How to Dress For a Special Occasion According to My Mamá

Ardenis Perez
Ardenis Perez

Long over are the days when my mom used to take me and my sister shopping for back-to-school clothes. We would each grab one of those mesh bags to drop our clothes in for easier shopping and she would let us roam around the store to find our next favorite outfit. My sister would come back with her bag filled to the brim (no surprise there), while my bag only had three or four pieces. Growing up, I hated shopping. I never really knew what to pick other than the same style of clothes. "Pero trata algo diferente!" or, "Try something different," my mom would suggest.

Turns out, at the time I wasn't into fashion. This is coming from the person who in middle school used to wear black Nike Air Force 1s with bell-bottom jeans, and yes, my ankles and socks would still show when I sat down because I was so tall. Cringe-y, I know. It's safe to say that my style needed work — stat. Luckily, I can always count on my mom to be my voice of reason when it comes to my fashion choices. As I got older and came out of my shell, I turned to her for advice when building my wardrobe.

Take, for example, special occasions like my birthday, New Year's Eve, or a weekend concert. My mom always asks, "¿Qué te vas a poner?" (what are you going to wear?) Although I typically go the skinny-jeans-and-cute-top route, my mom inspires me to always take it up a notch. She always says, "Tu tienes las piernas bonitas," or you have pretty legs, encouraging me to show them off. Now I always keep skirts, dresses, and shorts as options because she taught me the importance of highlighting your best features, so I quickly ditched my tomboy style.

Today, everyone knows the term sala dress, or living room dress. In the Latinx community, it's a way to describe what dress you'll be wearing during a special occasion where you'll be with family and friends, like Thanksgiving. Even for a home dinner with my immediate family during a pandemic, my mom recommended me and my sister put on a dress — you know, para sentirse bien, or to feel good. I let out a big sigh. Honestly, dressing up was the last thing on my mind. Lounging in my cozy pajamas sounded much more comfortable. But that's the thing with my mom: she says sometimes you just have to get out of your comfort zone — literally. I then decided to put on my favorite floral minidress and a new pair of knee-high leather boots. I think my mom was onto something, because let me tell you: I instantly felt like a million bucks! Dressing up completely boosted my mood and actually made me excited for Thanksgiving dinner. My mom knows that putting on your favorite outfit can always make you feel happy.

When in doubt, stick to an LBD. That's what my mom tells me. Once, for a destination wedding I was invited to, I had no clue what to wear. I had spent way too many hours browsing online trying to find the perfect outfit. Cocktail was the dress code and, thinking of my mom's advice, I ended up sticking with a lacy little black dress. It ended up being a home run, and I felt silly afterward thinking about how much time I spent trying to figure out what to wear. If you're ever in a similar situation, follow my mom's motto and you will be the best dressed.

Ardenis Perez

Another great piece of advice I've received from my mom is to wear heels often. Spoiler alert: I'm 5'9". Wearing heels always made me feel self-conscious. Not only did I dread walking in them, but they also made me the center of attention as I towered over everyone around me. (I do not like being the center of attention.) My mom made it her mission to try to get me to change my mind. She thinks heels can elevate any outfit, making it look like you put in some effort even when you're not even trying. And she's right. Wearing jeans? Throw on a colorful pump. Wearing a dress? Try a strappy heel. Wearing shorts? Pop on a blocked heel. Heels go with everything! Now I love wearing them and feel so confident when I do.

At last, the best style advice that my mom has passed onto me is not so much about what you're wearing, but more about how you wear it. Yes, accentuating your best features, sticking to a classic style or trying a new trend, dressing up even when you don't feel like it, or opting for heels are all good pieces of fashion wisdom — but if you don't own your style, it will then own you. My mom says the key is to practice good posture and to carry yourself gracefully and with kindness — all things that speak more than the clothes you're wearing. And I think that's the right attitude to have, special occasion or not.