If you had told me that I'd be willing to dress like my mom when I was younger, I probably would have laughed in your face. My mom and I were always at odds when I was growing up, and we never, ever, agreed on style. Truth be told, neither of us were on the right track back in the '90s: I was wearing things like powder blue beanies with words like “Angel” on them, and my mom was wearing, well, mom jeans. Straight up SNL-skit mom jeans. Both of us have thankfully gotten better with age.
Nowadays, my mom and I actually have a fairly similar style on most days. My mom is a daycare provider, so she has to keep comfort in mind and opts for a lot of jeans and t-shirts, much like myself. I think she could use an introduction to leggings, because my god, the comfort!, but she likes her vast collection of jeans. I have a much more minimalist closet than she does, but overall, I think we keep a fairly similar aesthetic. I’m always complimenting her on her style and asking where she got this or that item.
I wanted to see how similar we could keep our style, so I set out on a style experiment to dress like my mother for a whole week straight. I'd call or Skype to check in with her outfit for the day, and then dress accordingly. I wondered if I would have everything I needed to keep up with her style, or if she would finally give in to my demand for leggings (spoiler alert: she would not). Mostly, I wondered what it would feel like to live a week willingly matching with my mom — if it would change my approach to my own personal style, but the results were a little deeper and more surprising than that:
The first day of my experiment, I Skyped my mom first thing in the morning to find out what she was wearing, and we were already wearing the same outfit. I'd picked out the black top and jeans with her style in mind, but I didn’t think we’d be twinning already. When I told her that I would be dressing like her for the week, she was pleasantly surprised (after, of course, I assured her it wasn’t because I was supposed to be dressing like a frumpy “old” mom). I could tell already that it was going to be a good bonding exercise for us, and as the week went on, it certainly was. We stayed on Skype, trying to get a screenshot she was happy with, while we caught up on what was going on in our lives.
When I was done talking with my mom and went about my day, her style served me well. I was able to feel comfortable and confident as I went about my day, because her style is simple and sensible, much like mine. I also felt a small connection to her all day, which was a nice way to make the 200 miles between us seem a little less far.
On day two, my mom wasn’t able to Skype in the morning, so I called her to see what she was wearing. “I’m wearing jeans and a navy striped shirt. You have one of those, right?”
“Right.” I loved that she got dressed with my experiment in mind.
She had a busy morning with the daycare, and I had a busy day with the kids, so we didn’t get to connect more throughout the day. Still, I hung on to that feeling of connectivity, knowing that we were sharing this small part of our days by dressing the same. I was a little sad we couldn’t get any pictures together in our matching outfits, and the whole experiment had me feeling a little homesick for my mom on day two.
“You don’t match me,” my mom said when I Skyped her on the third day. She was wearing a pair of black pants and a red long-sleeved shirt. I went and changed into a purple long-sleeved shirt and my dark jeans, which was the closest I had to her outfit. It was the same basic concept, but my mom was upset I wasn’t doing a better job with my experiment.
“Don’t you have any black jeans?”
“No, mom. I have one pair of jeans.”
“Didn’t you just buy new jeans?” she asked, incredulously.
“Yes, these are the jeans I bought. Before this I had no jeans.” Which is true, and ridiculous.
I own one pair of jeans. One. And in a few months I’ll get a hole in these and have to go buy another single pair of jeans. My mom has, like, 30 pairs of jeans. I know this because I just tried to KonMari her closet with her when I was visiting last month. She had more jeans in one drawer than I have owned over the past 10 years.
Even if we don’t agree on the number of items that belong in the perfect capsule wardrobe, I realized that I could probably do with a little more of her attitude when it comes to my closet. Even if I’m striving for a minimalist closet, a second (or third) pair of jeans certainly wouldn’t kill me. I sort of wished my mom was around so we could go shopping together like we used to when I was in high school. And yeah, I totally did shop with my mom when I was in high school. Or maybe it was college. No shame. My mom is an awesome shopping partner, who gets real with me about unflattering tops and sets me straight when I’m trying to buy shoes she knows I won’t wear. Tough love is where it’s at when it comes to shopping as far as I’m concerned.
On day four of my experiment, my mom was looking very cool and comfy in a light tee, a pair of capris, and flip flops. She told me how it was going to be 75℉ in Northern California that day while snow cloud started to roll in over the mountains of Reno, NV. While my toes were freezing all day, I was caught between missing the mild California weather of my youth, and loving the fact that I finally get to live somewhere where it snows. I thought about how when I was younger, all I ever wanted was for it to snow. I used to take a hose in the backyard and spray down the concrete whenever it was supposed to get to the freezing point at night in hopes I would wake to a skating rink in the morning. I remembered gathering the frost into tiny balls of ice, pretending they were snowballs. I love that my kids get to experience the real winters I never had.
My experiment was starting to stir up all sorts of nostalgia in me. My mom and my childhood were constantly on my mind, and I was suddenly remembering all sorts of little details. I'd be in the kitchen and remember making a disgusting bread pudding with my mom for a school project. I would be building a fort with my kids and remember the exact color and feel of my mom’s burgundy sheets that I used to build with as a child. I felt so connected to her all week, and as the memories kept coming, I felt so grateful for how lovely my mom had made my childhood. It made me hope I was doing the same for my kids, that they would someday have this sort of warm feeling toward their childhood.
On the fifth day of my experiment, my mom wore another black shirt (and I, of course, with my minimalist wardrobe, wore the same black shirt as last time), this time paired with a scarf. If there is one thing my mom and I share in terms of fashion sense, it is our excessive love for scarves. When we were KonMari-ing her closet, she decided to get rid of one of her scarves (which I had bought her for Mother’s Day) and I quickly lay claim to it, in spite of the fact that I was trying to pare down my belongings. It’s a problem.
The scarf was a nice reminder of something we had in common, and I was really sad that our experiment was going to be coming to an end fairly soon. I was enjoying getting to talk to my mom every day, having her entwined in my life in this way. I know that I miss my mom, but I’m usually too busy to realize it. This experiment was allowing me to slow down and appreciate the small moments we got to share through checking in on our wardrobe choices.
On day six, we got pretty close to twinning again with a tee, jeans, and black slip-on shoes. However, she insisted I change from my khaki shirt into my gray and white striped shirt so we matched exactly. She even wore jeans instead of capris just so we could really get this look right.
I was feeling very grateful that she had a similar sort of day to me, constantly caring for kids, so she always chose stuff that I was able to comfortable wear while chasing after my own three kids. Even though we are at very different stages of our lives - her with two adult children - me with three kids under age five - our days have lots of the same struggles with cleaning and staying alert to the million things going on and feeding insatiable tiny humans. I’m glad at the end of the day I can Skype my mom, and we both have a glass of wine in hand. It made me feel lucky to have a mom who understands the work of raising three young kids, and doesn’t look back on having small children with rose-colored glasses.
On the last day of my experiment, my mom wore her Mickey Mouse screen tee that my kids love. I am not a big fan of screen tees, but I did have a similar gray shirt in with a slightly different screen print: The Notorious R.B.G. (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, duh). For all our similarities during the week, this was a good reminder that my mom and I are most certainly NOT the same person. The first time I wore my Notorious shirt in front of my mom she asked if it was a famous magician (not musician, magician). My mom could care less about politics, and can’t even vote since she’s not a U.S. citizen, while I can’t get enough of it. She had a closet that’s full to the brim even after we cleaned it out, and I am trying to pare down a closet with under 50 items in it as is. She can’t bake to save her life while I make wedding cakes for a living. We definitely have our differences.
In spite of those differences, however, I felt so much closer to my mom through this experiment in style. It gave me a way of feeling connected to her, and brought us together every day, even if it was only for a few short minutes.
I didn’t expect to be swayed much by dressing like my mom for a week, but by the end of my experiment I was feeling super emotional. I loved going through this experiment with her, and having all these shared moments with my mom as we checked in with one another throughout the week. I found myself online shopping with her after our experiment was over (because I need jeans! I really need jeans!) and lamenting the fact that she doesn’t live closer to me.
For me, it turned from an experiment about style into an experiment in closeness. I realized that no matter how far away we live or how old we get, I’m always going to find comfort in talking to my mom.
Images Courtesy of Gemma Hartley (8)