As a stay-at-home mom, I rarely get dressed up for anything other than the occasional date night. My day requires a certain type of wardrobe, and it's one that allows me to move with ease based around my kids' needs. I have a lot of nice office clothes, but they haven’t been used since before my son was born. I just can’t seem to get rid of the nice slacks and pencil skirts, even if I don’t have much of a use for them now. They look so good and professional, and sometimes I daydream I’ll use them again when I rejoin the outside-the-home workforce (and that someday they will fit just like they used to…). Every morning I open my closet and have a stare-down with the clothes I used to wear but no longer need. I wondered, could I make business casual work as a stay-at-home mom of three?
I sometimes envy moms who work outside the home and get to dress nice and don’t need to change their drool-stained shirts five times a day. I know being a working mother comes with its own gripes and challenges, but when I see my neat and business-like attire staring back at me from the depths of my closet, I miss that feeling of dressing with purpose on a daily basis. (These days, my idea of dressing with intention is all about being able to catch spit-ups and spills on a whim, to jump around and get silly with my daughter.) Some days I’d love to feel stylish and professional and go to the bathroom alone. I know deep down that I’m not at a point where I would actually want to choose that life, but I do miss the feeling of being valued as a member of a workforce team and of feeling like my own person, separate from motherhood.
I decided to break out my old office clothes and try wearing them again. I’m 12-weeks postpartum, about the time many women would return to work after maternity leave. I thought maybe getting back into those fancy clothes would give me a little extra boost of confidence; maybe they’d make me feel like the woman I was before I had kids. Or maybe I’d realize it’s time to finally give up the daydreaming and buy myself some more sensible pieces.
Day #1: Some People Expect Moms To Look A Certain Way
At preschool drop-off, I felt totally out of place rolling up in a pair of slacks and a button-up shirt. Most of the moms in business-wear are there for the early morning drop-off, not the regular mid-morning drop-off. I felt like people were staring at me, wondering where I was going and what I was doing. It didn’t help that most of the moms knew I was a stay-at-home mom (or at least assumed, since I’m usually spotted wearing jeans and t-shirts).
One of the moms asked if I had a new job, to which I sheepishly answered no. My first impulse was to lie, to say I had Jury Duty or make up some other excuse. I felt so uncomfortable being confronted about my new look. I felt like I wasn’t supposed to wear this type of outfit, almost like I wasn’t “allowed” to wear nice clothes. Practicality aside, there seemed to be an unspoken rule about who should and should not wear pencil skirts, and the blinding reality was so disappointing.
Who cares if I was wearing a pantsuit or a tracksuit to pick up? The implication that I needed to be "going somewhere important" really hurt. What if I just felt like getting fancy?
Day #2: Why Do I Even Own Business Clothes?
I soon realized that “unspoken rule” about stay-at-home moms wearing pencil skirts maybe exists for a reason. Pencil skirts and motherhood do not mix, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. If they say they're not, ask them how they bend down to pick up anything? (Doing so should be an Olympic sport.) It was near impossible to sit comfortably while playing LEGOs, and cleaning up a houseful of toys and scattered clothes while wearing a slim fitting, high-waisted skirt is so impractical it’s ridiculous.
I didn’t feel empowered or professional or sexy (despite the fact that I felt like I was mastering the bend and snap). I just felt like it needed to be 5:00 p.m. so I could put on some damn sweatpants. Instead of helping me feel pulled together, my nice clothes made me feel like a hot mess.
Day #3: I Was A Walking Magnet For Messes
I can normally get through the better part of most days without having to completely change outfits, but during my week of business chic, I could rarely get out the door without having to completely rework my look. A white button down is basically a surefire way to get your baby to throw up all over you. Nice black pants? They’d clearly look better with spaghetti sauce all over them.
As much as this was frustrating, it really made me feel for moms who have to get themselves and their little ones ready every morning. I can only imagine what it’s like to be prepping for a meeting and having a fussy baby throw up on your work clothes at the exact moment you need to leave. I was growing more and more thankful for the ability to change from comfy shirt to comfy shirt.
Day #4: I Realized Just How Much Those Expectations Were Hurting Me
I realized as soon as I started putting on my office outfits that my body had gone through some serious changes since the last time I wore them. And as quickly as that realization hit me, so did the fact that I don't need to wear these kinds of clothes anymore. My life is totally different than it was before I had kids, and holding on to those pre-baby outfits was just holding on to another wayward societal expectation that really doesn't have a place in my life anymore. My pants were a little more snug at the waist and my breastfeeding boobs were giving my button-down shirts a run for their money — something that, at 12-weeks postpartum, was pretty normal.
Twelve weeks is also not a long maternity leave — but it is one during which your body changes a lot. Moms who have to get back to the office post-baby either have to deal with awkward-fitting clothes or buy whole new work wardrobes. And when you're breastfeeding, you also have to think about what will work when you need to feed (or pump for) baby. Going back to work after baby was starting to seem a lot less glamorous than I had imagined.
Day #5: Does Your Outfit Mess With Your Mood?
When I went out in public with my kids, I felt really put together. People always stare when I’m out and about with three young kids (sometimes I think it's because I am a Millennial mom), but when I was in business attire, I noticed it even more. At first I thought people were looking at me and probably thinking I looked great. I looked like a working professional who was also able to go to the grocery store with my kids and buy healthy food to make wholesome meals. I was a total Superwoman, right?
But when I really paid attention to all of the attention I was getting, it made me really uncomfortable. Like the feeling I had at preschool pick-up, were people judging me because they assumed I was a working mom? And if so, what were they thinking? Was I wrong about having it all together? I started to roll through a mental litany of all society's expectations on women — that we should have careers; that we should be home with the kids; that we should Have It All; that we shouldn't even want to Have It All — suddenly wondering where I fell on the list.
When I leave the house as a stay-at-home mom during the day I'm always wondering what people think of me too: Did I take the day off? Do they feel bad for me because I don't work? Do they praise my decision not to work and stay home with my kids? Dressing up as a stay-at-home mom was teaching me more and more what it's like to walk a mile (though I'd probably walked more than that this week) in another woman's slacks.
On my final day of this experiment I realized just how much pressure there is on women with kids to do and be the way we expect them to, and that's for working moms and stay-at-home moms alike.
What A Week Of Wearing Business Casual Taught Me
While I expected this week to give me a new appreciation for yoga pants (which it certainly did), I was taken aback by how much respect it gave me for moms who work outside the home. Every time I put on my “work clothes,” it put me in the shoes of a working mom. Having to adjust to your changing body and deal with the messes of kids before work is a far cry from carefree bathroom breaks and flawless, fitted outfits. I was left out of the post drop-off conversations with other women because I looked too busy to stay and chat, which totally hurt my feelings. I felt the mom guilt in all sorts of new ways.
I felt grateful for the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom by the end of the week. I also felt ready to give up my impractical wardrobe. Until we meet again, pencil skirt.
Images Courtesy of Gemma Hartley (6)