Once upon a time, in certain circles, I was considered stylish, clothing-obsessed, and maybe even fashion-forward. I worked as a magazine editor, and looking good seemed like a job requirement, one that I relished, along with the endless parties, all of which obviously (in my mind at least) required a new outfit. Then I became a mom, started working from home, and my closet full of event-ready dresses, chic tops, and way-too-small skinny jeans sat mocking me . . . for years. My formerly fabulous closet collected dust, then became decidedly outdated and age-inappropriate, as I spent half a decade reaching for the yoga pants, striped t-shirts, and sack dresses that had become my sad staples.
It wasn't until recently, five years after I had my daughter and two after I had my son, that I've reclaimed my inner fashionista, version 2.0. At my daughter's kindergarten curriculum night last week, I complimented a mom friend of mine on her cute top. "That means a lot coming from you," she replied. "You always look so stylish." I thanked her and moved on, but inside I was beaming. It was the first time anyone who had only met me after I became a mom had acted like my style-sense was a given. "Baby, I'm back," I wanted to shout.
Call me shallow, but how I dress has always been a big part of my identity. Somewhere during the years of pregnancy, breastfeeding, and baby and toddler raising, I lost that part of myself, and I missed it. Here are some simple ways that I got it back, and you can, too.
1. Embrace your new body, but don't forget to take care of it.
A big part of my years of style apathy (besides consistent sleep deprivation) revolved around me waiting to look like my old, 10-pounds-thinner self before I bought anything that cost more than $20. Eventually, I did lose most of that weight, but surprise, surprise, my body was still different, and I needed new clothes to flatter my wider hips and rounder belly. Once I started accepting my new bod instead of acting like it was a temporary imposition, I wanted to dress it up.
2. Find a place you can primp.
My kids will give me approximately 30-45 seconds to get ready at home, which is why I shower and dress every morning at the gym, while my toddler is safely ensconced in the childcare area. For me, putting on an outfit I put a little thought into (and didn't sleep in the night before) and a little makeup makes me feel more like myself.
3. Give yourself a seasonal uniform.
I used to love a diverse wardrobe, but these days, I keep it simple. Summer is shift dresses or shorts and short-sleeved tees or button-downs with sandals. Fall and Spring are long-sleeved button downs and skinny or straight jeans with cute sneakers or flats, and in Winter, I pretty much wear an oversize sweater, jeans, and ankle boots every day. If I need to dress things up, I add a statement accessory or heels.
4. Ditch clothes that don't work for your current life.
It took me way too long to get rid of the insane number of expensive cocktail and work dresses that I had collected throughout my 20s, but I eventually realized that their day had come and gone, that both fashion and I had moved on. Getting rid of the past freed me up to find a fashionable new look (and a ton of closet space).
5. Buy a new bra, like, today.
Still wearing a nursing bra with a drop cup a year after giving up breastfeeding like I was? Throw it in the trash and go buy yourself something pretty — now.
6. Find safe shops.
Shopping as a 37-year-old mom can make you feel like Goldilocks searching for the "just right" store. It seems like every retailer skews too young or too old. Find a few shops where you feel like you could confidently wear pretty much anything inside (mine are Madewell, Anthropologie, and J.Crew), and relieve the stress.
7. Don't wait for a wedding to buy that great dress.
Every woman knows the rule: Have nothing on the calendar and you'll see a million cute cocktail dresses to covet. But when you're looking for a dress for an event, you won't find a single one. Buy the great dress that works with your new style — and that you feel comfortable in — before you need it, so it's already there when you do.
8. Don't feel guilty about spending money on yourself.
This has been a big one for me now that my household clothing budget has to cover four people, not just me. I've learned that I don't have to spend a ton of money to look stylish, and no matter the cost, it's worth it to me. After all, I like clothes. Always have, always will.