On the very last day of the upcoming Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York, long after Badgley Mischka and Charlotte Ronson have packed up their suitcases and sycophants, the moms are coming. Strut: The Fashionable Mom Show will feature maternity wear and mom-friendly ensembles paraded down the catwalk on mom models. It’s overdue, according to Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, director of fashion at Lincoln Center, who told Women’s Wear Daily that she sees fashion and motherhood as “inextricably connected,” but that “navigating a balance between the two is never easy.”
Thank you for finally saying it out loud, Winston Wolkoff: It IS hard! Every morning, I struggle: Shall I don the crocheted Oscar de la Renta day dress or the barf-covered elastic waist jeans? That fuzzy mommy brain just never knows!
There’s something a tad patronizing in this fashion segregation. The title alone presents the phrase “Fashionable Mom” as if it’s an oxymoron.
Of course, momification is good business: Slap the word “mom” or “mommy” on any product or event and a potential market is instantly defined. And what’s wrong with finally acknowledging that women have a maternal life, a reality too often elided in the professional world? Certainly, moms who are also entrepreneurs are an economic boon. According to RBC Group, female entrepreneurs, about half of whom are mothers, contribute more than $18-billion a year to the Canadian economy. And yet, they’re often called, and refer to themselves as, “mompreneurs,” which tidily trivializes that achievement.
The infantilizing of women with kids is worst in the baby years, where the word “Mummy” is on every stretch-mark cream and diaper bag; dads apparently require separate diaper bags, but they won’t get any because (1) Yummy Daddy sounds like a pimp and (2) they’re excused. I remember encountering a nursing bra with teddy bears on the package and wanting to scream, “I had a baby; I didn’t turn into one!”
In the book The Mommy Myth, authors Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels write that the word “mother,” with its attendant weight and authority, is out of vogue. In fact, “mother” is a Joan Crawford-ian negative: the cold, rule-abiding “bad mother” vs. the giggling, all-hugging “mummy.” “Mom” is a cute and defanged tag that comes from a kid’s point of view. It puts the child at the centre of a woman’s identity, not the woman.
Andrea O’Reilly, a professor at York University and author of 12 books on motherhood, doesn’t remember the “mom” label being as culturally pervasive 20 years ago, when she had children. “Unless it’s a kid saying it, ‘mom’ or ‘mommy’ denies women’s adulthood or agency,” she says. “I really think a lot of this has to do with a nervousness, a fear of women with power. Being a mother, making a life, is a powerful position. ‘Mom’ isn’t as powerful.”
Last fall, the National Post published a grumbling editorial about Alison Redford, Premier of Alberta, balking at her possible support of full-day kindergarten and raising the minimum wage. Referencing Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s more complimentary nickname “Premier Dad,” the editorial board chuckled: “Perhaps Mrs. Redford could try out the moniker Premier Mom.” They may be playing with an anti-Liberal parallel, but surely when selecting possible slights for the province’s first female premier it’s best not to go straight for the reproductive organs.
Redford’s maternal life is irrelevant. Hard to believe, but sometimes even moms aren’t moms, this branding identity that’s meant to determine the stuff we buy and the shows we watch and the booze we drink. (MommyJuice and Mommy’s Time Out both market wines to moms; no one is making Mommy’s At Her AA Meeting – yet.) I don’t really think about being a “mom” when I’m scanning reports on Fashion Week or shopping. If a skirt is too risqué for the playground, I probably won’t wear it on the playground, but it might still appeal to me, the whole person for whom motherhood is just an element (albeit an extremely important one). Daytime TV hosts love to talk about how hard it is for women to “transition” their wardrobes – mom to office, office to evening. The modern woman isn’t whole: She’s unstable, fragmented, struggling helplessly to look halfway decent and not knowing which self to dress.
The Fashionable Mom Show website promises that it will feature “no yoga pants, no mom jeans, just wearable and affordable great looks from the top contemporary designers and brands.” But the fun of Fashion Week is in the outré artistry on display. Separating moms from regular fashion-lovers implies that no mom would dare get her pleasure out of something that doesn’t involve her kids. “Wearable and affordable” may be the mantra of daily life for most of us – mothers and otherwise – but that’s not a Fashion Week after-party I want to attend. As a mom, is it the only invitation I’ll get?