Who would like to read a fluffy question about being nice?
I love my mom (1), I love feminism (2) and I am certain, that everyone has the right to dress as they want (3) (except for Nazi clothing, but luckily, that is not my topic). This three principles clash when I look in the drawer of my mom.
My mom is recently single again after 12 years of dating and living with her former partner. She is 65 now and a wonderful, humorous, intelligent woman. She likes dating and has an outgoing personality and wants to meet new people and eventually start a relationship again, but doesn’t mind dating for a while and having fun. She has always been the intelligent one, not the beautiful one in comparison to her sister and never cared that much about clothes, make up, and stuff (literally she puts on sunscreen and a green eyeliner. Since 40 years). Her mother, my grandmother, often asked me (or her sister) to go shopping with her, so that she can have something nice to wear. We do it sometimes, but just for fun and not because our beloved ancestor says, we have to look in a certain way to be social acceptable. She often asks me about a style choice and states, that she wants to look her best.
BUT. She sometimes dresses quite horribly. It’s hard to say and admit, but honestly – bucket hats?! Sometimes I want to say something, but when the urge comes up, I mostly stop myself because: see principle 3. It is even hard for me when she explicitly asks for my advice. Do you have any scripts how to tell her that this specific thing/the dress/the hat (!!!) is not suiting her (or anyone, in the case of bucket hats) in a nice, loving, supporting way without compromising my believe, that she should dress the way she feels most comfortable?
Your advice is highly appreciated, thank you
Daughter who is torn between her believes in feminism and the fight against socks in sandals.
You’re right, a 65-year-old lady can & should dress however the heck she wants! (Including bucket hats, which sound adorable frankly).
Guess what, you can be a feminist and also have opinions about fashion. Does our culture focus on looks in a way that can be harmful and toxic, does it try to value women only for their looks, and does it lift up young/wealthy/able-bodied/cisgender/heterosexual/thin/white bodies at the cost of other kinds of bodies? Absolutely! And “Wear what you want, Mom, your worth isn’t in your clothes!” is an important message. But “The Intelligent One” isn’t something automatically distinct from “The Beautiful One” – these either/or categories diminish everyone. You don’t have to be pretty, you also don’t have to reject the whole idea of pretty in order to prove your seriousness or worth, either. There’s little room in our complicated capitalist world for the average person to make sure that every item we choose is ethically optimized and free of the male-gaze and liberated from any media influence. We communicate something about who we are with our clothing choices whether we intend to or not. Since we live in a non-clothing optional world, you’ve gotta pick out something to wear, it might as well be stuff that makes you feel good and suits you. Consumption (or lack of consumption) is not the same as activism.
Our bodies and our needs change with time, and moving from the working world to retirement and dating again after a long partnership seem like great reasons for your mom to want a bit of an update. Since she is ASKING you & her sister to go shopping and to help her cultivate how she wants to look, you have room to gently give her some opinions, some care, and some gifts. For example:
- How does your mom want to look & be seen? Could you ask her to collect (digitally) some photos or blogs of women whose style she admires? (For example)(Such as)(Like so) Think of it as giving herself permission to care about this, to curate images, to train her eye, to imagine & re-imagine herself.
- Since she enjoys dating, what if you helped her put a great first date outfit or two together?
- Since she likes hats, what if you took her hat shopping for something that you think she’d look great in?
- If she wears glasses, when was the last time she updated her eyewear?
- If she wears bras, when was the last time she was fitted? If her lingerie drawer could legally vote this year, it’s probably time for an upgrade.
- What if you & your aunt pooled funds and subscribed her to one of those style-subscription box-thingies for a few months? It would let her play around with things at her own pace.
- Could you do a closet clean-out/donation drive with her and help her purge the stuff that no longer fits or suits?
As for scripts & talking to her about fashion stuff, here are some general guidelines:
- “Is that what you’re wearing” is guaranteed to put shoulders up around ears. I’m sure there are times it’s technically okay to say those words to a fellow adult (like, the person is appearing in a court of law later that day and the neon “Crazy in the Head, Crazy in the Bed” t-shirt is not sending the optimal message) but the exceptions are few and far between.
- Unless you’re specifically asked, probably the only opinion anyone needs to hear about what they’re wearing is “You look wonderful!” Remember,“Oh mom, I always think you look great! I’m not comfortable giving you that kind of advice” is always a valid option. Just ’cause she’s asking doesn’t mean you have to participate.
- The correct time to offer suggestions/corrections about what someone is wearing is before they leave the house, so they can change if they want to. In my house this takes the form of “Babe, there’s a stain on that/a hole in that – do you have a different one you can put on?”
- When they ask and it’s a style that you think doesn’t suit them, what if you said “That’s not my favorite dress on you” or “That’s not the hat I would pick out for you” or “It might be time to retire that” + “How about this one instead?” Redirect them to something you like better.
- If your mom joyfully throws on your least favorite bucket hat and the ol’ socks & Crocs for a fun day out with you and doesn’t ask or bring up the topic of style at all, leave it alone. When in doubt, be kind, which sometimes means “when in doubt, be quiet” and always means don’t treat the people in your life like projects.
Readers, I cannot emphasize this enough: I 100% do not want to hear about specific clothing or clothing trends you think are ugly, unflattering, ridiculous, whatever. I guarantee that whatever you don’t like, someone else reading this loves it (and rocks it). Let’s just not.
Absolutely no talk about what is “unflattering” or not allowed for certain body types. No negative body talk and no diet or weight talk, period. As a reminder, here is this blog’s official position statement on all that:
What I do want to hear about & know about:
- Do you have any people in your life who are great at giving style advice in a gentle way? What kinds of things did they say or do?
- Have you ever transformed your clothing style into something you like much better? What kinds of things did you do? What helped the most?
- Links to style blogs & outside resources are allowed, within reason. Like, link ONE thing if you think it might be specifically interesting or useful to the Letter Writer and her mom, and describe what you’re linking with some text to so we have context before we click.