Tuesday, November 24, 2009

New Uniform

Last week BigLittleWolf asked "What's your style?"

Her question got me thinking: Do I even have a style?  Am I a style nihilist?  And, either way, what does that say about me?

The elements of my style were established early on.  I went to Catholic school from kindergarten through eighth grade - a Catholic school with typical Catholic school uniforms.  For nine years, I donned the same ensemble: an unpleasantly retro brown and yellow plaid jumper; a white cotton button-down blouse with, naturally, a Peter Pan collar; brown knee socks; Mary Janes; and the signature polyester crisscross tie shared by schoolgirls and Girl Scouts the world over.  It was ugly.  It labeled me as a "critter," the public school kids' epithet for us Catholic school lads and lasses.  But you know what?  I loved it.  I loved the ease of it.  The waking up in the morning and having that decision made for me.

When I went to prep school in ninth grade, my options increased in every way.  My circle of friends and my intellectual horizons expanded - but so did my style decisions.  No jeans allowed, but no more uniform as a protective shell.  Lots more anxiety.  And boy did I stumble.  Teal green and black striped overalls.  Multi-floral print faux silk blouses.  Culottes.  Believe it.  Yes, those were the years of Betsey Johnson and over-sized flannel everything, but still.  It wasn't pretty.  I wasn't pretty.

Then I discovered a magical thing called the J.Crew catalog.  Tall, thin, perpetually tanned women in effortlessly casual paraphernalia.  Genius, I thought.  My mom?  Not so much.  $98 corduroy pants did not compute in her thrifty, coupon-clipping mind.  (The sadist!)  So I was left to recreate these outfits at JC Penney with an occasional supplement from the Gap.  And, with an infusion of babysitting money, a J.Crew Outlet gem or two.  Thrown together outfits, never quite cute.  Never quite adding up.  Never quite a style.

And my style - or lack thereof - evolved from there.  Through college, through work.  One eye on preppy icons, one in my closet, and the equation never balancing.

And now here I am.  A suburban mother of two.  A mismatched wardrobe with the wash-and-wear items given prime closet real estate.  Yoga pants, 7 jeans, Puma sneakers, and Boden tops.  Hair in a ponytail.  Every day.  Maybe a smudge of make-up every now and then.

No, I don't wear pajamas in public.  I don't wear "mom jeans."  Even though I now shop in the catalogs and stores I once admired, those items still don't quite belong to me.  Lots of pieces, still no style.

So how do I find a new uniform that conveys in a blink of the eye everything that I want to say about myself?  That although I may be pushing a shopping cart with a plastic racecar affixed to its front, I still have some sense of the power of designer jeans and a high heel shoe.  That although I may spend my days rolling on the floor with two tiny lads, I still have professional ambition.  That although I may have spit-up in a splatter pattern across my shoulder, I am still a woman.  

How do I find a style that conveys substance?

What message does your uniform send to the world?  Who are you trying to be?

Image: DN-ST-85-08492 by PH2 Jeffrey A. Salter at Wikimedia Commons. Image is in the public domain.


  1. I am impressed that you wear Boden tops...I love that catalog. I'm Chez Target...and dammit, how did I get to that point?

    Gray roots, wrinkles, AND zits...Thanks, 40!!!!

  2. Had to comment on this one too. In the past year I have purchased the following clothing items (I was actually thinking about this yesterday):

    3 T shirts/tank tops
    2 pairs of sweats
    1 pair of 'yoga' pants

    All purchased from my least favorite discount store. Yes, I was pregnant for much of the year (oh, forgot to mention I did buy 2 maternity sweaters) so maybe it's not so bad after all. But still.


  3. I love this post. I wrote about my own uniform over the summer:
    But in short, I don't think I have a style either, or if I do it has bipolar disorder. Well over half of the time I am in juicy sweats and sneakers. I swear the moms at school would not recognize me on work days in suits.
    Maybe the Unstyle is the new style?

  4. Unstyle the new style? I love it, Lindsey.

    Yeah. Not much style here either, friend. I recently got a Gap Card to get the bonus money back during my frantic purchases for acceptable, yet basic, attire.

    I like shoes. I just don't love them. I would wear some spankin' hot heels. But where? And when?

    I like jeans. I even love them. But $200 a pair (or, gasp, more)? I just don't have the money. Or see the need. Banana Republic will do for now. And that's not exactly cheap.

    I often say that I'd like a housecleaner, a chef, and A STYLIST. Someone to shop for me and just tell me what to wear. Because we all like to look good from time to time. Know that we are feeling our best in that perfect outfit. We have taken the time to spruce ourselves up. But it's just not that easy. Not in between soccer practice and doing the dishes.

    And also, let's face it, I spend so much time keeping my three boys' drawers stocked with the right SIZE clothing that it's hard to find the time to weed out the old, junky t-shirts and maternity panties from my own drawers.

    Oh the sad.

  5. I remember one boss complimented me in a review (as an aside, because I'm sure he felt mildly inappropriate even bringing it up) on my sense of style and how I seemed to have the perfect wardrobe for every occasion (I did development for a private school and we had PLENTY of different functions). That was BEFORE kids. Now? I'm lucky to snag a new sweater at the outlets. My sense of style went down the tubes as soon as I had to maintain the crazy schedule of a mother.

  6. Ladies, ladies, ladies... or should I say Mesdames... in addition to the Momalom Half-Drunk Writing Challenge, I believe I hear a pre-New Year's Style-a-thon or Style Makeover Mélée about to blossom...

    AND, perhaps with the help of a genuine style icon (she is in my blog roll) - Tish Jett (who writes immaculately and delightfully on French style) - from France! ("Femme d'un certain age" is her blog. That means "woman of a certain age" which is generally 40ish on up - and VERY stylish and knowing in the ways of the world!)

    You are all making me smile (as I struggle over wordpress migration- GRRRRR, and would rather talk about UnFashion and FUnFashion in post-partum-recessionary times).

    What say we all make a "play date" to share some wardrobe and styling tips - sometime in December? (We could do it virtually drunk.) I think it's certainly fair (and possible) to have a few variations of style all of which work (home / out / out socially / workplace) - and typically with a few staples that just feel RIGHT on you.

    French women learn to do this as easily as they pout. (All the more reason for a style guru like Tish to give us a hand, if she's willing.)

    AND - I'm a boy mom, on zero budget, with a not-off-the-rack figure, and believe me - it can be done!

    So. Much. Fun.

  7. Great, fun post! You sound gorgeous. But do get out your designer jeans and high heels, darlng. I'm sure you'll feel all the better for it.

  8. Style? What the heck is that? I worked at a JCrew outlet for about a year in college, and loved all the separates, but could never pull off "the" look.

  9. Style. I'm not sure I've ever had it. I sure don't now. I bought a new blousy shirt to wear for my super weekend and was too chicken to put it on.

  10. I've gotta admit: I love fashion. I love clothes and shoes and accessories and make up. I have my (many) moments of looking like a tired, haggard mommy, but most days I do try to find at least a few minutes to put myself together simply because it makes me Happy. Happy. Yes, clothes make me happy. My style? Ideally??? Gwen Stefani mixed with some Sarah Jessica. Reality? Lots of jeans, cargo pants, and many many stilettos. P.S. Love the whole "motherese" thing, by the way. I'll be back.

  11. You make me laugh! Race car attached to the shopping cart? Yes, I've driven that too in the past.

    I wish the whole world had uniforms. But since we all agree on very little, I had to come up with my own uniform. Find one decent pair of jeans and buy 2-3 pairs. Find a great shirt and buy it in every color. Same for a sweater. A couple of cute jackets and I'm set. OR wear an old pair of black velour sweatpants with a giveaway t-shirt.

    Occasionally I'll pull together a look and all the moms comment at pick-up time on the school's sidewalk. Like it's a big deal to see me coordinated. That tells me I've let fashion slide a bit.

    But I'm ok with a little bit of slide now and then:)


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