“You can’t wear that out of this house!”
Words I haven’t heard spoken since I donned a teeny mini-skirt with cowboy boots and a tube top in the summer of 1983. And no, that wasn’t ME uttering those words at my daughter, it was her telling me that my capri pants with the laces at the calves and the orange tie-dyed shirt that MIGHT have been considered fashionable when she was in kindergarten just no longer work over a decade later. I know I’m slow to purge my closet. I still wear shoes from when I was pregnant with my now 15 year-old son. I still have a suit from when I worked in television marketing two decades ago. Clearly, I need my daughter’s input.
In all honesty, I haven’t often told my children what they could and couldn’t wear. I decided to be more judicious in picking my parenting battles, and mostly their clothing choices have been good. Sure there were some interesting blends of stripes, plaids and polka dots in elementary school, and the girls shorts they sell these days make it difficult to follow the Middle School dress code if you’ve got long arms since shorts have to be longer than the thumb line. As a tween, I know my daughter joined her friends in pulling shoulders up to her ears in order to wear cut-offs from Abercrombie and Fitch. And yes, there have been a couple dress code violations in High School for bra straps showing and there are times when I’ve encouraged camisoles under dresses because the girl inherited my cleavage.
Last summer my son convinced me that he needed “wife-beater” style tank tops and I agreed to buy them if he promised not to wear them to school. Even though it isn’t against the rules, to me it’s just disrespectful in class. I’m old fashioned that way. I still think you should dress up for church and the theatre. But I grew up with a mom who insisted I wear dresses for all occasions. Of course she also let me wear a bandana as a scarf to hide my greasy hair throughout all of seventh grade, so her fashion sense really couldn’t be trusted.
My kind-hearted teenage daughter has taken to letting me know when I am getting off-trend. I don’t have time to pour through fashion magazines, so I do appreciate her guidance. I’ll be 50 in a couple months and when I look at photos of my mother at my age, I think maybe I shouldn’t have moved so far from home so I could have steered her away from the racks of floral print waist-less dresses and calico muumuus. She and her best friend used to shop together and often purchased matching dresses. On one occasion Sue got a white sailor dress with blue trim and my mom chose the blue sailor dress with white trim. They’d call each other to plot the days when they’d wear their coordinating ensembles. The good news for my mother is that I would never have asked to borrow her clothes.
And sure, for me it can be annoying when I can’t find my favorite shoes or a beloved sweater, but I think it is a compliment when I discover them in a rumpled heap on the floor in my daughter’s room. The kid actually likes my taste in boots and, when taken in a bit, the black sequined dress I wore to my 30th High School reunion made a great homecoming dress last fall.
My daughter wasn’t always so helpful with my clothes. Her brother often contributed to my fashion challenges. There were the years when I couldn’t wear white for fear of peanut butter and jelly fingerprints on my pants legs, and I couldn’t wear black or there’d surely be snotty snail trails on the sleeves of my sweaters. I learned quickly not to go out in a track suit without a t-shirt on underneath when my toddler son unzipped my jacket in Costco and there I stood in my bra by the racks of mega-sized toilet paper, trying to reconnect the zipper so I could cover myself back up before the mass of humanity in line for jalapeno popper samples got a good look at my maternal physique.
And then there were the Spring Games at the kids’ elementary school. My daughter was only in Kindergarten, and the principal asked me to chair a new event. We’d have an costumed rabbit, bunny-hop sack races and an egg hunt. It sounded like fun so I poured through the Oriental Trading Company catalogue and painted banners in my garage. The day of the event, I loaded the car with pastel colored decorations and was dressed to match in a lavender shirt with lime green pants. The shirt had a small pocket over each breast. It was cute, fitted and fashionable.
I was at school early to set up for the big event. I checked in with the friendly office staff. No one said anything. I met with my committee and solicited help from the custodians and no one said anything. I chatted with the principal about the schedule for the festivities and she didn’t say anything. As we were taping up the banner, I noticed one of the dads seemed to be looking at my breasts. It was odd. He’d never been disrespectful or so blatant before. I put it out of my mind and went to greet the writer and photographer from the local paper. They didn’t say anything as I gave them the details for the day and went to the restroom before the games were to begin. And there, while looking in the mirror, I discovered why the kind volunteer gentleman had been distracted. My daughter had put a bead in each of my pockets, which gave the look of rather large nipples pointing in incongruent directions.
A few years later, I found myself serving as President of the school’s PTA. I was excited about recruiting new members and got up in the wee hours of the morning on the first day of school to gather all my materials before the kids woke up. I showered, dried my hair and went back into the dimly lit bedroom, grabbed my yoga pants off the floor where I’d left them the night before, made the lunches for my 1st and 4th graders and woke them up for the big day. After breakfast we walked the mile to school. Parents were gathered on the blacktop behind room number signs as their children waited to meet their new teachers. I had my clipboard with a list of all the events we needed help with and membership envelopes ready to share. I was feeling energized by the enthusiasm as I went from one cluster of parents to the next, making introductions, sharing the good things I knew about the school, the teachers and the new principal, when one of my daughter’s friends tapped me on my shoulder.
“Mrs. Weerts, I think your pants are inside out.”
Sure enough, the white crotch of my black Lululemon pants had been showing all morning as I filled my clipboard with volunteers, thinking I was being inspiring. Instead, it was obvious I don’t know how to dress myself. I clearly needed my ten-year-old to hasten her growing up so she could give me much-needed fashion tips. Fortunately, my little girl, now statuesque and always eager to shop, grew up in the blink of an eye and I rarely go out of the house without her approval. Now I just need to hide my favorite shoes and sweaters when she packs for college!
(pictured: mom and her dear friend Sue, in their coordinating sailor dresses circa 1990.)