Ah, mom clothes. They’re comfy, machine-washable, nondescript, and reminiscent of Mervyn’s department stores. Any Swiffer commercial is a good example of mom clothes. Not yoga pants and LuLaRoe tunics, but Amy-from-Everybody-Loves-Raymond clothes. 42-inch zippers. Sweater sets. The kind of stuff that looks on the hanger like it makes a mean casserole and doesn’t mind your friends coming over after school, as long as you get your homework done. Mass-produced, asexual, most likely embroidered, and worn exclusively by moms and middle school English teachers.
I became a mom at the tender age of 21. I honestly hadn’t thought much about what kind of mom I’d be before I became one. Partly because I’d been told most of my life that I most likely wouldn’t be able to have kids, partly because I was just so young when we were surprised by our first, partly because “mom” is used to describe some seriously uncool things (mom jeans, mom-mobiles…), and I am the cat’s pajamas. It wasn’t until I got pregnant and started binging on A Baby Story episodes that I began to fantasize about motherhood. As I tore through every pregnancy book I could find I was making mental notes and verbal declarations about what I would never do and what I would be a rock star at. When we finally brought our bitty baby boy home I practically devoured the baby development books and lost actual sleep over whether or not it was time to introduce colors or to keep stimulating his brain with black and white patterned images. I didn’t remember being a baby, myself, so not knowing what I’d preferred in a mother as an infant I took my cues from TV, full of baby wash and diaper commercials with moms who were fully dressed at home all day, moms who calmly rubbed lotion on their babies as they sang and cooed, who Swiffered in shoes and had tons of natural light pouring in as they enjoyed smiles in slow motion. These were what moms were supposed to look like, apparently.
I lost myself in these images. I was 21, had never been fully dressed at home unless company was coming over, barely remembered to wear shoes when I left the house, and my baby didn’t let me do ANYTHING slowly. I was already failing, according to what I was seeing.
I went to Sears – you can laugh – at only twenty-one years of age, just over a score. I couldn’t even rent a car, but I could find the mom clothes. I bought pull-on, elastic-waist khaki capris. Embroidered t-shirts with flowers and butterflies on them. Polo shirts, and not the kind with a little horse on them. SWEATER SETS. I, in all my glorious youth, emerged from Sears wearing something with a “one size fits most” tag.
I cut my hair. My long, thick, always-got-me-compliments hair. What’s more, I dyed it dark. I went from the picture of youth – long, flowing blonde hair and a smile – to a caricature, a stereotype, an imposter in polyester.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing old or wrong about haircuts, dark hair, or whatever style of clothes you like (except Crocs – those will always be wrong). There’s not anything wrong with growing older, looking older, or dressing for comfort. Where I went wrong was losing my identity in my new label as Mom. I allowed motherhood to overtake and overwhelm me, to tell me who I was rather than allowing who I was to dictate what type of mom I’d be. I didn’t consult myself in this makeover, only those dang Swiffer ads.
I was miserable.
I had a miserable, colicky, premature baby who screamed every moment that he was awake. I was so tired that I kept the curtains closed and lived without that beautiful natural sunlight pouring in. I hated my new clothes and they fit me awkwardly. I missed my long hair, the color made me look pale, and I was absolutely lost. My friends my age were still in college and the moms with kids the same age as mine seemed too together for my lack of self confidence. I isolated myself, in a dark room with dark hair, and being stuck with yourself when you no longer know who you are is rather disconcerting. I didn’t like me. I didn’t feel like me. I wasn’t me.
About a year later my mom took me shopping, probably for my birthday. Since I was a stay-at-home mom I didn’t have a lot of use for clothes that I wasn’t going to wear to church. I never wore those pull-on khakis, my curves made the embroidered shirts fit poorly, and I felt frumpy. We picked out an outfit or two, a new pair of khaki capris (I still hadn’t learned), and headed over to the shoe department. You can sense the excitement building, can’t you?
I’ve always been tall so I’ve always avoided heels. I stand at just under 6 feet and have always had weird feelings about being even taller (especially taller than guys when I was in middle and high school, amiright ladies?). I owned one single, solitary pair of heels, sensible black ones, that made me feel like the fiercest of female spies but also made me feel like the sorest of thumbs, standing out above the crowd. Those beloved heels had worn down so we grabbed a pair to replace them – pointed toe, low heel, matte black heels. Just for variety’s sake, we also grabbed a pair of brown dress shoes.
Then it happened.
To this day I don’t know why I reached for them. I’d never before considered something like them, never lusted after anything similar in any fashion magazine. I couldn’t imagine what outfit I’d wear them with, and probably secretly felt like I’d never actually wear them, at least not without being embarrassed at how outlandish they were. Red heels. Red, patent, shiny, 4-inch heels. HIGH heels. They were not demure. They were not sensible. They pushed me well over into the 6-foot territory and didn’t go with anything. But I loved them. Oh, how I loved them. I wanted to wear them out of the store. I wanted to wear them while doing dishes. I wanted these red heels that screamed anything but “Mom!” And I got them. Bless my mother, she didn’t know what she was starting that day, but she got them for me and began my long-standing love affair with heels. High heels. Spikey heels. Outlandish heels. Heels with chains. Heels with animal print. Heels with ribbons, feathers, and crystals. Heels that are me. Heels that are fun.
I changed with those red heels.
My mom uniform sank to the back of the closet, then eventually to the garage sale pile. My hair grew back out. I was walking taller, in every sense of the word, in those red heels. Sometimes people noticed them, sometimes they were so at home on my proud feet that they didn’t even stand out. Sometimes I got compliments, sometimes I tripped and got laughs. But I felt great in my red heels… and I was still a mom. In fact, I was a better mom. I began to present myself for who I was, not who I thought I was expected to be. I didn’t Swiffer in shoes, but I laughed with my kids. I spent a lot of time at home and not at mommy-and-me classes , but I opened the curtains, let in the light. I went days in my pajamas at home, but I looked forward to getting dressed when I did go somewhere. I wasn’t a perfect mom, but I was me. I was having fun again.
I see a lot of mom-shaming these days. Celebrities pose in outlandish outfits, moms dye their hair pink, blue, green. They get tattoos, piercings, shave their heads and wear band t-shirts. “You’re somebody’s mother!” the comments exclaim, reinforcing the idea that moms have to wear khaki capris and keep their pantries stocked with Special K bars.
But they don’t.
Unless you want to, but you don’t have to.
You can dye your hair. You can cut it as short as you want or grow it out so long that you sit on it, and you’ll still be a mom. You can wear flats or stilettos – or both in the same day – and still be a mom. You can wear jeans, leggings, dresses, jumpers, skirts, suits, ties, pants, sweats, or khaki capris, and none of those will change the fact that you are a mom. The only affect your clothing will have on you as a parent – as a person – is whether or not it makes you happy. Kim Kardashian and Michelle Duggar are both mothers, momming exactly how they want to in exactly the shoes they want to, and no matter what anyone thinks of their outfits the fact remains that they are moms, they are women, they are people. You are not what you wear, so wear what you want to be who you are.
I get some flak still for my clothing choices. My love for heels has expanded into a love for accessories, and the bigger, flashier, and bolder, the better. My clothing choices are not practical. I own a necklace that could impale someone if they hugged me too quickly and more than a few heels that could be used as weapons. I don’t look like the other moms when I go on field trips, and often find myself swooning over a piece of clothing online only to discover that it’s meant to be a costume. I stand out, whether I want to or not. But I feel better. My red heels elevate me above the lowly image I have of myself, remind me that I am still feminine (when I want to be), still fabulous, still full of sass and life and C-section scars don’t get to take that from me. I’m a mom, but before that I’m a woman, I’m a person, I’m me, and adding a job description didn’t rob me of my personhood.
Last week my son and I were reading about Eleanor of Aquitaine, a seriously kick-butt lady. She was a queen, a duchess, a business woman, a political leader, a strategist, a woman who refused to behave in ways that were expected of her, and a mom. We learned of her marriages, of her intelligence, of her ten children, and then – wait for it – of how she wore cherry red boots into battle.
Eleanor got it.
The Wicked Witch of the West got it.
Red heels are powerful, symbolic, and just so freaking fabulous.
We moms do it all, carry it all, and bear enough guilt and expectation when we’re barefoot… So why not do it wearing some really amazing shoes? Go be you, moms, Swiffer commercials be darned.