Wednesday, February 09, 2011

What to Wear to Meet the Parents

Dear Graces,
Help! I have been invited to dinner at the home of my beloved's parents. I have never met them before and I really want to make a great impression. I can see myself growing old with their son and would hate to jeopardize that with an ill chosen outfit. In short, what do I wear?

Grace Says:

Ain't love grand? First of all, enjoy that glow. If he is taking you home, the feeling must be mutual. Couldn't help but think of Ben Stiller when I read your question....

But let's face it, what you wear can be critical. Nothing will overcome the first impression that the beloved son and heir is paying you by the hour. Dressing to meet the parents can be more nerve-wracking than dressing for an interview. You want to dress to impress, but you want to avoid that shade of impressive that will make you the butt of family jokes for the next six Thanksgivings. It is a sartorial minefield. You want to look polished without screaming "This is Gucci. Admire me!". You want to look warm and friendly, but not so friendly that Dad keeps dropping his fork and Grandpa strokes out over the lobster bisque. You want to fit in, but you don't want to pretend to be someone you're not (although I rather suspect most of us have been on extra, extra good behavior in those early days with a new love).

I offer you an illustrative and cautionary anecdote: About 16 years ago, my cousin Logan brought his intended, a lovely girl named Renee, to a family gathering. The young lady worked for Ralph Lauren at the time. Unfortunately for Renee, who availed herself of the very latest fashion (not to mention her generous employee discount), she overdid it. This was the early 90s when Ralph made a brief and ill-advised foray into "school-girl chic".

Poor Renee embraced the look from head to toe: A micro-mini plaid skirt (strike 1) with a cleavage busting blouse (strike 2)and knee socks (strike 3). Finally, the high heeled mary janes (as if mattered, strike 4). Despite a 10-year marriage, 3 kids, hundreds of tasteful, attractive outfits, and a house in Bryn Mawr later, Renee is still known as "Fetish Girl" to our entire family.

But on to your advice, first and foremost on attire is to choose something that you are comfortable wearing. Not yoga comfortable, but something that won't require constant adjustment, tugging, and twisting throughout the visit, or frequent surveillance to ensure that it has not dipped below or hiked above the parts of you that you don't want to share with your bf's parents, at least not yet.

I am a skirt girl--this time of year with tights, boots, and a cashmere sweater. I am also and a big fan of anthropologie--they will doubtless have something fab.

If you are not a skirt girl, that's ok--pants work, even jeans, as long as they are not shredded, or so low that they barely clear your pelvic floor. Pair them with a crisp blouse--solid, or striped; (paisley prints are the devil's work). Or go with a sweater. Stay away from political tees, belly-baring tops, and anything with an off-color message: no matter how funny (or true) it may be.

Even if your bf is wearing sweats and proclaims authoritatively that his entire clan will be identically clad, ignore him. (Whatever he "thinks" his mother and sisters wear is wrong. Trust me. Nine out of ten times, the item of clothing a man attributes to his female family members will be the single item you do not want to replicate, like the plaid taffeta dress or the angora sweater with kittens on it.) When I traveled in Australia some time ago, I came across the term 'tidy casual' to describe the dress code at most restaurants. That is what you are after.

Wear undies that you can't see--neither thru the clothing nor above the waistband (no no no peekaboo thongs, ever). I was in the grocery store the other day and a young woman bent over to grab a box of Cheerios, exposing an undergarment that resembled nothing so much as a clothesline around her waist, and another bit of clothesline looped around it heading south. I was mystified, saw no point in the arrangement, and put it into the category of "views I could have done without."

Wear a bra. My mother-in-law still rants about an unfortunate girl her son (now my husband) brought home many years ago--"with her bosoms bobbing everywhere and more hairspray than a 1950s prom. I had to take a chisel to the bathroom vanity when she left." Poor girl. Well, it was the 80s.

Knock 'em dead. I hope they love you. Even more importantly, I hope you love them!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wear what you would usually wear. Just don't be a little sex doll. Trying to be something that you are NOT will bite you back later on. You're with HIM, not the parents.