The parental uniform: Wear your truth like a knife

Working parent of a tiny toddler, Hayley DeRoche found some clarity, some balance, and some self-confidence in…clothing. Yes, clothing!

Photo by: JWA Commons

  • Shirt: Black v-neck tee, tissue-cotton, 1 pocket
  • Pants: Grey
  • Earrings: Silver teardrop studs
  • Lipstick: Bold Freida’s Red #405

Let’s do this.

This is my morning every day.

Everyone always says parenthood makes you stop caring about your looks. Pajamas everywhere? Sure, you’re a mom now! Stained sweatshirt? Of course, because parenthood.

That has not been my experience. Maybe you’ve always been a fashion-forward, looking-good, put-together person. But I wasn’t. It took having a kid to kick my butt into gear.

There’s a trend in fashion writing lately about wearing a work “uniform” of the same outfit bought in multiples. If you’ve read one of those articles and then disregarded it, I’m here to urge you to stop and rethink. It might be one of the best low-key parenthood decisions you ever make.

Parenthood decisions? Yep. Because it turns out that while I am happier in the office with this uniform setup, it’s had a much greater impact on the rest of my life outside of work–the life part of my life, in other words.

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I have never been a fan of clothing shopping, and once I had my daughter it became all the more annoying. Buying things became a challenge of racing to the store right after work but before child pickup, or I’d try to buy clothes while out shopping with her which is difficult since I’m often wearing her in a carrier and trying something on in one of those contraptions isn’t happening. Throw in the fact that fashion trends’ annoying turnaround times made my wardrobe always feel in flux, and it’s just a huge pain to be a woman trying to look OK on a daily basis.

It’s just a huge pain to be a woman trying to look OK on a daily basis.

The thought never occurred to me that there might be another way to dress that involved skipping the forever-cycle of trying stuff on either in a hurry without the kiddo or with the kiddo and frazzled. And I don’t mean Internet shopping. I mean not shopping for clothes at all ever, or at least almost-never.

I did some research before deciding what I wanted to wear every day. It had to be something that could shift with minimal effort from day to night. I like cardigans and blazers, so it had to be something that could work with or without seasonal layering. It couldn’t be a too-casual T-shirt, but I didn’t want a fussy blouse that I’d cringe over every time some oatmeal got onto it when feeding my daughter.

I finally settled on just the right thing, and then it was a matter of hoarding enough over a period of a month or so. I made the decision not to spend too much on the individual pieces, but instead focused on taking better care of them to make them last longer. By owning lots of the same basic things, there’s less frustration when something does get a stain on it from normal toddler-wrangling wear-and-tear.

Once I had the clothing aspect down, I realized why stop there? Why not perfect a morning routine that makes me feel badass instead of merely passing muster? I drive my daughter 30 minutes to her grandma every morning before work, so any minutes I can shave off my morning is welcome, but not at the expense of looking at least somewhat put-together. Enter the bold lip color. When it’s not paired with anything else, it’s simple enough or dressed-up enough to work in multiple settings.

And that’s it. Look complete!

— ∮∮∮ —

I could tell you about how I spend zero time in the women’s clothing department of any store these days.

I could boast about all the money I’ve saved by unsubscribing from the sales that arrive in my inbox.

I could gleefully share how I don’t care about the trends that come and go in a flash.

I could even rave about how it saves me time in the morning when I’m in a rush to get Winnie to her grandma and then my butt to work.

…at this critical time in life when I/you feel rundown, tired, and exhausted, it is damn nice to feel confident and put-together nearly every day.

But none of those things are permanent changes. An increase in time as my daughter gets older could change my shopping pattern. An increase in money could change my habit, too. The morning commute will not always be what it is now, for one reason or another. I won’t always feel so rushed.

Nope, the reason I stick with this and, as an extension, advocate finding your Look as a parent–especially as a mom–is because at this critical time in life when I/you feel rundown, tired, and exhausted, it is damn nice to feel confident and put-together nearly every day. I can wake up from a rough night and know I’m going to look good today. If you have ever struggled with your appearance and self-confidence, this can sound like a fantasy. It’s not a fantasy for me anymore. It’s my reality.

Now not only do I not shop for clothes on a regular basis, I absolutely do not care about trends and looking Pinterest-perfect. Is chevron in or incredibly out? Are we wearing gold or rose gold? I don’t care! It’s magnificent! My advice is to ignore all of it and pick something you like, and then stick with it. It’s so much easier to feel good about yourself consistently than to go through the “Am I on trend? How about now? Now?” dance as seasons wear on. It’s all such garbage, and now I just waltz right by that section of the store because I give so few fucks.

Being a woman is hard. There are expectations that we should look poised and confident and pretty no matter what we’re doing. These expectations for women’s appearance are insidious and they creep into our minds and they control us in so many ways that it’s hard to fathom a world in which I couldn’t care one iota about my looks without there being repercussions.

This is shitty. I wish it weren’t that way. I’m not here to change any of that. The reality is that you have to give some fucks in the office, or it can have a really terrible impact on your life. I’m not saying don’t care. I’m saying, hone your care. Sharpen it like a knife.

Having a child made me care about a lot of other things. Having a kid also made me feel particularly vulnerable in many ways–certainly including my appearance. By making this dramatic switch, I feel more in control now. If you’re in the throes of new or veteran parenthood and you’re looking for a way to feel a little more in control and a little less frazzled, this is a really good way to get that done.

There is something powerful in feeling like you put some thought into the way you look, you know you look good, and you know you’re going to look just as good later when you’re balancing your child on your hip at the grocery checkout, or pushing your kid on the swing, or getting yogurt smeared on your shirt. You’ll look good today, and you’ll look good tomorrow, too. I was able to vanquish that vulnerable feeling by dressing it in the same two colors every day and adding a big, bold makeup look. You can too. Maybe not with that exact ensemble, but with something you find that helps you vanquish that feeling of being a mess.

Parenthood is still messy, but at least now I feel sharp. Like a knife, cutting through the bullshit.

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Hayley DeRoche

Hayley DeRoche is a librarian with a penchant for cardigans and corduroys. Luckily, her professional life revolves more around technology & information than fashion.

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