I remember when I was 17 years old in Paris, my friends and I saw Naomi Campbell walking down the street. We were there for a couple weeks on a school trip and we had been poised and ready for any kind of celebrity encounter when she passed right by us. We were in awe of her gazelle like grace, and her incomparable stature. Thinking back her legs appeared so long they made her seem more exotic alien land-strider than human. She seemed perfect in the moonlight, as if she were lit professionally. I remember she was wearing some jeans with boots and a leather jacket. It was a style all of us tried to emulate for the next year. But right then in that moment whatever the magic, I remember staring, barely breathing as if sudden movements might spook her even as her figure retreated into the distance and out of sight. Wow. Supermodel.
I guess that word makes its impression on every generation.
Now that I’m a mom I look back to that memory with a twinge of fear in my gut. Will my baby girl grow up like I did? Pouring over magazines and hoping for a kind of media-glossed perfection that doesn’t exist? I thought back to my friends and I buying Allure magazine when it was still lusciously large in format, scrutinizing the then new Linda Evangelista spreads, talking about how perfect Nikki Taylor looked in a bathing suit, or how Cindy Crawford managed to rock the George Michael look. And slowly it crept back into my memory. The girl who wore an awesome pair of wicker (yes, wicker) 5” platform wedges, with olive green linen hotpants, and a tight, striped, scoop neck t-shirt to hang with her friends at the mall. Her friends, who wore cute mini peasant skirts with mary-jane shoes and vintage jean jackets; or baby-doll dresses that barely covered their butts. Beyond that I thought of all the disapproving stares we earned, no wait, collected.
That scared me even more. Oh my God. Aside from the psychologically jarring, air-brushed and digitally tweaked fashion plates surrounding my baby’s every step, she is going to go through a ‘dress like a tramp’ rite of passage and there’s not much I can do about it. Gack.
I was cutting through the Eaton Centre on my way to the office after a meeting with these thoughts still racing through my head and as if on cue, I saw a ‘young miss’ wearing over-the-knee boots in a 4” heel, and I’m pretty sure, a dress that once used to be a sock. She sort of glared at me as I passed by. No doubt because I was boring into her with my newfound disapproving, laser ‘mom stare’. As soon as she was out of sight I checked myself. What had happened to me?
Yes I know the obvious answer is that motherhood has changed me. That especially because I have a little girl, I am going to feel much more protective of her and apparently, much more judgemental of passerby’s wardrobes. Still I can’t help but feel something else is tangled up in that muddle of emotion.. could it be yearning? Some kind of wistful ghost of ‘fashion-days-gone-by’? I think I’m actually a little jealous of myself back then. I mean, how is it that when I was 17 and supposed to be at my most hormonal and vulnerable, I took more fashion risks and wore clothing that demanded way more self-esteem than I do now? How is it that all of a sudden I am looking down at people who have the guts (and the bodies) to wear pseudo-exhibitionist fashions, when I’m the one that won’t leave my comfort zone and buy a new suit or a nice skirt? I used to look at those beautiful glossy Amazons in Vogue, and never question that I could pull their styles off, at least my own adaptations of them. Now, I dismiss any fashion spread as pure fantasy. Why?
These questions have followed me around for the last 3 days. In terms of my past confidence, I do have to say that I think teens have a more pronounced vision of who they want to be, and they dress for it. I know I did. I knew my body was changing, but I was going to do things. Be someone. Own the room. And I dressed accordingly. I knew I wasn’t ever going to graduate to the living-breathing Giacometti type statuesque grace of Ms. Campbell, but that didn’t deter me from shaping who I was – whether it was in the pages of Sassy or not, damn it.
I started thinking ‘Where did that strange confidence go? I’ve done so many things with my life and grown far more comfortable with my skin than I ever would have been at 17. You’d think I’d be chomping at the bit to go shopping for a few new pieces of clothing that might express the new me..’ and then it hit me. I don’t know this ‘new me’.
The past couple years have been very practical in terms of fashion. Pregnancy was about ‘do I fit into this’ and likewise coming back into my own has been a similar journey. It hasn’t been about my personal brand, and what I want to project, or even how I want to feel. It’s been more about ‘do I care if I get spit-up on this’. You new moms know. All of a sudden practical flats seem the wiser choice..and pants that go from boardroom table to change table outweigh the day-into-night dress you might have picked up before baby. There simply hasn’t been much of a chance to express ourselves beyond having basic and functional needs met, and that just isn’t 100% of anyone.
I think the key is that, regardless of the glossy media and its campaigns for unattainable beauty, fashion is a journey of self. I think it’s incredible that teens can express themselves externally wearing as much or as little clothing as they see fit. And though that scares the crap out of me in terms of what I have to look forward to with my own daughter, I think that secretly it gives me hope for the ‘new me’ right now. I’m only just starting to collect pieces that fit who I am, like a go-to pair of black pants, or a few good layering tops. I’m still purging my closet of things that I realize I will never wear again, whether it’s my personality or body they don’t fit.
Maybe my memories should be their own ‘new me’ fashion spread. Maybe tomorrow I’ll pack up the stroller and go looking for the kind of boots, jeans, and jacket that make others catch their breath and think, just for a split-second: ‘Wow. Supermom.’
Pants I’m loving these days? Check out Banana Republic’s stretchy Sloan pant. Feels like a yoga pant, wears like suit slacks. Sweet!