A woman spends decades figuring out a fashion identity, getting to know her body and understanding what styles work and what styles don't.
And then she becomes a mother. Her whole fashion personality gets smashed to pieces. Her familiar wardrobe goes into the back of the closet and out comes maternity wear.
And maternity fashion? Let's just say it's an oxymoron.
After childbirth, either nothing she owns fits (shoe sizes grow, previously flat bellies are saggy, so-called perfect figures are no longer anywhere near perfect) or it's completely impractical (nursing, baby spit). So she spends a few years — or more — in baggy T-shirts that are easy to nurse in and wash. Sometimes she wishes she had a different look, but she's not sure what that look should be.
That's why, when earlier this month the Silicon Valley Moms Blog invited our member bloggers and other local moms to meet with a personal shopper at Nordstrom, moms filled the joint.
The Nordie's shopper promised to tell us how to dress stylishly in clothes we could wear while chasing kids sitting on the floor or hauling groceries — and which we could throw in the washer with everything else.
That is, how to make our dreams come true. Sure, some of us said we didn't expect to get more out of the evening than a free cookie and a few laughs. But deep down we all hoped for some magical answer that would give us a practical yet up-to-the-minute fashion identity.
After a 90-minute presentation, most of us fled. We had kids to bathe, laundry to fold. We didn't get a chance to talk amongst ourselves. But we had a lot to say when we met later that week at our Silicon Valley Moms blog site (svmoms.com), a six-month-old Palo Alto-based blog. (The whole conversation is at http://svmomblog.typepad.com/silicon_valley_moms_blog/sv_fashion/index.html.)
We talked about what we want from the fashion industry. And we talked about what we loved and hated about this season's fashions.
Skinny jeans came in for a lot of abuse. Skinny jeans, meaning stretchy jeans that are form fitting from the waist to the ankle, are a fashion staple right now. These jeans are so tight that it's sometimes hard to get a foot into the leg. Or, as one blogger put it, "so tight that my dad used to say he could tell what year the quarter was in my back pocket."
Here's what moms had to say about skinny jeans:
"I mean really. Does any normal woman ever, ever look at her backside and think, 'Wow, what I really need is smaller jeans?' I think not," commented Christina.
"They make my legs look like drumsticks," commented a mother who goes by the screen name "Hey Mom."
"Unless you're a size 0, you never ev-ah wear these. And if you are a size 0 and had kids, don't wear them to avoid us 'larger' mommies beating you up at the park," warned Robyn.
"Skinny jeans? If you ever had to get horizontal on the bed, suck in your stomach, and grab the zipper pull with pliers so you could shimmy into your Calvin Kleins or Gloria Vanderbilts, consider this your hall pass," blogged ElleBelle.
"Oh please. Some trends were never meant to return. The skinny jeans must die," wrote Courtney.
Except for skinny jeans, moms said they love jeans in general. They're a wardrobe staple for which moms will pay big bucks; $200 is worth it, they say, if the jeans are comfortable and make their butts look good.
"All moms need non-mommylooking jeans; this is worth your investment dollars," blogged Jill.
Leggings are another current fashion trend moms love to dis. "They may be warm, comfortable, etc., but they really aren't healthy," blogged Sarah. "Leggings just invite yeast infections."
"No self-respecting Silicon Valley mom should be seen wearing this," blogged Pamela, referring to a miniskirt and leggings. "We don't care how skinny you are, you are a mother and you no longer have the right to wear leggings."
Ruching rough going
Then came ruching. The moms attending fashion night weren't sure if this is a broad trend or just something for moms with belly issues, but we saw a lot of ruching — that is, tight shirts of sheer fabric gathered along the side seams so bunches of fabric cover the front and, theoretically, hide bunches of post-baby skin underneath.
Good concept, but after about the tenth ruched shirt we were retching from ruching — something about all those fluffs of fabric was a little too much.
"There's got to be a better way to disguise my less-than-perfect midsection," wrote Pamela.
As for shoes, ballet flats are back, which moms either love or hate. Jimmy Choo stiletto boots are also in style, and the Nordie's shopper promised that, at $850, they're so well designed they feel like walking in flats. (Given that they're the price of a major home appliance, we figured they better be.)
"I am thrilled that my flat shoes are finally in style," wrote Pamela.
"What's up with all of these flat shoes? Practical, yes, but designers have been ignoring the straight male perspective here. I can picture it now: 'Honey, why don't you put on that black lace teddy and your ballet flats and come into the bedroom?'" blogged Sarah.
"Jimmy Choo boots would look great on me, and unlike Pamela, I can walk in heels! Yippee! Almost choked on my bottled water when I heard the price ... but will get them anyway," blogged Jill.
"I love boots," wrote Hey Mom. "But what I really need are shoes that can be applied and removed while standing, preferably without putting down the Toddler. I'll stick to slide-in sandals until the weather gets so cold that my toes turn blue."
The biggest news flash of the evening: The '80s are back. Our Nordie's personal shopper brought out outfit after outfit that sent us back there — when some of us were stylish young professionals or still in college, and none of us were moms.
If you're trying to picture 1980s fashion, think Flashdance, Madonna, Annie Hall. Think layered shirts, denim skirts and legwarmers. Whether we loved 1980s fashion or hated it, the trip back in time got us all thinking about getting dressed to go out instead of getting dressed to clean up Playdough.
"I was cool in the '80s," blogged Pamela. "My Madonna clothes would be quite chic today, right on down to the little black ankle boots. Those were the days. However, you will not see me sporting ankle boots this year, I would look like some crazed middle-aged elf!"
"The '80s were a good decade for me fashion-wise," blogged Katie. "The short skirts showed off my long legs, and the shoulder pads camouflaged my cleavage challenges. Maybe I'll jump on (this) fashion train."
Another news flash: Black is the new black. Big relief, given that last year, brown was the new black, and no one knew what to wear with it. Some concern, though: What do you do with the brown left over from the brown-is-black year?
"I just hope it's the same old black that's already in my closet and not some funky, expensive black," commented Hey Mom.
Big bags are in style. Really big bags. Shoulderbags that look, well, like diaper bags. This trend is not going to be a problem for Silicon Valley moms; for once, mom-style is ahead of the curve.
Of course, moms can't talk about fashion without talking about their "issues" about fashion.
"Not only do I not care about fashion, I can't care because I don't have time to shop anymore. Even if I did have the time to care about fashion, I haven't been able to lose the (final) baby weight. I've been stuck in fashion limbo." blogged Elspeth. And, sadly, "Even if we remotely dress up someone comes up and rubs their sand-and-water-covered hands all over us."
"It is hard to care about fashion if you are convinced you should live in Hawaii, and really want to wear only a tank top and shorts," blogged Stephanie.
"I don't like being told what to wear," blogged Pamela. "I am happy wearing my black and grey, my unflattering cropped wide leg pants. I do not care if leather is in, I am not wearing a leather jacket over a sequined tank unless I have a guest role in the Sopranos."
"What's the point of fashion?" blogged Valerie. "Five days out of seven you are a carpooling blur. ... Virtually no one sees you, and, if they did, it's because they are home sick vomiting on you." Valerie's solution is to stay in workout clothes all day, "in part to create the illusion that you have hopes of getting to the gym, but also to minimize the time it takes to escape to the gym, should an opportunity arise."
What we took home
After the Nordstrom event, and our online chat, a few moms actually did a little wardrobe updating. One mom had her own mother tighten up the ankles on a pair of jeans. And she bought a long T-shirt, which she now knows she should wear with a wide belt. Another bought a bubble skirt — and her husband thought the hem was stuck on something.
Four more went for complete outfits — new dark-washed (but not skinny) jeans, longish T-shirts, and short structured jackets. And I dove into the dark recesses of my closet and brought forth a few outfits I'd tucked away at the end of the '80s.
But most moms that went to our evening at Nordies were content just to know what's in style — for the moment, anyway.
Blogged Pamela: "I love to see the trends and what I am supposed to be wearing. Then I go home and put on and hug all my unflattering, too large, mostly black wardrobe. But you had better believe that I will be in the front row at the next trend show.
"Never met a trend that I couldn't find a fault with."