You don’t feel your style slipping away when you become a mom. In fact, I didn’t notice it happening at all. I always loved shopping and cared about how I looked before I had kids and even during my first pregnancy. But it got dicey as I entered the final trimester and nothing seemed to fit. My face, chest, and ankles were all bloated. Trying to find flattering clothes only made me feel bad about my body, so I gave myself over to stretchy knit pants and huge maternity T-shirts. Once the baby was out, I reasoned, everything would go back to normal.
Oh, how naïve I was, because as every seasoned mother knows, things don’t go “back to normal” once you have a baby. Life changes on many fronts. I embraced motherhood and welcomed most of the changes, but my style took a big hit and it was five years before I got it back again.
The start of my downward spiral began when I left the hospital still wearing my maternity clothes. Even after giving birth, I still had exactly ALL of the baby weight I had gained over the course of my pregnancy. How exactly does that math work? My baby came out weighing 7 lbs., 14 oz., but I was still tipping the scales at my full-term weight.
After a few weeks at home, I started to figure out that things were not going back to normal. This was my new normal. It involved not sleeping, having no time to exercise (OR DESIRE TO EXERCISE), wearing spit-up soaked nursing bras all day, every day, and not showering. When I think about it, there are many ways in which new mommyhood is a total nightmare. Don’t get me wrong, I have four great kids and being a mom is the thing I’m most proud of in life, but yeah, there are times when it absolutely stinks. And so does your baby. And so do you.
It took all my energy and mental effort to get into a routine with my son. This did not include doing my hair, shopping, or wearing makeup. I was in survival mode, and the mayhem of new motherhood made me check out of caring about what I looked like for a while.
And then when I started to feel like I kind of had it together as a mom, I just forgot about how much I loved clothes and dressing cute. It wasn’t on my radar anymore; I was totally focused on my child. After a couple of years, I was feeling so great about being a mom, I decided to have another baby.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
The cycle started over. But this time I was not dressing cute to begin with AND I had a toddler to care for while suffering morning sickness and all that jazz. (Really, it’s a wonder any of us do this mom thing more than one time!) After having my second child, feeling chubby and tired felt normal to me. I didn’t even notice it anymore. I had no time to shop, and even if I did want to risk squandering precious nap time at the mall, I literally couldn’t fit my double stroller into dressing rooms. And on the off-chance that there did happen to be an extra-large wheelchair accessible dressing room open, I was afraid to try on clothes because soaking them with breast milk was a definite possibility. I just wore what I had that fit, and a lot of times that meant throwing on a pair of cargo shorts and a T-shirt. (I know, terrible, but at least Julianne Moore can relate.)
It was only after my third baby that I started to get back into the style game, all thanks to a good friend who inspired me. She had great style herself, was practical, and gave me advice about what to wear that didn’t make me feel humiliated and gross. She reminded me that fashion can be fun (oh, how I’d forgotten) and that I had no reason to give up and submit to high-waisted mommy jeans (back in style now, weirdly!) and squishy tennis shoes. She didn’t give me an explicit pep talk, but just included me in conversations about what to wear and who was having a sale and what would be flattering for my body shape. Moms need friends like this.
We also needs TV shows like What Not to Wear. Because while my friend helped me realize I did want to get my style back, the fact remained: I had three young children to tote around. Shopping online was my new reality. I found Stacy and Clinton to be encouraging and inspiring. They gave rules you could follow, even when you had to order stuff online, try it on at home, and return it if it didn’t fit. I studied that show and learned something from every woman they worked with. I started to have new standards for myself.
I slowly got rid of my shapeless, stretched-out T-shirts and leggings and replaced them with clothing that was still comfortable but also flattering. Instead of pulling a ratty old hoody over a T-shirt, I’d opt for a cardigan. I started to become aware of the fun of including color, pattern, texture, and shine in my outfits. I invested in a good (real) bra and figured out where my waist was. It was still there! (Slightly transformed, but there!) I learned how to make the most of what I have, which still includes some baby weight, and finally got my style back.
Now, here I am, 17 years later, and while I’m happy I found my style again, I don’t feel bad about those “mom frump” years. In fact, when I look back at photos of myself during that period (there aren’t very many), I have a lot of sympathy for my style-less self. Those first few years of new motherhood were rough. I was tired and spent. I was going through a crash course in parenting and was totally focused on my kids. My priorities had temporarily shifted. And that’s exactly what needed to happen. Because while I may have lost my style for those five short years, I got to experience the joy of mothering three beautiful babies — cargo pants and all.More On