Meeting a significant other’s parents for the first time is an exciting –but incredibly nerve-racking –experience. It often signals the next step in a relationship and, particularly if your significant other is close to his parents, could mean he’s seeking their approval before moving forward. So what should you wear?
Of course you want to impress them, but it’s also important to let your real personality shine. But "just be yourself" only goes so far as advice in these situations. Elaine Turner, a Houston-based designer who also runs a styling program in 20 states, emphasized that "what you wear is another form of communication. It’s your visual language to the world."
So wearing the wrong thing can say even more than you realize. Here’s what Turner and other experts in all things fashion and dating say you should never wear when that very special someone takes you home to meet the parents.
Don’t be controversial
Standing up for what you believe in is super important, but it’s equally important to weigh the impact of first impressions alongside your desire to express your beliefs. Elaine Turner said that the last thing you want to do is start off by possibly crossing lines with your significant other’s parents. "Always steer clear of ensembles that might offend," she said. "Until you’ve gotten to know your potential new family and their beliefs, stay away from controversial pieces like political tees or fur."
Another thing to keep in mind is how you deal with exposing any tattoos you may have, which can also be controversial. Fashion expert Kari Cruz acknowledged that if your tattoos have a lot of personal significance to you, it can actually be a connecting point with the parents and a way to share some of your personality. "But," she warned, "if the parents aren’t as progressive, [tattoos] tend to be received in an overwhelming fashion. Wear long sleeves for the first meeting and give them a chance to learn about your personality directly, versus reading bits of it off of your body."
Never bring a skirt to a soccer game
Before meeting the parents, find out all you can about where you’ll be meeting the parents. This is because not only do you want to make a good first impression, you want to be comfortable in what you’re wearing. You don’t want to worry about your heels sinking into the wet grass when you realize you’re attending a younger sibling’s sporting event, or feel uncomfortable in your fancy dress while everyone else is in jeans, right?
Cruz pointed out that dressing appropriately for the occasion and location is important. "If you’re going to a midday brunch and you aren’t sure just how dressy the crowd will be, avoid that backless dress," she suggested. She added, "If it’s a night on the town or a festive occasion then you’ll surely want to dress the part." But she warned, "Avoid going overly sexy!"
Even if things are going to be very casual, there are still things Cruz recommends you avoid. "Go for pieces that aren’t flashy yet clue the parents into your sense of style," she said. "Just keep it pulled together to show an awareness of how you care after yourself. No exposed bra straps, stained clothing, crop tops, chipped nails, tattered jeans, or scuffed boots — these visual cues may be perceived as being ‘careless,’ ‘sloppy,’ or ‘irresponsible.’"
Color says more than you realize
As if you weren’t stressed enough already about wearing something that fits the occasion, you should also pay attention to the signals certain colors send. While you may think classic dark colors are a perfectly neutral way to approach your outfit selection, David Zyla, an Emmy award-winning stylist and best-selling author of Color Your Style suggests this may not be your best bet. He said to "steer clear of a dark neutral such as black or charcoal, as it conveys a sense of mystery, as if you may be concealing something."
No neutrals, got it. So red, then? Nope. "Save your best shade of red for date night, as in this situation it may come off too aggressive or sexy," Zyla added. So what’s a gal to do?
"Instead, opt for a color found in your iris," Zyla said. "If eyes are the window to the soul, this energetic friendly shade will convey a warm and friendly ‘I am a really nice person’ vibe."
Anything you’d wear clubbing is a no-go
It doesn’t matter if you’re going out later and want to save time, or if you feel like the nicest, trendiest clothes you own are the ones you wear clubbing with your girlfriends – Michelle Dimarco, celebrity stylist and owner of Lilac and Lilies Boutique, says just don’t wear your club threads to meet the folks. "If you have a cute outfit on and you could potentially see yourself wearing it to the club, that’s a good indication that you should not wear it to meet your boyfriend’s parents," she said.
Caitlin Bergstein, a Boston-based matchmaker with Three Day Rule, agreed. "This includes a low cut or revealing top and a short skirt, dress, or shorts. It can also include skin tight clothing," she said. "This can create the impression that you’re insecure and looking for attention." Even worse, Bergstein said wearing revealing or tight clothing can also make the parents question whether or not you’ll be faithful to their kid.
All parents want to protect their children, so don’t give them a reason to think they need to protect their kin from you. Personal stylist Rayne Parvis agreed and suggested wearing something that "exudes trust, femininity, and loyalty."
Your treadmill best
Athleisure wear is all the rage, and you might think that wearing your best gym clothes to meet your significant other’s parents will send a signal that you care about your health and taking care of your body. Instead, you could be sending a different kind of signal.
Bergstein shared that gym pants, sweatpants, and hoodies may instead come across like you’re too laid back and don’t care about your appearance. "This could be seen as a sign that you are lazy and leave his parents wondering why you couldn’t take the time to put on jeans and a nice top to meet them," she said.
DiMarco agreed and said that a t-shirt can be fine as long as it doesn’t look like one of the free ones you got at the end of a 5K. "You want to look like you care," she said. "Wearing something too casual says that you don’t."
Are leggings pants?
We all get it. Leggings are super comfortable and now come in a variety of textures, styles, and prints. But the classic debate of whether or not leggings are pants isn’t something you want to bring to the table when meeting the parents for the first time. Even if they aren’t workout leggings, which we already know to avoid, you’re better off leaving your LuLaRoe at home.
Turner agrees. She said, "It’s a classic debate, but when meeting the parents, leave this conundrum at home and opt for a pair of secure denim." Noted. After all, do you really want to risk even the possibility that your underwear might be visible when you bend over? We’ve all seen it happen and it’s not the kind of first impression you want to leave with your possible future in-laws.
A fog of perfume
Of course you want to smell good in addition to looking good when meeting the parents, but too much is never a good thing. Rori Sassoon, a matchmaker who also attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, said that perfume should never be too heavy. "You’ll always be remembered as the girl with the heavy perfume who’s trying too hard, trying to mask her own bad smell, or trying to actually be Coco Chanel," she said.
Not only can this irritate allergies or breathing problems the parents may have — which is definitely not a good first impression — it will make it nearly impossible to hug you hello or goodbye should they want to. Definitely not the way you want to start things. "Play it safe and tone down the extremes," Sassoon advised. "Think balance."
In fact, says Sassoon, balance is key when it comes to everything during this first meeting. "You definitely don’t want to wear anything too low cut, tight, short, or too anything to meet your guy’s parents," she said. "You can’t go wrong with classy!"
Gaudy, flashy jewelry
It can be tempting to opt for all your best jewelry when meeting the parents — you want to impress them, after all. But wearing too much jewelry or jewelry that’s gaudy or super flashy can be a distraction. Imagine being nervous and fidgety when meeting the parents — not much of a stretch of the imagination, is it? Now imagine that while fidgeting, you have on a slew of bangle bracelets that clink and clank with every fidget. Yeah, best to avoid that.
Brittney Smiejek, a Chicago-based matchmaker with Three Day Rule, put it in no uncertain terms when she said, "No gaudy jewelry." She further suggested keeping things classic, chic, and simple, adding, "I think it is important to remember that the best accessory you can wear in really any setting is a smile."
Too much makeup
Makeup can be a very useful tool, and one that you use to make yourself more confident or feel more like yourself. Still, no matter how good you are with a makeup brush, there is such a thing as overdoing it.
Bergstein shared that over-the-top makeup, along with clothes that are too fancy and heels that are too high, "can come across as you being high maintenance, high drama, or inauthentic." If makeup is a must, opt for a more natural look instead of that dramatic smokey eye and bold red lip you rock with your girlfriends.