This I Believe

Chris - Houston, Texas
Entered on November 6, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50

A few months ago, my freshly-four-year-old daughter became my personal stylist. I didn’t solicit this appointment; I didn’t even know I was in need of one. In this petite fashionista’s mind, however, I most certainly do.

In my own defense, let me point out that while I wear a lot of hats throughout each day, none of them requires matching shoes. Like many moms, my days are spent driving, scrubbing, tidying, grocery shopping, and cooking. I also happen to be nursing my 6-month-old son, who tends to leak from multiple orifices, much of which winds up on my clothing. To top it off, I start each day with a much-needed hour for myself at the gym, during which time I wear a pair of capri-length sweatpants and an oversized T-shirt that generally announces where I vacationed back in my pre-kid days. Even once sweat-soaked, this outfit is the most comfortable – and practical – in which to do all the other things on my endless list. But my daughter disagrees.

“Mom, today you should wear your red boots, dark jeans, and your red leather jacket,” she tells me, as she considers my closet. Never mind that it’s summer in Houston and I won’t even wear a leather watchband, much less a jacket. “OK, then how about your white pants, your orange-and-white shirt, and a pair of clicks?” “Clicks” is what she calls high-heels, because of the sound they make on the hardwoods.

“But, honey, I’m going to exercise like I always do and that wouldn’t be an appropriate outfit,” I reason.

“Why? It would be pretty. You would look fabulous.” Fabulous is her favorite word.

I sigh. It’s the same conversation every morning.

It’s not about carpool competition. It’s as pure as her favorite cotton skirt: if you have pretty things, you should wear them. And I do have pretty things, though I’m as likely to buy basics from Target as I am designer jeans from a boutique. I even own a pair of strappy Manolo Blahniks – a Valentine’s gift from my sweet and savvy husband, who loves to see me in them as much as I love wearing them. When I’m not on my way to preschool, that is.

My daughter loves to dress up, regardless of her agenda. Unless she was switched at birth, I somehow gave birth to a princess. She’ll wear a tiara to ball practice. Mary Janes to the playground. She insists on skirts and dresses most of the time, and will often add a magic wand or string of beads to complete her look. Although she does get positive feedback for her femininity, I really think she wears what she does because it makes her feel good. She likes the way skirts swish, and the embellishments on her blouses. A new pair of shoes to her is better than pizza or cupcakes.

I must admit that in the four years since becoming a mother, my sense of style has begun to slide just a bit. I’ve always been a low-maintenance type, but one who could get dolled up and turn quite a few heads, thank you. And I enjoyed it. I looked forward to selecting my outfit and applying makeup, straightening the wave out of my hair and transferring my necessary objects into a matching handbag.

But that was when I was responsible only for myself, and during a time when I felt a little more motivated to manicure my appearance. Whether to stand out or blend in, I could put together a truly chic look, complete with accessories. Once upon a time, I wouldn’t even go out of the house without matching bra and panties. Now that I’m comfortably settled into my eight-year marriage, and know that my husband truly adores me whether I’m snappy or sloppy, it’s pretty easy to justify my infant-friendly, wash-n-go look.

Maybe practicality is just an excuse. Perhaps I’ve actually crept across the line into the state from which few moms can be extradited, that of Letting Yourself Go. At what point did being freshly showered and pulling my wet hair back into a ponytail pass for being “dressed”? Since when did the contentment at not having to launder my nice clothes surpass the pleasure of wearing them?

The afternoon of the suggestion of the red boots, I was a few minutes late picking up my daughter from school, but it was worth it. I emerged from my car as though arriving at an awards event. An imaginary red carpet unrolled itself before me, stopping just where she stood waiting. Her squeal was pure thrill: “Mommy, you wore a dress! You look so beautiful!” She clapped as I did an impromptu twirl. “And makeup!” she said. Then abruptly serious, “Wait a minute. Where are we going?”

“Nowhere. Home,” I said, smiling. What I didn’t say, because she wouldn’t quite understand, is that I decided that there was no point of letting pretty things languish in my closet just so I don’t have to clean them. That a few extra minutes can yield miracles. That just because I feel ratty sometimes doesn’t mean I have to look it. That she was worth the effort. That I was worth it.

And although I haven’t sworn off wearing sweaty gym clothes, and can still be counted upon to show up for a girls’ lunch merely clean, I have begun to dress up more often. It feels good to be girly instead of grubby. And even though I don’t want her to grow up thinking that the wardrobe makes the woman, I love it when my little girl says, “Mommy, you look fabulous.”