Ask anyone what a stay-at-home-mom wears while she works, and they’ll answer, black yoga pants, a t-shirt layered over a tank, and sneakers. It’s a pseudo-athletic uniform, as if she expects to run off to the gym at any minute. Which, of course, she doesn’t. The black seems calculated, like a waiter’s shirt, to hide stains; she remembers too when, in college, tight black pants meant you were going clubbing, because black pants hid your flaws. It’s a secret symbol of her youth, before she had kids and dishes and mountains of laundry.
I used to fall into this trap. My professional mommy attire consisted of a t-shirt layered under a black tank top, a pair of boot-cut jeans, and some kind of flip-flop or Birkenstock. I wore yoga pants as pajamas, as fifties women wore housecoats: that is, not in public. I wore t-shirts as cool as I could muster. My wardrobe, like the stereotypical SAHM, leaned toward black, both for covering stains and hiding postpartum flaws. I had a hard time with my new tummy, my wider thighs: the gifts of three pregnancies, during one of which I gained 100 pounds. If it got cold, I wore a long cardigan: the ultimate body-concealer. Looking back, mMy clothes existed to hide perceived flaws.
But there had to be something more. Even then, I sensed that I didn’t have to spend my time hiding my body. That I could celebrate it. That I could sing of myself, rather than hiding under black t-shirts.
I finally got sick of it. First, I tried shorts. They made me feel exposed and pale and I hated them. I wore light blouse-like boho shirts, and sometimes, even button-ups. I bought thrift store pairs as my size waned with each of my three postpartum periods. But I was never satisfied with my look, and never felt comfortable until I slithered right back into my mom uniform. Cowboy boots were as adventurous as I got.
Even if I wasn’t adventurous about clothes, I was, in my own small way, adventurous about makeup. I lined my eyes with liquid eyeliner, top and bottom, every day. TIn college, the drag queens in my artsy residential college had taught me to brush bronzer under my cheekbones and over my nose to give it more of a ski-jump. Cream concealer covered up the giant blue circles under my eyes. I sometimes used mascara. But I’d always been intrigued by the girls with the airbrushed faces, the women who dared to wear lipstick (!).
Then I discovered makeup. Youtube videos came over my Facebook feed, videos about how to contour, how to properly curl your lashes. How to apply eyeshadow. Between Buzzfeed and some other sites, I got a full makeup education just by scrolling. I could contour! I could tightline! I could buy eyeshadow palettes and primer and finishing spray and lipstick, lipstick, lipstick. My contouring was fabulous, especially with bright lipstick and Bobbi Brown finishing powder. Sure, it took half an hour every morning. But that was my half hour. The kids played, or didn’t play, or watched Scooby Doo. Mama was busy with three kinds of eyeliner. Suddenly, I didn’t conceal myself. I might wear mom clothes, but I rocked red lipstick.
My makeup gave me the confidence I needed to try fancier clothes - if I could wear makeup like this, why not? I looked at my wardrobe, the paltry dress componentfull of dresses I didn’t wear. I challenged myself: could I, a mom of three boys six and under, wear nothing but dresses for a week?. I stocked up on shoes. And I pulled on something pink, lacy, and short with slit sleeves. It worked.
I didn’t worry about my butt or pale legs. I didn’t stress over my mummy tummy. I liked the way the dress showed off my breasts.
I escorted the kids to church without losing my dignity or showing my underwear (I did flash Father once with a strapless bra). I went mini-goth with a black dress, dark eyeshadow, and red lipstick - to a Catholic homeschool co-op, where I was pronounced fabulous. My favorite outfit became a brown shift dress with elbow patches, high lace-up boots from Modcloth and a killer floppy brown hat. I felt confident. I didn’t worry about supposed flaws, because I didn’t care about them anymore. So what if my tummy pooched out in my favorite white dress? It was my body. And my body looked good.
Just as I’d become makeup obsessed, I became dress-obsessed. Modcloth, vintage and Free People were my go-tos. I wore white lace to the playground. I stalked eBay for cheap Modcloth and bought way too many dresses for way too many occasions. But I wore one every single day. I picked up toys, threw in the laundry, made PB&Js - with an apron over the white lace- in a dress. I walked the dog and even hiked a time or two. It was my thing: I wore dresses.
Dresses are a choice I made for myself, not by anyone else or for anyone else. I love parading through the grocery store, pushing a cart with three kids, in a ruffled to-the-floor floral number. I go to the splashpad in a striped bodycon dress. It adds some fun into my day. The kids help me pick my dress in the morning, mostly by general consent. I’ve gotten some double takes but never a bad word, even from moms in yoga pants.
Most importantly, I feel confident in my skin - hot, even. I may be overdressed but I don’t give a rat’s ass. I’m having a blast with my clothes. And in the end, that’s what discovering my femme side has given me - the confidence to accept a postpartum, 'flaws' and all.