In the spirit of our repudiation of lifestyle blogging and our interest in representing life as we life it, rather than as we wish we live it, I bring to you my New Mama Fashion Tips. These can work for any mama, but are especially useful to mothers in that transitional time after birth, when your body is lumpy, your boobs are leaky, and everything feels exposed and uncontainable and uncertain.
I’m not a fashionista, or even a nice-clothes-ista. On my first date, at age 16, I wore Mom jeans and a boxy, striped t-shirt. I kid you not. My idea of dressing up was brushing my hair and putting on lip gloss. I’ve never developed a personal style or look or signature accessory. I don’t even have pierced ears (I decided in jr high I’d rather spend my money on CDs). Motherhood has only made this aspect of my personality worse, because it’s the best reason to not look nice. First of all, no one faults you for wearing the same jeans every day when you sleep less than 3 hours at a time and have enormous, leaking breasts and look like you might cry. They are not worried about your jeans at that moment. Second of all, there’s absolutely no point in wearing that nice sweater because it’s going to get puked on or peed on, or jelly-fingered, or snot-wiped, before you leave the house. I never struggled against this inevitability, I simply assumed/hoped no one would notice.
Each year in my personal journal, I write a Year in Review survey that includes a question about my “fashion concept” for 2001 or 2009 or whatever. Here are the responses I’ve had over the years (my daughters were born in ’08 and ’10):
2008: Comfortably frumpy? I’m really unhappy with my overall look. Big t-shirts, pajama pants.
2009: Frumpy evolving into pajama wear.
2010: “Is it obvious that this is a maternity shirt?”
2011: “Can anyone else smell this stinky bra?”
Note the emergent themes of pajama pants and concerns that my lack of appropriate daywear might be obvious to the rest of the world. Fortunately, my audience for daily attire is usually tuned-out eighteen year olds who spend more time looking at their phones than they do me. And I know the Walgreens guy has seen way worse, so.
If you’re a woman for whom personal style is really important, this will probably sound horrifying. Motherhood fucks with our identities in myriad ways, and our ability to maintain cleanliness, let alone style, is profoundly challenging. Even a mama with an underdeveloped sense of personal style can feel bad about wearing an ill-fitting green shirt for the third day in a row because it’s the cleanest thing available. You will look in the mirror and not recognize yourself. I promise it’s a phase. This too shall pass.
In the meantime, I have developed some guerilla mommy clothing tips that I will now share with you. These tips will not make you look nice, but they may help you avoid some embarrassment, and I’ve never seen them mentioned elsewhere.
Tip #1: The roll-top stretchy skirt
I have these in multiple colors and multiple lengths, and usually get them on sale at Old Navy. Roll-top skirts are kind of like yoga pants: stretchy and very comfy, and with the right accessories you can trick people into believing they’re career wear. A nice sweater and a pair of boots makes you look dressed up, but they also look cute with flip flops and a tank. It’s an easy upgrade.
Not only can you wear roll-top stretchy skirts through an entire pregnancy, you can also wear them throughout the entire year (with or without leggings), and you can roll the top over your tummy and backfat when nursing and babywearing (and nursing while babywearing).
(Sorry about that gross mirror; that’s just how we roll.)
Tip #2: Cardigans
A nice cardigan turns any saggy maternity shirt into a decent outfit. It turns a t-shirt into something passable for work. Cardigans hide the spit-up stains on your shoulder, and the milk leak on the front. Hide a nice cardigan in the car and put it on after you’ve changed, dressed, fed, and transported your children. You won’t have to worry about hidden boogers or syrup smears.
Find, save, or buy a comfy, ratty cardigan to sleep in, especially if you co-sleep and nurse at night. Your arms and back will never be cold, even if your shirt is up for most of the time. I love my sleep cardigan. (Try to go for buttons, rather than a zipper. Your boobs will thank you.)
Tip #3: Scarves
Scarves hold all the potential of cardigans, but with slightly less warmth and coverage. They’ll mask leaked milk, shoulder stains, enormous bra straps, or just give you a more covered and secure feeling. Plus, they feel fancy, and add color to my typically neutral palette. Pair a scarf with a non-sleep cardigan and you look downright pulled together. Target clearances scarves all the time. I have about 10.
Tip #4: MacGyvering Nursing Pads
Maybe this is a less generally useful tip. Maybe some of you have nursing bras with padding, or diligently wash and reuse cloth nursing pads, or are smart enough to squirrel away nursing pads in every conceivable location (purse, pants, car, office, backpack, kitchen, coffee shops, etc) you might need one. Maybe you don’t leak; or maybe you don’t have a bad case of the porn nips after nursing for four years straight.
But maybe you’re like me and the only nursing bra you can convince yourself to buy is a fairly cheap (but supportive and functional!) Medela with no nip coverage, and you flake out on nursing pads all the time. If so, then this tip is for you. As a new mother, I was especially self-conscious about my breasts. If I didn’t feel like I had everything locked down and was definitely not going to accidentally squirt my students in the face with milk, then I felt uneasy, awkward, and distracted. But, I often ran out of pads and needed backup, and had only the stuff available in the office supply closet to work with. Since a paperclip bomb won’t approximate modesty or absorbency, I have used these things instead:
– Toilet Paper: Fold it up, tuck it in. It won’t absorb much but it will mask your nipples. Facial tissue works well, too, and has the bonus of being softer.
– Paper towels: see above, plus more absorbency. The better quality the towel, the better this works. Even the scratchy brown public restroom towels can work.
– Panty liners: These actually work VERY well, and for awhile I just used Kotex instead of the pricier nursing pads. The sticky backing holds them in place, and they are absorbent (though if you leak in waterfall mode rather than dripping faucet mode, they may be overwhelmed). These are EXCELLENT NIGHT NURSING PADS, because you can line a sleep bra with several so you have coverage no matter where your nipples roam as you toss and turn.
– Bandaids: Yes, I have done this. Provides excellent, smooth nip coverage, not great absorbency though. Not so convenient if you’re doing a lot of nursing at the same time. You may need more than one Bandaid.
– Baby socks or small baby hats: These are functional but look lumpy. Best if paired with a scarf or cardigan to mask those.
Tip #5: Cut your hair
We all want to be Tami Taylor. We want to rock the long locks. I mean, I’ve wanted hair like that since I was 6 and saw Crystal Gayle on TV.
But when you bathe twice a week and only have a glance in the rear view mirror at a stop light for the purposes of self-styling, long hair just doesn’t work. There’s a reason Moms cut their hair off. For me, long hair gets stringy and I end up pulling it into a ponytail all the time. With a bob, my hair looks shiny and full even if it’s day 3 without a shower. It frames my face, which is more flattering than a severe bun. I do nothing to it other than wash it.
If you’re a new Mom, give these tips a try. Sometime soon, you’ll wear makeup again, and you’ll brush your teeth twice a day again, and you’ll begin to see how Moms live day-to-day with a baby and it will feel doable. Promise. In the meantime, I’m rockin’ some Brawny pads and a brown scarf that yesterday, had poop on it, but Mama thought ahead and did me some laundry. Look out, employees of Lowe’s: you’re about to notice neither my nipples nor the blobs of oatmeal on the neck of my sweater. BOOYAH.