don’t want to take up too much space and yet they want to look amazing. They also just want reassurance, like “Can I wear pants?” or “Is it too sexy?” They’re wanting community around this decision, and validation.
Women over 50 don’t feel like anyone is talking to them. First and foremost, we are creating a hub for a group of overlooked women, with spending power, where they know that they are the focus.
What are you learning from featuring real women and what they wore?
So many women see a dress they like on a 6-foot-tall model who is size zero and can’t relate because they can’t picture it on themselves. We always see the larger sizes sell out first. It’s so obvious that a broader range of sizes, styles and silhouettes that suit more women are needed.
Not everyone has a friend to go shopping with, especially now, with so many people shopping online. A lot of women don’t trust their own judgment, and there tends to be a lot of rules around a wedding: “Is it OK to wear black or not?” “Should it be long or short?” and then there are the added factors around destination weddings that make many women think, “I have no idea what to wear.”
Given your demographic, is it surprising that you have a strong following on TikTok?
My partner knew TikTok would be a big component of this. We are deep in wedding TikTok, where I’ve never lived before. There, we’re talking to brides who want to help their moms and soon-to-be mothers-in-law. As we post more videos, women appreciate seeing real women with real bodies. It’s comforting, inspiring, and reassuring, and that’s a huge part of what we want to do.
Today’s moms are starting companies and taking risks; they’re talking openly about menopause and living full, healthy, vibrant lives well after their children leave the nest. They need a shopping experience to reflect the modern, confident way they feel. As much as this day is so important to the mom, she doesn’t get the moment for herself. We’re giving women that moment and they deserve it, they’re the moms. They get the “you look amazing” in the comments, and it’s fun for them to have their moment, too.
How are you funding this endeavor?
It wasn’t a huge lift to get started, mostly just our time. But we plan to explore affiliate marketing and advertising, with the advertising remaining separate from the content. We also could expand to adjacent categories, as this same woman needs shoes, accessories, and a dress for the rehearsal dinner.