Fashion and Motherhood: Do Clothes Make the Mom?

In becoming a mother, I left behind much of my old life. But do I have to leave behind my old style, too?

Illustration by James Boyle

It’s a sunny day in late fall, and I’m in my closet, grasping for something to wear. Any minute now, my neighbor Jane will be rolling her stroller up my driveway for our daily walk. She’ll be in jeans and cute sneakers, or some other outfit appropriate for pushing babies around suburbia at three in the afternoon. I rake through my closet again: a sequined pencil skirt, a vintage mink-sleeved dressing gown, a handful of caftans, the odd turban. Shit. I can’t wear any of this. I’ll look ridiculous. I grab harem pants, a kimono and studded slides. Appropriate … ish.

My clothes have often been the subject of side-eye — on SEPTA, in the lobby of my Center City office building, at my schoolteacher husband’s work events — but looking out of place never bothered me. In some small way, I’ve always defined myself by the things I wear. For years I wrote about shopping and style for this magazine, and much of my closet is inextricably linked to career milestones: the antique silk robe given to me by my first editor; the bracelet from the winner of a citywide fashion-design contest I created; the YSL heels I bought after writing my first feature story. I’ve spent years building a wardrobe of pieces that make me happy, which means I have loads of interesting clothes but nothing I can wear to, say, the park or playground. Before my son, Quinn, was born last spring, I’d steeled myself for the identity crisis having a baby can spur: Who am I now? But I hadn’t counted on a sartorial crisis, too. How do I balance my sense of style — my sense of self — with car-pool lanes, soccer games, and stay-at-home suburban life?

Oh my God, I text my editor, a friend and fellow mom. Do I need to buy yoga pants? (Her answer comes swiftly: RESIST.)

Ah, the yoga pant. The star player of athleisure, the still-reigning trend that happens to dovetail perfectly with my descent into practicality. I’d pegged athleisure’s rise to off-duty models — always photographed looking gloriously undone — but now I’m convinced they’re not the ones behind the trend’s staying power. It’s moms.

“I used to love high heels,” says my friend Christy, a mom of two. “Now, I cannot fathom wearing a shoe that’s difficult to walk in, because I have to carry so much junk or, you know, a kid.” And so here we all are, dominated by practicality. (Hey, even Kim Kardashian wears sweatpants now!)

But I don’t own plain skinny jeans, or a basic t-shirt, or yoga pants. While I’d love to be a Very Chic Woman who lives in a uniform of crisp white shirts and slim pants with expensive flats. I’ve tried that person on for size and felt like a fraud.

As I look more closely around my closet, I see there are new milestones, too: the tasseled robe I wore every day after Quinn was born. The 15 pairs of hospital underwear I stole. The shoulder of my favorite kimono, now lightly stained with mashed-up avocado. (I love it all the more for this.)

Just last week, I found a terrific pair of low-heeled ankle boots comfortable enough for long walks — my version of sneakers. I’m still searching for the perfect middle ground between old me and new me, and I don’t know what that looks like yet — but I think I’m getting closer. In the meantime, if you see me walking with Quinn, say hi. I’ll be the girl in the caftan.

Published as “Do Clothes Make the Mom?” in the January 2018 issue of Philadelphia magazine.