It all started with a pair of scratched sunglasses.
Not just any sunglasses, but custom neon ones I had designed online in colors with names like acid pink and retina burn. Out of all the sunglasses I’ve owned over the years, these were one of my favorites. But the lenses were beyond saving. It was time for a new pair.
And so I went to one of my happiest places on the internet. My favorite brand’s design-your-own website. Yet as I played around with turquoises and purples and teals, a nagging question crept into my mind.
Since my last purchase, I’d aged a few more years. Now that I was in my late thirties, was I too old for neon?
Quickly, my mind thought of the many stylish moms I know and admire. The ones who wear oversized tortoiseshell sunglasses and don loose t-shirts that fall onto gauzy high-waisted shorts. And breeze around gracefully in boho dresses that skim their ankles. They use colors tastefully. Adopt new trends in a way that looks sophisticated. And leave me wondering why I can’t get more excited about tortoiseshell.
But then, as the product of the Britney Spears generation, was it any surprise I loved neon? Or that out of all the trends in my social media feeds this summer, the one I liked the most was the return of the crop top?
Still I paused. Because while I’d learned from last spring’s college bar experience that even my most daring outfits looked nothing like those of twenty-somethings, I also wasn’t seeing a lot of moms dressing like me either. Part of me worried it was time to adopt a more grown-up style.
But after almost a full decade of devoting my body to my kids, it was finally mine again. Didn’t I deserve to break a few rules?
From the ages of 28 to 36, besides for a few scattered months off, I’d been either pregnant or nursing a baby. This meant that for eight years, my size fluctuated wildly. Outfits had to be selected based on the size of my stomach, or the ease of undressing. Overnight, cute skinny jeans and form-fitting tops were cast aside for elastic waistbands and baggy tunics. Dresses with zippers were replaced with stretchy knits and loose shirt-styles with buttons across the chest.
Rather than investing in quality pieces, I scoured the racks for bargains, more interested in throwaway outfits I didn’t care about when they got stained or ripped or lost their shape from the constant pull of nursing. The one time I did try to slip into a cute dress for a wedding – it was an aqua shift, too tight to pull up or down – I spent half the evening in the bathroom with my baby, begging younger guests to tend to my zipper. I didn’t attempt another shift for years.
Instead I returned to my staples. A mismatched collection of worn-out maternity and postpartum clothing that didn’t make me feel good, but made life easier. And all the while I dreamed of the day I would finally wean my last kid, regain control of my body, and settle into a stable size. That day came right around the time the world shut down for a global pandemic. So instead of shopping, I again reached for my stretchy pants. And wore them until they got little holes that turned into big holes that finally landed them in the garbage.
That was the day I officially decided my wardrobe needed help.
Yet rediscovering my style proved to be more challenging than I anticipated. In the almost-decade since I’d shopped, the world had changed. No longer did one shop by going to a store and trying things on. Rather, today’s shopping was a game of darts, where one ordered tons of styles, waited for them to arrive, then hoped to hit a bullseye.
But bullseyes didn’t happen often. Clothes that looked cute on Instagram often arrived looking very different than they did online. Like those dresses I tried with puffy sleeves that left me feeling like a cupcake. And those gauzy shorts that turned out to be see-through. Or that Boho-chic dress that flowed beautifully on that 5’10” model but left me sweeping the ground as I walked. For a moment I debated hemming it. But then I remembered that I’ve never liked myself in long dresses and sent it back.
It was some time between trips five and eight to the post office that I decided to stop trying every trend and instead look for styles that not only worked on my body, but reminded me of those I had always loved.
This brought me back to those crop tops I’d first fallen for in the 90s. Along with a few new pairs of shorts in bright pinks and blues. And a couple above-the-knee dresses that flattered my short frame with their use of (hurray!) zippers. Soon my porch was filled with packages of clothing that fit. And I felt happier with how I looked than I had in a long time. Because after years of buying cute clothes for the kids, I was finally investing in myself.
It was a form of self-care I didn’t know I needed until I started stepping out in new clothes.
While my wardrobe today may still include a few too many worn-out tank-tops (hello, budget!), it is finally starting to fit my personality again. Which is why I decided to purchase another pair of neon sunglasses, and to proudly wear those crop tops. Because today my kids need my love, my advice, my driving (so much driving!), but they don’t need to control my wardrobe.
And that is something to celebrate. I survived babyhood and this is the reward. Wearing clothing that allows me to feel good about myself. Sure, neon sunglasses and crop tops may trend a little young. But as a mom of three young kids, I’ve decided there’s nothing better than being young at heart. And no better lesson I can teach my kids than to wear what they love, even if it isn’t trending.