Friday, March 30, 2007

Mom Style: An Oxymoron?

Lately I've been preoccupied with the idea of style, and having one. Or not, as the case may be. I've been ruminating on things like handbags, shoes, and skirts. Ballet flats and heels, wool trousers and capris, work suits and date dresses. Maybe it's because suddenly it seems like everyone in the blogosphere is talking about make-up, clothes, shoes, sandals, bags. Is it because it's spring? Is everyone thinking about their warm-weather wardrobes and their sunless tans? I don't know. But it's all got me thinking.

I'm afraid that I've become that most dreary of all stereotypes, the frumpy at-home mom. I know, I know: I've got two children under three; one of them is an INFANT, for God's sake--what am I doing ruminating about anything other than how much spit-up is currently drying on my shoulder? And, I also know: it's not as if I was some admirable style-monger in my pre-baby life. Also: I should get over myself; who's even looking at me, in my yoga pants and Old Navy camis and Dansko clogs? Yeah, I get all that.

But. Still. I can't help but read all these style columns and good-grooming posts and feel less than fully pulled together. I mean, I'm a stay-at-home mom, sure, but do I have to be so consistently pale and undereye-circled, ponytailed and workout-clothes-clad? Can't I put in a little more effort and look stylish and put-together at the park and baby storytime? Am I going to be the mom in the preschool drop-off line next fall wearing pajama pants and running shoes? Not to mention my strangely worrisome recent realization that, were I need to suddenly attend a job interview, a professional networking meeting, a wedding, I would not have the appropriate outfits to wear. People, I have a handbag I got in 1996 at an after-Christmas sale at the Gap. And I still use it. (I actually know some people who do things like buy Prada bags off eBay, and I'm sure if they are reading this, they have just fainted with the horror. I'm sorry. It's sad, but true.)

Strangely enough, my pre-pregnancy clothes from before Genevieve are mostly too big; I can't explain this, but my waist is currently smaller than it was before my second pregnancy. Any clothes I still have hanging around my closet from my childless life, when I at one point was happily biking four to six hours a week and weighed a good ten pounds less than I do now, are either too small or seriously out of style. (You know, six years ago was....SIX YEARS ago.) And when it comes to shoes, I'm seriously deficient in anything even remotely stylish and pretty, because nine years ago I developed arthritis in my feet and was forced to give up heels. Blessedly, my arthritis is now well-controlled enough for me to be able to wear the occasional heel, as long as it's not too crazy, for those instances when any self-respecting adult woman would do so, and yet...I'm so far out of the shoe loop that not only do I not own any pretty heels, I don't even know what a currently fashionable shoe style looks like.

Mainly, I've been on a severely tight budget for almost three years now, since quitting work to stay home full-time with Julia (and then Genevieve), and during that time, whatever small clothing allowance I've milked from our suffering bank account has gone, out of necessity, for those items most salient to my current life. And that means jeans, t-shirts, short casual playground-ready skirts, and, on the side, workout clothes and shoes. There hasn't been money to invest in clothing or shoes to have around for the rare time I might need to "dress up." It's only gotten harder since we moved to a small town with only a Target for clothes-shopping. Any other shopping means online, which also means paying all the shipping charges when ordered clothes don't fit right and have to be returned. And yet, it bothers me to feel so unprepared for what I see as a truly adult life--one in which I may need to show up sometime, somewhere, in something other than jeans and a $7 Target tee.

What about you, other moms? Does anyone else have this dilemma? Do you run around in jeans and New Balances and never give it a second thought? Or do you carry a Kate Spade bag to playdates? Are you on a tight at-home-parent budget, and if so, do you buy new clothes for yourself, or just go without? Do you live someplace where "style" isn't much of an issue? Do you wax your eyebrows and get your nails done? If you had a sudden job interview or cocktail party to attend, could you dress for it?


Heidi said...

As I've heard said, "Not only are we not on the same *page*; we are not even in the same *book*! Heck, we're not even in the same LIBRARY!!"

In other words, this is NOT something I spend *any* energy thinking or worrying about---let alone scarce money. There are so many *much* more important things in life. Wear what feels good and what you can afford and move on!

Shan said...

Yeah, but you're saying that from the perspective of a career woman who, presumably, has at the very least a couple of pairs of work trousers, maybe a jacket or two, and appropriate dress shoes to wear in those instances where non-playground clothes are required. I guess it's really two different issues--one, feeling like a slobby stay-at-home mom, something I don't get horribly worked about but which I have been musing about lately (I mean, there should be a difference between "casual at-home mom" and "looks like a college student during finals week"); and two, owning at least a couple of dressy outfits to pinch-hit at those times when suddenly you need to look nice. The first issue is, I think, more an issue of idle musing--does there come a point where ten straight days in workout pants and no make-up makes you start to feel kind of lethargic and gross?--whereas the second seems to me a real conundrum. Due to tight finances and a post-childbearing changed body, I'm without some key "grown-up" clothes.

NOT that I'm being invited to a lot of weddings and cocktail parties these days. But it could happen!

Donna said...

Funny you write about this because I had many the same thoughts... I am in need of new clothes (mostly work clothes since my at-home stuff is fine as are my casual-going-out stuff). And it dawned on me *why* I am in need of work clothes - because it's been at least 5 years since I've bought any new clothes - for the same reasons as you. We were going to start a family so why buy something new and then get pregnant? And then after the baby is born, even though you're down to your prepregnant weight, your body is still different so why buy new clothes? Then, when you're finally in your "new old body" you think about having another, so why buy clothes? Yeah, looking down in a meeting and seeing a hole in the seam of my pants was real eye opening.

Problem is that since it's been 5 years since I bought anything, I have no idea where to begin shopping and no time to go shopping. And since the clothing companies keep changing their sizes (that is, making the size numbers smaller so that the growing Americans don't feel bad about their growing waistlines), I can't do a lot of online shopping without dealing with the disappointment of having to exchange something (BTW, check the return policies, many companies don't charge you to return something if you are exchanging it for something else, be it a different size, color or item).

Oh, and going to work with spit-up on your shoulder? Yeah, I've done that.

Becky said...

As for me, I think I'm the only lawyer in Chicago who carries a diaper bag as a briefcase. What can I say? Its Kate Spade, black, and makes for a lousy diaper bag! Had to get some use out of it! How's that for mom-style?!?!?! The only real problem is when I'm in court and need to open the velcro cover--RRRRRIPPPPPP!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Besides, "Dateline" said the Prada bags on E-Bay are all who needs one??!!

Jordan said...

I quite often dress like total crap whether it's a day at home or at work. Thankfully, I do jeans and t-shirt kind of work, but it still bothers me sometimes that I don't have more to choose from. I have the smallest collection of clothes, shoes, and accessories (I'm not always sure I even know what that word means) of anyone I know. But I do get tired of that, for sure. Wearing make-up and really blow-drying and styling my hair gives me a significant lift when I'm at home and feeling frumpy. And yes, the brow waxes (though not as regular as they should be!) also make a huge difference to me when I'm dressed like it's finals week! I just get myself those nicer things when I actually need them (a wedding, holiday party, etc.) and usually wear whatever I bought for a few years before replacing it. And there are definitely no heels in my closet!!

Shan said...

Thank goodness I'm not the only one! My friend Lisa ( wrote a post about this once she read mine, citing me, and that also made me feel better to know I'm not alone in my feelings of frumpiness!