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When I graduated from college I did what every fresh 22-year-old with a Government and Legal Studies degree does; I started a personal shopping and styling business. OK, maybe that’s not the natural progression for most, but I wanted to explore my fashion interests before I committed to law school, so it seemed like a logical step to me.
I had the expected clients; wealthy middle-aged women with big shopping budgets, and men looking to surprise their wives with a personal shopper for a special occasion. One group of clients that always surprised me? New moms.
It was common for a new client to call me to set up a closet consultation, telling me she was ready for a new look, was looking to upgrade or update her wardrobe, and just needing a change. Then she’d tell me she just had a baby three to six months ago. It was always in this time frame, which I found so odd at the time.
I soon learned there was more to these particular jobs than just pulling clothes from a closet, pairing the latest trends with functional looks. These visits often turned into something of a therapy-session, often with these women, tears in their eyes, holding their babies while we sat in their closet floors discussing why she needed a change.
She’d recently left her full-time job to stay home with a baby and now wasn’t sure what her life looked like now.
She was returning to work and her old clothes just didn’t fit the same.
She was afraid her husband would lose interest in her if she didn’t get out of her yoga pants soon. (This was always said jokingly, but the fear was there.)
She hadn’t lost the “baby weight” yet, and didn’t recognize herself.
Her body didn’t feel like her own, now that she was attached to a nursing infant.
She just didn’t feel like herself anymore.
These things were common in the new moms I met with. Who were they now that they were mothers? And why were they suddenly so desperate at this point to find out?
I now have a 5-month-old baby. And I get it.
Around the postpartum three month mark, I too felt lost. I needed to remind myself that I was still me. I wanted a hair cut that was modern. Shoes that weren’t practical. A statement bag that wasn’t for carrying diapers. An expensive lipstick I’d have to hide at some point from a toddler lest it ends up all over the walls. (Save that for the cheap stuff.)
I not only wanted myself and my body back, I wanted to feel in control of my life again. I wanted to prove to the world that having a baby didn't turn me into a frazzled, sobbing, mess, even though that's exactly how I felt. Motherhood was consuming me in a way I wasn't prepared for.
The clothes helped. The haircut helped. The one manicure I’ve had in the past two years, helped. Getting dressed in clothes I liked and that fit my new post-baby body, helped. And these things didn’t make me better, or younger, or not a sobbing mess. But it helped make me feel human again. Like a woman. Like Jamie. Not “Mom Jamie”, but just Jamie.
People underestimate the power of clothing. I’ve always loved the quote from famed New York Times street style photographer, Bill Cunningham, “Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life.”.
As a new work-from-home mom, my everyday life is different than it used to be. The loneliness of new motherhood combined with the isolation of working at home is hard. The days where I don’t make it out of the clothes I slept in. The nights I see the bags under my eyes and the new gray hairs that have dared to pop from my scalp. The times I feel like everything I’ve ever known or wanted or hoped for myself is now just a memory. Those are the times I need to dress for battle.
Those women I worked with in the past, they didn’t regret their choice to become mothers. They weren’t resentful of the sacrifices they were making for their families. They just needed to see that they were still in there somewhere. That they could still have dreams and hopes and wants for themselves, not just as moms, but as women. Their lives are forever changed by motherhood, but they haven’t disappeared.
Clothing isn’t magical. You likely won’t experience a movie montage where you as a frazzled new mom try on new outfits with your best friends, get that makeover (set to poppy 80s music, of course) and suddenly become a supermodel, or princess, or whatever. (Though if you do, awesome.) You can't derive your self-worth from the contents of your closet.
What you might get though, is a little confidence in yourself. Confidence that you look like you which translates into feeling like you. And that can carry you through a lot. So, book that pedicure. Get some highlights if you want. Hit the mall for a new dress. Get your armor ready.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.