ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (dressing my best)
[personal profile] ajnabieh
This week, I'm participating in Dress Your Best week, a week of fashion blogging to celebrate your best features, rather than camoflage your worst. It's about celebrating your body and your sense of style; that's something I can get behind.

Although, like many people, I have insecurities and anxieties about my body, for this week I'm going to be positive, even aggressively so. I'd appreciate it if my readers would act in kind; body-snarking will not be well-tolerated.

On to the first set of outfits:

mom jeans #1

Outfit one:

Blue notch-collared t-shirt: hand-me-down
Grey Cable-Knit Cardigan: GAP Outlet
Belt: Macy's
Jeans: hand-me-down
Pink leather flip-flops: vintage, from my mother-in-law

(On Mr. X: onesie, Target; pants, GAP Kids)

mom jeans #2

Outfit two:

Lilac ribbed long-sleeved shirt: hand-me-down
Corduroy Blazer: vintage, from my father-in-law
Jeans: hand-me-down
Belt: Ann Taylor (Outlet?)
Scarf: vintage, from my mother-in-law
Shoes (not pictured): Vegan Saucony Jazz in Black/Oatmeal (I love these shoes, but sadly, they wear out very easily--they've had a tear in the toe since about three months into owning them. Sadface.)

(On Mr. X: sweatshirt, Hanna Anderssen; pants, GAP Kids; sneakers, Merrill)

This is me in my mom jeans.

I've spent this past year teaching online and doing fieldwork; this means I've been home most of the time with my son, who is now 18 months old. While I haven't been his sole, or even his primary caretaker (my wife has been unemployed until just a few weeks ago--which is a barrel of laughs, let me tell you), it has meant a lot of time with the baby. Much of this is wonderful: babies can be a lot of fun, and I've developed a severe appreciation for the wonders of Nick Jr's lineup. But it's also meant that very rarely do I dress consciously to impress others. Most days, the furthest I'm going is the ten minute walk to the grocery store for milk and orange juice, or, if I'm lucky, five minutes down the street to the cafe for two blissful hours of uninterrupted writing time, surrounded by a half-dozen other freelancers and work-from-home types seeking escape from their own four walls.

New York is a very fashion conscious city; I've always mentally sorted my clothes by how far away from my house I could wear them. These jeans are fine for running to the drugstore; these I can wear to work a shift at the Co-op or meet a friend for coffee in the Slope; these are Manhattan Jeans, suitable for crossing the river and going to class, to teach, to meet with a professor, or to therapy. (What? My therapist is at 88th and West End. I have to look presentable.) But since I've been sticking closer to home, it's the schlubbiest clothes that have gotten the most frequent workout.

The concept of 'mom jeans' has stuck with me recently, since I've labelled these as such in my head. According to Wikipedia (which we all know is always correct), the term "mom jeans" comes from a Saturday Night Live Sketch from seven years ago. It's on Hulu here for those in the US; I wasn't able to find an international version, but it features most of the female cast of SNL flouncing around in profoundly unflattering jeans, lots of gratuitous shots of their butts (to highlight the unflattering nature of the pants), and this voiceover copy:

Are you looking for the perfect gift for Mom this Mother's Day? Introducing Mom Jeans, exclusively at J.C. Penney.

Mom Jeans fit Mom just the way she likes it. She'll love the nine-inch zipper and casual front pleats. Cut generously, to fit a mom's body.

She'll want to wear them to everything, from a soccer game to a night on the town.

And with your choice of ankle length, capri length, or shorts, you'll find the perfect length for even the least active of Moms.

So this Mother's Day, don't get your mother that bottle of perfume. Give her something that says, "I'm not a woman any more, I'm a mom."

(Get a free applique Mom Jeans vest with every purchase this weekend at JC Penney.)

So the associations here are: high-waisted, pleated, baggy and shapeless because moms are fat; not targeted at a fashion-conscious or wealthy demographic (that's what "JC Penney" signifies here); profoundly unattractive.

Interestingly, when doing some strategic Googling for "mom jeans," I found that lots of articles for women about finding jeans you like tend to frame the issue as being about avoiding mom jeans (this one is just one example). "Mom jeans" here stands in for all those failures of fashion a woman can make; the most important thing to do is avoid wearing mom jeans, because if you do, it means you have done something very, very wrong.

But clearly there are lots of fashion faux-pas in the universe that women can make; I'm personally on Team LEGGINGS ARE NOT PANTS FFS and Team WHY ARE YOU WEARING SHORTS IT'S OCTOBER, though I respect others' right to disagree. But mom jeans are a particular horror. What is it about mom jeans?

I would argue that mom jeans represent the rejection of one of the major aspects of performing femininity in public: that women have the duty to be attractive (to me) at all points in time. Leave the house looking slovenly, poorly put together, without having brushed your hair or put on makeup or with socks that don't match or jeans with a big swipe of dirt down the side? God, look at you, don't you know that's not how a woman should look? Not conforming to normative femininity in your appearance is something that needs to be disciplined, policed, shamed.

Except if you're a mom. If you're a mom, if you're pushing a stroller or dragging a toddler by the hand or bringing a load of cupcakes to the bake sale, then it's okay to not be totally put together, to have a smudge on your pants, to wear your shirt untucked, to just put your hair in a scrunchie and be done with it. You're already doing important social work--work that labels you as appropriately female, by the way. You don't have to be hot--you don't have to be a woman. You can just be a mom.

Or, as a random article I found via Google put it:

Women wear Mom Jeans, usually because they ARE moms. Moms get so swept away by everybody else's needs that they tend to forget their own and more often, they purposefully sacrifice their own style and comfort so their kids can have the best.

-Barb Hoffman, Helium.com.

And the injunction against mom jeans is a way of trying to disciplining mothers back into this form of public display, not to allow them to opt out of performing sexual availability to men just because they're mothers. It's not enough to be a mom--you've gotta be a MILF.

Let's be clear: there is NOTHING about this that ISN'T profoundly problematic: the forced desexualization of women who parent! The forced sexualization of women who parent! Shaming women for not being sexy enough! Women sacrificing their own preferences to care for others! Women having to dress up to be pretty for others! IT'S ALL WRONG. This is the problem with the patriarchy: you can never actually break free, because every choice you make is conditioned by the relations of power that surround you. If you wear mom jeans, it's because you're sacrificing your own pleasure in fashion and style to be a mom. If you don't wear mom jeans, you're deciding to be objectified by men. IT'S A TRAP!

Despite the fact that it's a trap, I find myself in sympathy with the wearing of mom jeans, of finding a way to claim a form of power to not be objectified on the basis of an important social role. There's a long feminist history of women's movements against domination and oppression working from the position of motherhood--from the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo to much of the feminist anti-war movement (at least in the second wave) and to the role of women in supporting the first Intifada in Palestine. There are lots of garments that women use to claim this position, as outside of sexual objectification because of their special status: the hijab and other forms of covering, in Islam and other religions, come to mind, as garments that label the wearer as a respectable woman who needs to be accorded social status. So does the business suit, which labels the wearer as a serious professional, not a woman who can be disregarded. Of course these garments are problematic; of course they only carry the meanings and associations of respect they do because of preexisting misogynistic discourses that limit women's value to childcare and housework. or that say that women-as-women aren't welcome in the workplace, and must shed any sign of their gender if they want to participate. But they're more than just problematic; they're also something that can be put to use to make changes, however slight, in individual women's lives, and sometimes the lives of whole communities. I'm not going to be mad when you use the master's tools to take a chunk out of his house, even if using his tools means the whole thing isn't going to collapse at once.

This morning, I took my son to toddler open gym at our local Y. While he ran around, climbed and played ball, and cautiously negotiated other children, I observed the other parents and caregivers there: moms, dads, babysitters, and probably some others. Folks were wearing jeans, cords, leggings, sweatpants, t-shirts of every level of formality and trendiness, sweaters and hoodies and all sorts of layers (it was unseasonably cold). Some of us looked great. Some of us looked like we were able to get out of bed in the morning, and counted that as a success. All of us looked like parents, no matter what sort of jeans we were wearing.

But we also looked like people.


This first outfit is what I wore on Mothers' Day. We went to the cafe down the street for breakfast, then my wife had to work in the afternoon, so Mr. X and I hung out, watched tv, and gardened. The second outfit was today's outfit, worn to the gym for open gym and art class, and then an afternoon much like the day before. Except that during his nap, I posted lecture notes and responded to student emails.

This week is supposed to be about highlighting your best features. I am not so sure these outfits do that--I think they mostly just fail to look disastrous. Clearly, I will never be E. from Academichic, who considers this an outfit for errands and a walk with the baby, and wearing purple gloves an incidence of "nonfashion." But I have developed a few mental rules for helping me look more put together on days when I'm just doing the mom thing:

Belts. I'm very curvy, and rather like showing it off, which means I'm okay dressing in a body conscious way. Belting and tucked-in long shirts let me show off my shape. Shorter shirts I'll leave untucked, especially if I'll be somewhere where I don't mind flashing a little belly or back skin on occasion. These pants are probably cut a smidge too low for this to work ideally, but I still like the theory.

Accessories. I'm not a big accessorizer; most days I wear my wedding rings and my wedding necklace and that's it. But if I want to feel more put together, a scarf or a kerchief or a belt or a pair of pretty shoes helps. If I'm wearing something unnecessary, it keeps me looking like I give a shit.

At least one pop of color. I layer a lot, both because it's spring right now, and therefore of variable warmth, and because I go in and out of air conditioned/heated buildings and the hot/cold outdoors constantly, since I walk or take public transit (which is frigid in the summer and sweltering in the winter) everywhere. It can get very easy just to wear black and gray all the time. Remembering to wear some color helps me look a little more put together.

Specific notes on these pieces:

  • I get a lot of hand-me-downs from friends. I haven't historically thrifted a lot, but I'm thinking of doing it more for non work clothes. I tend to wear my clothes into the ground if they fit, donate them if they don't. I only really buy professional clothes new, and not exclusively. The blue shirt is from a former roommate; the purple is my current roommates, and some of the misfit is that it's a man's shirt (I have narrower shoulders than a men's small, much to my sadness). The jeans are from my wife's BFF. Frankly, the bra I'm wearing is hand-me-down too, from a friend. Though you can't see that.

  • My in laws are an inexhaustible source of vintage and second hand stuff, for real. They just divorced and sold the house they'd lived in for twenty years. My mother-in-law has a bit of a shoe problem, and had an awesome trendy wardrobe in the late seventies; she was thinner than me then, but just a little, and we're the same height and same shoe size. (I can also wear my father-in-law's shirts and jackets from when he was younger, though his pants are too long for me. I'll talk about that blazer later, in my gender performance post, but--it has elbow patches. This is what matters here.) She just admitted that her foot problems mean no more backless sandals, so I got a delivery. I'm torn about these pink leather flip-flops. On the one hand, that is a truly badass conjunction of words. On the other hand, they have very little padding on the sole, and I probably shouldn't be wearing shoes with poor support anyway. In any case, I have a bunch of vintage suits from them and my late great-aunt, all of which need some tailoring. Maybe that'll be my summer splurge. Sadly, my mother got rid of a lot of her clothes before they came around to me, but I do have some of her scarves and skirts from her days as a hippie (seriously, my mom has an FBI file, how cool is that?).

  • I wore scarves in my hair a lot in college. Mostly because I didn't have time to take care of my hair; it was waist-length, and I'm a profoundly lazy individual. I cut it to shoulder-length when I graduated, and then transitioned to what I think of as a super-short cut two years ago; however, now I've gone nearly nine months (!!!) without a haircut, meaning it's quite grown out, now long enough to pull into a ponytail, except for the front bits. This means that, when I don't have time to, say, wash my hair as often as it needs it, I'm back to pulling out the scarf. Oh, well. I really, really need a haircut; I miss my old haircut, even though I haven't had it nearly as long as other styles.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-11 02:49 am (UTC)
indeliblesasha: Bright highlighter-pink tulips with yellow tulips in the background surrounded by bright green foliage (Default)
From: [personal profile] indeliblesasha
I hate mom jeans. They feel completely wrong on my body and so will never grace my wardrobe. I am completely on board with sacrificing style for comfort, even before I was a mom, no lie, but those things are ugly AND uncomfortable, for me, so. no. neverever.

Low rise, boot cut. Tank tops and hoodies. USe the right sizing and color coordination and you are comfortable, and MILF and you haven't even gotten to hair and makeup yet. MomsFTW! \o/

My biggest problem as a mom, dressing myself, is that my chest is currently an F/G. Finding shirts that fit over these nightmares and then fall back in to my getting-flatter stomach is, well. Impossible?

Let's not even get into how utterly objectified I feel for the first time in my life. Completely innocent and meant-to-be-complimentary/supportive comments make me feel sick.

Hi, thanks, how about you comment on how radiant my smile is now that I'm holding two beautiful babies and happy and healthy...rather than "I bet you're going to be sad when those babies go!" "You won the breastfeeding lottery! I bet you're thrilled!"

No. I'm already saving for the reduction I plan to have when I'm done nursing #2. I was talking reduction before I got pregnant the first time. I *hate* them.

I have *always* had an ample chest, they have always been spectacular, and I used to use them to my best advantage. And then they grew. And suddenly, they didn't compliment the rest of me and my personality, they took the hell over. And I *hate* them. And on top of having *straight women* get derailed in the middle of an effing sentence - they are that shockingly out of place on me - they are heavy and uncomfortable and make me slouch.

I told my husband, if they were simply unattractive I would let it go, I have never suffered from body image issues, but they make me physically uncomfortable. I will have them entirely taken off and rebuilt if that's what it takes to get them back down to a reasonable size.

Which...is a total tangent. Sorry. *sheepish* But fashion has, for the first time, caught my eye, because I am desperate for a way to minimize the startling affect my chest has on people around me. I find myself reading everything I can find on the way moms dress, looking for ideas.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-11 02:54 am (UTC)
indeliblesasha: Bright highlighter-pink tulips with yellow tulips in the background surrounded by bright green foliage (Default)
From: [personal profile] indeliblesasha
Also, you are terribly cute. :D I love the cardigan.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-11 04:00 am (UTC)
indeliblesasha: Bright highlighter-pink tulips with yellow tulips in the background surrounded by bright green foliage (Default)
From: [personal profile] indeliblesasha
I think it is so utterly unfair that becoming a mom seems to mean a total loss of personal space, emotionally and physically - and not to your loved ones! But to strangers!

No one ever tried to touch my belly when I was pregnant, they wouldn't dare, I apparently give off a No Touchy vibe that can be read by even the most inept in proper social behavior. (I have had belly-rubbers stop the pregnant lady next to me, rub and coo and toss off advice, and then smile politely, smile in the direction of my belly and pass me by. It's awesome.)

The idea that we need to be complimented on our swollen uncomfortable boobs that are, at this point, glorified soda fountains and the least sexual (for me anyway) that they will ever be, is...it's gross. You know what? It's just gross.

Best compliment I've gotten? "You make good food, mama," from my friend, upon seeing my utter CHUNK of a child. That? That was an awesome thing to hear. Not "Wow the packaging is pretty," but "your body is spectacular at its job, and you are doing a good job taking care of YOU and HIM."

I'm just so tired of my body not being my own anymore, you know?

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-11 05:31 am (UTC)
holyschist: Image of a medieval crocodile from Herodotus, eating a person, with the caption "om nom nom" (Default)
From: [personal profile] holyschist
Hey, if you make it to any SCA stuff and happen to run into Fiore, you should ask her about her pregnant personal-space story. I think you would appreciate it.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-11 09:11 pm (UTC)
lovepeaceohana: Lulu, somewhere around six months old, smiling out from a hooded bath towel. (lucas)
From: [personal profile] lovepeaceohana
I think it is so utterly unfair that becoming a mom seems to mean a total loss of personal space, emotionally and physically - and not to your loved ones! But to strangers!

This. I was totally prepared to lose any personal space to the kidlet - but becoming a walking conversation piece was not something I had anticipated. Toddler using me as a jungle gym? Totally fine (well, usually). Random stranger commenting on how wonderful it is that I've lost the baby weight? Er, could we not talk about my body, kthanx.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-11 10:07 pm (UTC)
indeliblesasha: Bright highlighter-pink tulips with yellow tulips in the background surrounded by bright green foliage (Default)
From: [personal profile] indeliblesasha
*nods* Exactly. I expect to walk into my midwife's office and have her eyes bug out of her head because I wasn't kidding when I said I bounced back from pregnancy like a rock star. That's totally me gloating. I do not appreciate total strangers looking me up and down and then pronouncing me "good enough" or whatever.

And wow, do not get me started on the touching of my baby. *shudder*

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-11 03:12 am (UTC)
sofiaviolet: drawing of three violets and three leaves (Default)
From: [personal profile] sofiaviolet
You have a jacket with elbow patches. \o/

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-11 03:31 am (UTC)
sofiaviolet: drawing of three violets and three leaves (Default)
From: [personal profile] sofiaviolet
lolololololol Oh man. That is epic.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-11 04:49 am (UTC)
telesilla: test reading: three weeks for dreamwidth (3 weeks 4 dw)
From: [personal profile] telesilla
This is a great post! Seriously I feel like I should say more, but I just love what you have to say about clothes. Also, that's a great cardigan! :)

But we also looked like people.


(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-11 09:04 pm (UTC)
lovepeaceohana: A tilted artist's rendition of a clear blue ocean with sky and clouds above; text reads "now bring me that horizon..." (Default)
From: [personal profile] lovepeaceohana
I am not what you'd call a "fashion-forward" person, so this is the first time I've actually seen an explanation for what constitutes Mom Jeans. Even with that context, though, I find myself pretty damn well confused - which I suppose is the point, since goalpoast-shifting is a time-honoured tradition of patriarchy and all - but I figure it probably does definitely include the maternity jeans I wore for the entire year between my pregnancies (I grew quite fond of the elastic waist, what can I say, even when I lost all the baby weight and they didn't fit really).

I'm a bit like you: I adopt my wardrobe from everywhere else. Exes, mostly, but I'm also fond of wearing Beau's shirts (despite the way they hang ridiculously on me) and am otherwise a tshirt, jeans, and flip-flops kinda person. I'm sure most of that I can blame on my location (beach city ftw) since basically once summer hits everybody around here wanders about in clothes intended to be removed upon arrival at the beach.

But I do know what you mean, about the gender performativity aspect of it all; there are times friends will see me and eyebrows go up, and I look down to find that well, yes, I suppose I am a bit mismatched today - but it was my favourite tshirt and my other pants are finally too dirty to wear, and I'm comfortable and so what? It makes it quite funny, then, when I do actually go to some effort to pretty up - here defined as "wearing a dress and possibly nice shoes" - the results are clearly magnified by my usual day-to-day super-casual wear.

Either way, it's been a long time since I thought about clothes-as-political (and I mean that in a good way), so this post has been very provocative. Plus, I learned something new! So thank you for sharing :3

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-12 05:42 am (UTC)
cathexys: female nude (female nude (by liviapenn))
From: [personal profile] cathexys
Amazing analysis! Weirdly enough, I've avoided jeans in general, so I now wonder if it is the rejection of mom jeans.

But that article you linked to was amazingly...self contradictory. I mean, she totally accurately analyzes the problems in trying to be sexy, esp when you're like kinda busy and more than likely not looking for a partner at that moment. And yet she ends with a plea to drop off the kids and go shopping. OMG, if i actually have a sitter, the last place I'd be going is a store!

Anyway, great post!

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-12 04:01 pm (UTC)
kass: Teyla Emmagen with Torren. (baby)
From: [personal profile] kass
Let's be clear: there is NOTHING about this that ISN'T profoundly problematic: the forced desexualization of women who parent! The forced sexualization of women who parent! Shaming women for not being sexy enough! Women sacrificing their own preferences to care for others! Women having to dress up to be pretty for others! IT'S ALL WRONG.


Sometime when I have more time at my disposal -- read: when someone else is looking after the baby! -- I'd love to write something meditative about how pregnancy changed my relationship with my body and how that's continuing to reverberate for me now. (Short version: being pregnant was weird and awesome and helped me feel I had permission to have curves. Now it's nursing that's weird and awesome...)


ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
Ajnabieh - The Foreigner

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