One of style journalist Allison Kaplan's favorite side hustles is her fashion radio call-in show. Inevitably, a baffled mother or a bride or groom pleads for fashion advice. So she teamed up with Betsey Kershaw, a social media professional, launching Mother Of, a website that plays matchmaker to moms who want a dress that looks great but won't outshine the bride. Kaplan tells D2C Insider what's behind the launch and why dressing for such a joyful day is so angsty.
D2C Insider: First, give us some background on you. You're also the editor-in-chief of Twin Cities Business, right?
Allison Kaplan: Yes. I've had a weird, multifaceted media career. I'm fundamentally a writer and have also been a style and fashion editor. From that, I started a radio show called Shop Girls to discuss style trends. It's on myTalk 107.1. My mom is my co-host. She also has a fashion background, and people like hearing the different generational perspectives. The No. 1 question we get every week is from the mother of the bride or groom, in a panic. They don't know where to shop or what to wear. I've answered this question so many times, and I just kept thinking, there's got to be a better way. Women need a resource to solve this conundrum. So I teamed up with Betsey Kershaw, who does social media here in Minneapolis. She's a longtime friend, and we share a love of retail, fashion and digital problem-solving.
D2C Insider: That's a fun founders' story! How old are you, and how old is your mom?
Kaplan: I'm 50, and she's 80. I was born of retail. She and my dad met at Dayton's department store, and she did fashion segments while I was growing up. Also, I should say that my sons are 14 and 18, so I'm nowhere near the mother of the groom yet.
D2C Insider: What is the business model?
Kaplan: The mission is to simplify the process. We're doing that by curating dresses, so you don't have to scroll through thousands of web pages on bloomingdales.com or something. We cut through the clutter and presented an edited list with an editorial write-up aimed at our demographic. We don't have any inventory. We have affiliate relationships with some brands. And from those brands, we earn a commission.
D2C Insider: Would you ever charge a consultation fee, like Stitch Fix?
Kaplan: No. We are not stylists. We've been inundated with questions, and we're doing our best to answer them in our blog. If the bride is wearing a short dress, do I have to? Can I wear the same color as the bridesmaids? What works for a beach wedding? A mountaintop?
D2C Insider: The wedding ecosystem is enormous. How are you tapping into it?
Kaplan: So far, we've done no advertising. Betsey is doing a lot on TikTok, and we have a significant audience on Instagram and Facebook. We've been growing organically, and we were lucky to catch the eye of the New York Times for some coverage. Women are finding us and sharing with their friends. It's an intimidating moment in their fashion lives.
D2C Insider: Why is it so hard?
Kaplan: It's a time when they are feeling vulnerable about their appearance. And while they've gotten very comfortable shopping online, many boutiques that cater to this age group have closed. Bridal stores offer very few options -- and even when someone has the right kind of dress, they show it on a model who is 20 years old and six feet tall. There's also this narrative that the mom needs to fade into the background. So it's a lonely process, and she needs some validation.
D2C Insider: Do today's brides think that, too?
Kaplan: No! They're not worried about their mother stealing the spotlight. They say, '"My mom is beautiful. I want her to feel amazing."
Photo credit: Jenn Ackerman
D2C Insider: There's a lot of stress around the word "appropriate." What's that about?
Kaplan: Women worry about doing the wrong thing. They don't want to make a mistake. So there are these dated looks. Do a Google search, and you'll find plenty of frumpy dresses. The No. 1 thing women say is, "I don't want to look matronly." But they wind up in the same shapeless sheath with a beaded jacket.
Today's women in their 50s -- they look great. They're modern dressers. So much about age and fashion has changed. But the question about appropriateness confuses them. You may have amazing abs and be at the gym every day and look great in the cut-out dresses that are so trendy right now. But do you want to wear that for your child's wedding?
D2C Insider: I guess it's about wanting the spotlight to be on the bride.
Kaplan: We hope to change that. On social media, parents always share pictures of the couple, not a picture of themselves. We've been using "It's your day, too" as a tagline. It doesn't mean you're taking over or making it about you. But it's a big milestone to have a child get married. You deserve that moment and to have people say you also looked great.
D2C Insider: What's your goal for the business?
Kaplan: When someone announces that their child is getting married, I want a friend to say, "You've got to go to Mother Of"–the same way people go to Open Table for a reservation or Yelp to write a review. We want to create an online community for women over 50 who want to look and feel their best. We'll see where it expands from there.