"Meeting parents doesn't make you nervous, does it? I have to stop by mother's to get something," my then-boyfriend/now-husband stated more than asked as he veered off the highway. Stunned, I looked down and surveyed my outfit: a tattered denim mini skirt, rubber slide sandals and a deep V-neck tee. Not exactly the first impression I wanted to make. But before I could open my mouth to protest, he pulled up in a driveway, opened the driver's door and motioned for me to follow suit. I was stuck.

The following winter, he invited me on a trip to visit his younger brother at Carnegie Mellon in Pennsylvania. His father, whom I had never met, would also be coming. Overcompensating for my surprise encounter with his mom, I arrived at the airport wearing a thin sweaterdress, ankle-strap flats and one change of (very similar) clothes. What followed was a freezing, uncomfortable flight and one awkward afternoon spent in Pittsburgh as we drove around looking for a place for me to buy pants. Striiiiiikke two.

All this time later, I don't know the initial impression those ensembles cast on either in-law-I've never had the guts to ask. Instead, I'd I like to think that I've redeemed myself by wearing plenty of meet-the-parents-caliber ensembles to family gatherings. I'd say at this point, oh seven years later, I've finally got the look down. You can get it right the first time around, though, if you just follow my advice in the slideshow below.I've included a some shopping picks to get you started, along with handy styling tips that'll get you a glowing review. (And don't stress if you make any missteps. I'm living proof that it will turn out just fine.)

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