While my daughter can always count on me for excellent book suggestions, I’m not so skilled at coordinating outfits, so I leave her to it with the clothes.
One night when she was just six, as she changed out of her clothes and into her pajamas, I noticed a clothing oversight. “So what kind of underwear are you wearing?” I casually asked.
With her best poker face and without skipping a beat she said, “They’re clear. I got them when we went shopping.”
“Interesting,” I said.
“They’re a kind that don’t get dirty,” she added.
She shook her head. “They were on sale.”
I smiled at her humor, but really, I was relieved and proud; we had had our first fashion conversation. And it meant that maybe my work was done. My daughter had learned how to shop. Even it was for invisible underwear.
I doubt that most mothers worry about their children lacking shopping skills or fashion sense. But then most mothers are not me. When my daughter was born I imagined many mother-daughter ventures in our future: the ballet, the theater, the Japanese tea garden at springtime. Shopping expeditions didn’t make the list.
This is because I put shopping on the same list as getting my teeth cleaned and scheduling a mammogram: gotta do it, but don’t wanna do it. I find it overwhelming. There are too many choices. I dislike the cramped dressing rooms and find little thrill in the trial and error of finding what fits. And, since I lack a large disposable income, it can be a pricey day out. I don’t even like the idea of shopping as a group sport; I much prefer to have lunch or walk with my friends.
I had counted myself lucky that there had been little need to shop with my daughter, because she has Clothes Fairies. Instead, we played this game: The Store. Our mission: to try on the many inherited clothes and beautiful hand-me-downs from generous friends over the years, plus new outfits from her aunts who did love to shop. In this game, I’d be the clerk, she’d be the customer. In my best attempt at Cockney, which came out more like a Texas drawl, I’d ask, “Could I interest you in an absolutely stunning burgundy dress?” holding it out for her to slip over her head. Mostly, she’d play along with the role-playing, but sometimes the Clothing Store in the Bedroom scenario was too much and she wanted me to “just be Mommy.”
I worried that she had somehow inherited my dislike of shopping, even though she had no concept of the actual experience.
The window of opportunity to correct this was still open, but I didn’t have long. Pre-teen shopping and fashion talk was on the horizon and soon after she’d be asking me to drop her off at the mall. She’d have no warm fuzzy memory of shopping with me!
Motivated by the desire to form happy shopping memories for my daughter, I embarked upon our first ever mother-daughter shopping spree when she was the ripe old age of six. Plus, she really needed skinny pants; a sudden vertical growth spurt that did not correspond with any horizontal expansion resulted in her pants falling down when she jumped.
Off to a clean well-stocked budget priced store we went, where I figured she could pretty much pick out what she wanted and I wouldn’t dip too far into her college fund. She was giddy, as any first-timer would be, but quite composed about all that decision-making. Into the dressing room went skinny jeans and some paisley velour pants that would make David Cassidy and the Brady children green with envy. She picked out a skirt with an asymmetrical hemline and found a pair of black boots. I liked holding hands and skipping down the shoe aisle. We made a stopover in accessories — hair clips, a suede flowery belt — and then to electronics for rechargeable batteries, as I didn’t want to come home without a nice thoughtful gift for my husband.
Surprisingly, it was fun, a mother-daughter venture we’ve repeated since then. Another trip out and I might even qualify for an “I ‘heart’ Shopping” magnet.
Recently, my daughter commented that one of her classmates “has stylin’ clothes.” It’s true; it runs in the bloodline, matrilineal descent. “Well, she has a stylin’ mom,” I explain. This classmate’s mother was voted Best Dressed in high school. I compliment her woolen poncho and matching skirt as I stand there in the morning, in my Costco jeans and school sweatshirt, with my pajama top hidden nicely underneath. When I ask my daughter if she wants to go shopping again, she tells me no, she’s got plenty of clothes she likes just fine.
So then, I wonder about me. What kind of fashion role model am I?
I’m a writer and I work best when I’m comfortable. Sometimes that means the warm coziness of flannel. So, I sometimes opt for the layered look when dressing, which means the clothes go right on over the pj’s. This also helps me save time. But change must come, since my daughter has noticed the satin trim peeking above my fleece pullover and has said aloud in the company of others more than once, “Mommy, isn’t that your pajama top?” Which, I know, she doesn’t have to say, is so not stylin’.
I decide it’s time to see what’s buried in my closet. The fashion-conscious call this a wardrobe survey. Results show that although none of my jeans know about the low-rise revolution, I do have some clothes that are still in style.
I just need to put them on.
Serendipitous assistance arrives in the form of my own Clothes Fairy, one stylin’ friend (she once worked for Esprit) with whom I share the same waist and hip measurements. In the mail comes a box of clothes. Inside are swishy long skirts, blouses with plunging necklines, a green crushed velvet dress. Everything fits. I wear the green velvet dress to a party. “It’s vintage,” I tell those who say they like it. But really, I’m not sure what vintage is. Something you’d wear for wine tasting? A type of old-fashioned design? A used old dress?
A month later, at a fashion-savvy friend’s, our daughters catch spiders in the far reaches of her house. “Hey, I’ve got some clothes for you,” she tells me and shows me a two-foot pile. I try them on in her spacious bedroom and minutes later I’ve inherited six pairs of perfectly-fitting low-rise pants and a hip pumpkin-colored sweater. I linger at the mirror for a moment and strike a pose. I’m Makeover Mom. I briefly consider highlights for my hair.
Now that it’s early spring and I have all these new pants, I’ve abandoned the layered look. “You’ve lost weight,” I’ve been told more than once by people who’ve noticed.
It’s only pajama weight, but I don’t fess up. I just say, “thank you” and make a silent vow that next winter my pajamas stay on only through the night.
Joanne Catz Hartman lives with her husband and daughter in northern California. She is a columnist for San Francisco’s J and her work appears in the anthologies Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined, Using Our Words, and The Knitter’s Gift. Prior to motherhood, she worked for a New England public television station on an award-winning feature magazine show, was a reporter and photographer for a sailing magazine, an editor at a wire service, and spent a decade teaching middle school. She is Literary Mama’s Profiles Editor and can be reached at LMprofiles (at) literarymama (dot) com.