What's Your Personal Style? (Don't Say Yoga Pants Mom)

Real Style on 04.11.11
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Photo: J. Crew

For years, I described my everyday look as "J. Crew on a budget." I wanted all those pretty things I saw in the J. Crew catalog, but I didn't have the money; instead, I had two small kids who treated me like a combination jungle gym/walking napkin. And really, why spend $115 for a t-shirt that's going to wind up with peanut butter all over the sleeve when you can get one that looks essentially the same for $29.50?

Bargain shopping is easy, if you know what you're looking for. But if what you're looking for is the cheapest thing on the rack, you're going to wind up with a mishmash of pieces that don't really go together and don't make any kind of statement (other than "I gave up when the baby was born"). Instead of focusing your shopping on what's affordable, think about what your style is -- and then shop only for pieces -- bargains or full price -- that work with that style.

How do you find your style? Easy. Take a look at what you're already wearing.

Start with the laundry basket. If you're anything like me, you wear the same things over and over -- in fact, your favorite pieces may never actually get put away; you pull them directly out of the clean laundry and wear them again. I have a gray tee shirt (boat neck, three-quarter sleeves) that hasn't seen the inside of my dresser in months. Even if you're better about putting the clothes back where they're meant to live, you probably have a small capsule wardrobe of pieces you wear consistently. Make a list of those pieces, and of what you love about them. Why are those your go-to items, and what do they say about your style?

Take pictures. Not sure what you wear every day? Photograph your outfits, so that you can see what you have and what you wear. This doesn't have to be a huge project -- just grab your cell phone in the morning as you're getting ready and snap a shot of your outfit. Do it every single day for a week or two and you'll have an accurate record of what you're wearing. Be honest -- if you wear the same jeans and tee combo for three days, photograph it three times. This is all about figuring out what you're wearing, after all, even if it is the exact same outfit for days on end.

Analyze your data. Look over your laundry basket list and your weeks' worth of photos and search for trends. Are you wearing jeans every day? Cardigans with everything? The t-shirt you slept in because you don't have time to get dressed? How do you feel about this? And -- more importantly -- how would you describe your style, based solely on what you're really wearing every day? If the answer is Yoga Pants Mom, it's time for an overhaul.

Create an inspiration board. Flip through magazines and catalogs and look for images that appeal to you. Don't worry about the price pf the clothes or the size of the models, just look at the photos; tear out every picture that speaks to you. Now spread them out on the table -- or, better yet, pin them to a bulletin board -- and consider what they all have in common. I'm willing to bet that you won't have one single photo of a harried mom in yoga pants and a three-day-old t-shirt. Instead, you'll have a small capsule of ideas for your own new look.

 Once you have identified both your current style and your ideal style, think about how to make them meet in the middle. Hang your inspiration board where you get dressed each morning (mine is on the wall in my walk-in closet) -- that way, you will truly be inspired by the images you've chosen. I'm willing to bet that the pieces on your inspiration board aren't that far from what you already own; chances are, you're already buying things that appeal to you. But there's an equal chance that you're not wearing those pieces, or that you're not wearing them in the same way you see them in catalog and magazine photos, largely because you've assumed that as a mom, you can't dress like that.

Here's the thing: being a mom, even of very small children, doesn't mean you can't have style. There's no rule that moms have to wear workout gear all the time (although you would never know that from looking around the mall or the playground or the carpool line). If your inspiration board is full of pretty dresses, wear a dress during the day; if your ideal look is cropped pants and a pretty blouse, go for that. Choose pieces that are comfortable and machine-washable and appropriate for the grocery and the office and the soccer fields, but choose pieces that have style. Yes, you can do both. I promise.

And then you can say goodbye to Yoga Pants Mom forever.


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