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Just Because You’re a Mom Doesn’t Mean You Have to Dress Like One

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Lady Cockburn and Her Three Eldest Sons by Joshua ReynoldsA few years ago, Saturday Night Live aired a fake commercial for “Mom Jeans.” The video went viral—not only because it’s funny, but also because it spoofs a basic fact about the lives of millions of women: “You’re not a woman anymore. You’re a mom!”

It’s a perennial problem. How do I, as a mom, dress to fit my lifestyle and to send the right message to the people around me? I don’t want my clothes to say, “I’ve given up on myself.” But I want them to reflect certain features–psychiological, social, and practical–of my life.

Mom Jeans Women

I have to own up to being a “mom jeans” woman: a woman who chooses function over form every time. I may get vomited on or end up crawling through the mud anyway, so why bother putting on something nice?

But wearing these gender-defying clothes also suppresses two important parts of who I am.

In my casual long skirt, t-shirt, and head scarf, I like beautiful… but undeniably like a mom.

  • I am a wife.

    It can be hard for those of us who are both moms and wives to remember that our hips are for more than carrying children around and our breasts are for more than nursing–especially when our self-image is shaken by post-pregnancy changes in the way we look. Believe it or not, many men take pride in the maternal way their wives look after bearing children. When I wear mom jeans all the time, I tell my husband that being a mom is more important to me than being his mate. Sometimes, especially early in a newborn’s life, it may be. But a long term choice of children over marriage isn’t healthy.

  • I am a woman.

    I commented to my husband recently that, for the first time since I got pregnant, people have been mistaking someone younger than I am since I started my Month of Self-Care. I thought it was the clothes, but he thought it was more than that. He says he can always tell a different in my mood and in my self-confidence when I know I’m dressed beautifully. Not only do I look different, I feel different, too. Plus, by carefully dressing to highlight my assets and minimize the things I like least about my body, I like who I see in the mirror. That’s important.

M.I.L.F.s and Other Moms in Denial

A dress I wore in high school, ten years ago

A dress I wore in high school, ten years ago

On the other hand, there are days when I cannot quite bring myself to acknowledge my new life as a mother. I feel ashamed of my body or desire the feeling of conquest when I attract a man. But dressing like a young, single woman isn’t fair to myself. I’m denying the changes in my life instead of owning them.

That same dress at the same weight today. I can fit into it, but it doesn't flatter my matronly figure at all.

That same dress at the same weight today. I can fit into it, but it doesn’t flatter my matronly figure at all.

  • My body has changed.

    Marriage and family change a woman’s body physically. There is strong, though not conclusive, evidence that becoming sexually active gradually changes a woman’s body shape. (I could wear my high school jeans when my five-year reunion rolled around. But, without gaining any weight, I “outgrew” them in three months after I got married.) Pregnancy temporarily and permanently changes the body even more. Hips widen. Stomachs stretch. Breasts swell. Feet grow. Ribcages expand… Clothes just don’t fit the same way on most women after they start families.

  • My lifestyle has changed.

    Marriage and family also affect a woman’s wardrobe practically. It’s pretty obvious that children, especially infants and toddlers, limit a woman’s wardrobe choices. For example, most of us have to put away dangling earrings and hard-to-clean fabrics for special occasions. A beautiful outfit I used to love might just not be worth the upkeep anymore–or able to handle the wear-and-tear of parenting small children.

Sending the Right Signals

Our clothes send a message about who we are and how we want others to related to us. Thoughtful dressing for moms means wearing clothes that send the right signals.

There is a scene in Anna Karenina when Count Vronsky, Anna’s eventual lover, observes her figure. She isn’t slim, but she is beautiful and matronly. Vronsky finds her figure irresistibly attractive because she is a mother–even though he isn’t the father of her child. Tolstoy leads the reader to the conclusion that Vronsky’s attraction to a married mother is deeply wrong. A mother’s figure shouldn’t evoke the same response from other men as a maiden’s body might.

Centuries ago, social markers helped men and women understand who was available and who wasn’t. These days, thoughtless dressing can show as much about how late we wake up in the morning as how we want to carry ourselves in public. But thoughtlessness doesn’t change other people’s interpretations of our clothes–whether we chose the message or not, it still comes across loud and clear.

I want to dress in a way that shows positive goodwill toward others, not that invites others to make sexual advances. That honors who and what I am now without giving up my self-confidence or pretending to be something I’m not.

A Perfect Fit

So if we don’t want to give up our identities as women, and we don’t want to pass ourselves off as young and single, where does the middle lie? I think it lies in finding clothes that are

In this outfit, I’m happy and confident—but my look doesn’t send the message that I am interested in a relationship with the men I meet. I am a mom, but that isn't the only identity I own with this fashion statement.

In this outfit, I’m happy and confident—but my look doesn’t send the message that I am interested in a relationship with the men I meet. I am a mom, but that isn’t the only identity I own with this fashion statement.

  • Functional. Yes, as moms, our clothes have to be functional. I don’t mind showing off my healthy mom’s décolletage, but low-cut tops invite my son to bare my chest in public. Heels may look gorgeous, but they make bending down all day difficult. Function should be a factor in everyone’s dress, but it doesn’t have to trump form.
  • Fashionable. When I say fashionable, I don’t clothes should follow the latest trends. The best mom clothes (in fact, the best clothes for anyone!) are timeless classics that never go out of style. Replace the mom jeans you wear to hide your matronly figure with jeans that fit like a dream. Keep a wardrobe full of flattering sweaters, skirts, and trousers instead of sweats.
  • High-Quality. It’s a good rule of thumb to buy the highest quality you can afford. I don’t think that’s any less true when your clothes are at greater risk from greasy fingers. Higher-quality clothes last longer. When I’m wearing a nice top, I’m more likely to change clothes and leave it on to soak than wear a stained T all day. And most importantly, nicer clothes just feel better.
  • Low-Maintenance. Moms do enough laundry already. Avoid clothes that require special care–though sending a load through the wash on delicate and hanging nice sweaters up to dry doesn’t take much extra effort. On the other hand, clothes that must be dry cleaned or ironed every time you wear them aren’t a good staple for a mother’s wardrobe. Also consider colors. I like patterns and textured fabrics because they hide the PB&J stains better than flat, one-color alternatives. Plus they add a little fun to my day!
  • Honest. At any stage of life, the way we dress should help us accept the way we look–not make us ashamed of it. The best mom looks are ones that draw attention toward our physical assets, not ones that simply hide the stomachs or hips we didn’t have before we had children. Clothes should make us feel beautiful and feminine to boot, not inadequate.

What message do you like your clothes to send to others? Let us know in the comments.

6 responses »

  1. Oh, that SNL clip was solid gold. You must realize that where I live, those jeans are readily available, with or without applique vest (or mickey mouse sweatshirt/collared polo or turtleneck combo). Nice. Oh yeah, you betcha.

    I think you look fab in both your new dress/tights AND in the ‘mom’ one with your long skirt and scarf. I think you look very chic in that one. It’s a far cry from mom jeans, anyway.

    Great topic! Basically I dressed like a teenager until I read Dressing with Dignity a few years ago, when I decided to wear only dresses or skirts. That was a tough decision, as it takes some serious commitment to find decent options. You have a wide array of selections, either ‘hooker chic,’ or ‘look-I’m-a-hutterite-and-it’s-not-even-Halloween.’ Oooh! It’s really just the skirt version of mom jeans. So that has been my battle.

    But the burning question is: What is the funky deal that Thomas (assuming that’s him as a wee bairn), is happily sitting in, and where has it been all my life????

  2. My aunt recently lost 50 pounds. Good for her, back to her high school weight after 25 years, two kids, and a stressful job! That’s great. But then she actually started wearing her high school clothes, which she had saved for “someday.” And that’s when I learned: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. The bad fit and 80s style make her look positively ancient, but she look really nice if she could just get over her “I’m wearing what I wore in high school” mental block. I went home and donated all the cute things that I was hoping would look good again someday, but really don’t stand a chance between my maternal body and changing fashion.

    Thanks for the article!

    • Oh my. What a great ‘learning from other’s mistakes’ moment. Wonder if there’s a way to gently clue her in?!

      Thanks for the link, Alison! If/when I’m expecting again, I am putting one of these on my must-have list! 😀

  3. I’d be super interested to read any evidence you’ve found about how a woman’s body shape changes after becoming sexually active. I’m a newlywed and couldn’t figure out why my body’s changing even though I’m not pregnant and my diet and exercise haven’t changed! Interesting stuff…


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