Supposedly the clothes make the man, or I guess in my case, the woman. While I don’t put a great deal of time into my “look,” it’s hard to argue that style doesn’t matter at all. Even if you eschew fashion magazines and refuse to follow trends, opting for whatever is comfortable and convenient, that choice says a lot about the type of person you are. Personal style is a part of your identity, regardless of where it falls into your priorities. There's so much said about mom style stereotypes that I was curious what would happen if I tried to embody the most popular ones.
Though it's totally arbitrary and wrong to define who or what a person is based on the clothing that they wear, it still happens frequently — especially for women with kids. The way you present yourself in what you wear can say a lot about what “type” of mom you are. As for me? I’d pin myself as a casual, middle-of-the-road type. I don’t quite make fashion a priority, but I don’t like to show up to school drop-off in sweatpants. I tend to keep my closet pretty minimalist, opting for pieces that are easy to wear (and easy to switch out halfway through the day when the baby decides to throw up on me).
I decided to try some “mom styles” on for size of the course of a week to see if the way I dressed really made a difference. Would people react to me differently? Would I feel different about myself? I was about to find out as I walked a mile in the shoes (and clothes) of three very different mom stereotypes.
Stereotype #1: The Has-It-All-Together Mom
The first "mom uniform" I tried on for size was the has-it-all-together mom. I wore a Breton-striped shirt and cardigan with a pair of fitted jeans and patent heels. Of course, the look required a blowout and way more make-up than I would wear on your average Monday — including a fabulous red lipstick.
According to urban legend, the has-it-all-together mom is an intimidating woman who somehow finds the time to do everything, do it better than you, and do it in style. She's the Pinterest-perfect parent everyone sort of wishes they could be. She's the one who everyone marvels at: the phrase "I don't know how she does it all" was invented for this mom stereotype.
I felt really confident in my new look, and realized that I had subconsciously dressed the kids all in matching black/white/gray hues for the day. When we all went out into the world, I was feeling the role of the on-top-of-her-sh*t mama.
I did, however, feel a little uncomfortable dropping my son off at school. While I felt great about my look, it made a few moms wonder what was going on. Did I get a job? Did I have an interview? Jury duty? I sheepishly answered no and didn't give any further insight into my way more pulled-together look. It made me realize how hard it is to break the mold of your normal style around people who know you. It's uncomfortable to change your look, even when it's something you really want to do.
When I went to run errands, however, I felt far more comfortable than normal. I found myself joking with cashiers about my age while they checked my ID and accepted compliments on my beautiful family without doing something awkward, like answering "you too," to a single old man (oh yeah, it's happened before). Looking put together made me feel more put together. I made doctor's appointments, cleared out my e-mails, and tackled nagging chores on my to-do list. I felt motivated and determined. I didn't hesitate to go out and run errands because I looked and felt ready for anything.
Sure, I was riding that start-the-week-off-strong swell of productivity, but I have a feeling the clothes played heavily into my new go-getter attitude also.
However, I also felt like a total imposter, and when I finally changed into my sweatpants at the end of the day it felt like taking off a mask. I am not the has-it-all-together mom. I'm usually the mom who is crying over literal spilled milk in the morning, and whose clothes are always sporting a mysterious stain. I had to do my make-up while the kids were screaming bloody murder because they were fighting over who would get to put the frozen waffles in the toaster first. Behind the scenes, I was still a barely-holding-it-together mom, and I don't think that will be changing anytime soon.
Stereotype #2: The Crunchy Mom
Midweek, I changed roles and clothes to fit into my idea of the "crunchy mom" style. I braided my hair, wore a necklace from a foreign craft market, went braless under an upcycled sweater, and moved my belongings from purse to reusable grocery bag. No makeup was required (or better yet, no makeup was demanded).
As the stereotype goes, the crunchy mom is all about the slow-parenting, organic lifestyle. She shops at WholeFoods and does community yoga and makes sure all her products are vegan and non-GMO. She never raises her voice at her kids, and practices attachment parenting and extended breastfeeding. It is very likely that she allows both her kids and her backyard chickens to be free-range.
The crunchy mom look involved a way simpler morning routine than the has-it-all-together mom, which made me feel much calmer as we got our morning started. We sat and talked through breakfast, and everyone got in the car without too much fighting. I felt comfortable in my clothes, and had more time to spend with my kids since I wasn't busy trying to get my hair and makeup just so. There was such a difference in the way I carried myself that I can only conclude that happy free boobs equals happy mom equals happy everyone.
Of course the look wouldn't be complete without baby-wearing, so I wore my youngest everywhere we went. It was much easier than lugging him around in the carseat. Even when I had to wake him to do so, I felt happier once I had him on me. I love the closeness that I feel with him when I baby wear, and this made me realize I should do it more often (while I still can).
I didn't notice a huge difference in my day, but as I was browsing the Internet, I found myself pinning articles on how bralessness keeps your breasts from sagging and recipes for homemade baby food. I've realized that I've tried to be this kind of woman before, and it's simply too much effort for me to read every label, to practice slow-parenting when I have places to be, to make everything from scratch. In fact, I spent so much time pinning these homesteading "crunchy mama" recipes and articles that I ran out of time to make dinner period, and we ended up going to Popeyes for some fast food macaroni and cheese. (I regret nothing.)
I realized that no matter how much I admired crunchy mamas, I wasn't cut out to be one. I can't keep my cool all day every day. I can't make all organic meals from scratch three times a day. And trying to do these things would only leave me feeling like I was lacking and failing as a parent. I need a little crunch in my life, but I also need to be able to pick and choose what works for me — and if that means grabbing fast food every now and again, so be it.
Stereotype #3: The Yoga Pants Mom
The yoga pants mom is perhaps the most well-known mom stereotype there is. I actually know many women at my son's school who I'd lump into this category. Yoga pants make sense. They're comfy. They're easy. You could be heading to your yoga class or Target, who really knows? You could even pair it with a long tunic and be ready for work-related meeting. Ah, isn't ambiguity a beautiful thing?
The yoga pants mom is the anomaly of the mom stereotypes. She's sort of athletic, but you're never quite sure if she's actually working out or if she's just really into Lululemon. She's the kind of down-to-earth mama you'd probably feel most comfortable talking to, because she's the mom version of your basic bitch.
I never wear yoga pants in public, simply because I know if I start I will never stop. It's like my pledge to not go to Walmart in my pajamas. I could do it and no one would bat an eyelash, but it would be a slippery slope for me and soon I would be an unkempt mess ALL. THE. TIME.
But as soon as I stepped out in my yoga pants, I realized that maybe, just maybe, I had it all wrong. Instead of being lazy, I felt really motivated to keep moving throughout the day. Maybe it's because of the fabulous support that yoga pants offer (in stark contrast to my husband's baggy, saggy sweatpants I often switch into at home), but I was finding ways to work in a workout all day long. I did squats while throwing my daughter into the air. I got sweaty during our midday toddler dance party. I stretched while I was on the floor playing legos. More than anything, I was really, really comfortable. These pants, man. They're magic.
Beyond the athleticism of the yoga pants, I also felt like this was the look that made me feel the most authentic. I like to be comfortable. I like working out a little here and there. I didn't feel like I was putting on airs or trying to be someone I wasn't. I felt like myself.
Do The Clothes Make The Mom?
I'm not totally sold on the idea that the clothes were the sole reason I felt different throughout the week. I think I was meditating on these "stereotypes" subconsciously, and it definitely affected the way I behaved. On the other hand, taking a couple days dressed as each stereotype also debunked a lot of the feelings I normally have towards these archetypes of motherhood.
Dressing like the has-it-all-together mom did not, in fact make me a Supermom. I had to put a lot of effort into my look and it made my morning stressful. Behind closed doors, I bet a lot of women who look like they have it together don't really feel that way.
The crunchy clothes did not a crunchy mama make, but it did slow me down a bit, and the low-key style gave me more time to enjoy my kids. I realized that maybe crunchy mamas are less about the better than you at homesteading/breastfeeding/baby-wearing stuff, and simply go with the flow of what suits their family best.
And while I secretly suspected most yoga pants moms were just on their way to cruise through Target or lounge around the house, maybe those magic pants help get them moving like they did for me. I don't know other women's journeys simply by looking at them, and those stereotypes don't allow room for the nuance of each individual mother. You aren't what you wear. You are who you are, and your style simply reflects the version of motherhood that works best for you.
Images Courtesy of Gemma Hartley (7)