The Suit Makes the Mom

It started at Jones New York Country in Minneapolis.

It started at Jones New York Country, not for the fancy or the “in” or the style, but for the need:  I needed a uniform.  I needed a uniform and Jones New York Country, right up the road and not in a mall, it seemed then, had exactly what would fix me.

I’ve never been a shopper or even much interested in clothes or the latest fashion.  I wear jeans almost exclusively.  I am not familiar with an iron or ironing board.  I’m one of those girls whose girlfriends go shopping without her and have her meet them later.  For lunch.  For a cocktail.  For a party.  But shopping?  No.  Never.

styleblog 346And yet in the Winter of 1996, I’d barely turned 31 and all I could think about were clothes:  pleated, shapeless khakis and baggy sweaters and square jackets and silky scarves and big handbags that could carry ‘stuff’, and flat, sensible, blocky shoes.  Brown shoes.  I’d just gotten married and become a new mom, a full-time stepmother, to a 9 yr old boy and 15 yr old girl.  I saw myself in the skinny jeans I’d worn one night for a date with my soon-to-be husband — torn and frayed at one knee and torn even more in the back, right below my butt, and whoa.  Whoa hey!  Those jeans, dear lord, those jeans had to go; I could not dare to be seen in them in the carpool lane.  At (gasp!) a teacher conference.  At a sleepover drop-off.  Those jeans, my favorite old standbys, belonged to another life, another woman; those jeans had to go.

How often we try to dress ourselves for who we are not, for who we are expected to be.

When I remember my life in my 20s in corporate America, I think of ecru and off-black pantyhose and creamy silk blouses and fitted, knee-length skirts.  Of houndstooth and brass buttons.  Of how I felt like I belonged in that uniform — no matter how I sweated out my pits or sent runners up the hose — and how my uniform made me one of them, made me belong.  Made me sigh with, jesusHchrist, relief.

I see now what a hard time I had the year I became a wife and mother with — as ridiculous as it sounds — my clothes.  I look at photos of myself from that first year or two and think, who is that woman?

But I also remember how desperately I wanted to be accepted.  I wanted to be the mom, the real mom, taking pictures of my new daughter and her friends for her Homecoming Dance without comment from the other mothers.  I wanted to sit in the line of metal chairs and have a normal conference with my new son’s teacher (Mr. Moynihan, I recall) and have him like me, respect me, even though my son hated him.  I wanted to belong there, and for no one to notice.  I see now, of course, how unrealistic this was.  It was like being the new girl in school:  “who is she and what is she doing here?”  How desperately I craved this belonging, this blending in.

Thankfully, my kids helped and a few (very very few) of the parents helped, and I eased up.  When Spring came, I tossed my torn, skinny jeans into the Goodwill pile, but I didn’t need a total makeover or Jones New York Country, and it’s a good thing because the next time I showed up there, the store had closed.  Lack of business, lack of need.  The windows papered over.  Gone.  Waiting for the next big thing, the next big deal, the next fashion, the next not-me.

Jones New York Country no longer exists.  And neither does that version of me.



11 thoughts on “The Suit Makes the Mom

  1. Bonnie Middlebrooks

    In retrospect, my turn at motherhood of school age kids was also a time of being someone other than my real self. My choice of clothing changed, too. Something about being respectable and, I guess, conforming. Maybe I thought this would be an example to my impressionable kids. Is this something just mothers feel they need to do? What about the fathers?

    1. Teri Post author

      Somehow I don’t see dads even thinking about this, much less doing it. You’re right — suddenly I felt like I wouldn’t be respectable, and I certainly didn’t want anyone talking about me.

  2. Downith

    I traded in my suit for jeans when I had the kids and I still wear jeans now 12 years on. It’s my uniform. And no, dads don’t even think about it.

    Congratulations on the freshpress!

  3. Averil Dean

    I have been safe and unfashionable all my life, so having kids didn’t change a thing for me. In fact, I have wished the opposite: to be seen as less conservative, less tame, with more of the inside showing on the outside. There’s been nothing stopping me but my own inertia.

    Anyway, tomorrow I’m getting a tattoo on my forearm. It’s something I’ve always wanted and I’m quietly kind of thrilled with myself for finally making it happen. I’ll send pics once the deed is done.

    1. Teri Post author

      Can’t wait to see it!!

      And re: the clothing. It’s another way to hide, I suppose. Sometimes I see young beautiful girls in the latest fashion, all perfectly sculpted and in just the right boots and think, she’s probably hiding too … in plain sight.

  4. Lyra

    There was a great interview over at The Rumpus that you must read if you haven’t yet. This essay would have fit in beautifully.

  5. M.T.W.CG

    Isn’t it funny how our idea of wardrobe changes over the years. I have had to remind myself to wear appropriate clothing for kids events, too. I do love and wear jeans and yoga pants almost daily. I tend to get into a rut, then realize I have nothing for those occasions when I want to dress up a little. It’s funny that my husband wardrobe has changed very little since I met him. Hmmm.

  6. independentclause

    I did the same thing when I started teaching this fall. Must Wear Grown-Up Professor Clothes. Now the women I buy my coffee from don’t think I’m a student and the other professors nod at me because I look like one of them. Who knew?

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