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My Mom Taught Me How to Dress (It Just Took Me a While to Realize It)

May 13, 2018 | Filed in: Your Closet

I recently went to a clothing swap at a friend’s apartment, where I relinquished a summer-weight wool tank top that I’d inherited from my mom. It was from Chico’s circa 1990, and it was the sleeper hit of the swap. I wasn’t surprised—the only reason I gave it up was because I have a similar version from Eileen Fisher (also from the ’90s and also pilfered from my mom’s closet). In fact, most of my favorite clothing items—and certainly my most-complimented—are those that I’ve nicked from my mom’s wardrobe over the years.

She will be shocked to hear this, but my mother is my style icon. (She probably just spat out her chardonnay.) I would describe her current style as “New Hampshire chic,” which means that if you can’t walk a German Shepherd or shovel snow while wearing it, it’s out. When I go home to visit, one of the first questions I’m always asked is, “What do you think of my new vest?” (She has a sizable collection: down, fleece, quilted, you name it.)

It’s not that I think Land’s End vests are the height of fashion, but I admire my mom’s versatility and ability to dress for the life she has. And she’s had many lives. She was a teenager-about-town in her hometown of Montreal, a student at Barnard and exchange student in Germany during the ’60s, a young professional in New York in the ’70s, a suburban mom in Connecticut in the ’80s and ’90s, and ultimately a grandmother (and dog mom) in New Hampshire. She’s looked elegant through every phase.

Wearing prints and a statement belt as a college student in the ’60s (left), and attending something fancy in Montreal (right).

That doesn’t mean I sought or appreciated her sartorial opinions when I was growing up. We were never the kind of mother-daughter duo who “loved shopping together” or “had fun with clothes.” When I was a teenager, most of our trips to the local mall ended with me in a rage and her feeling exasperated. On our occasional jaunts to New York, we’d traipse through Saks and Soho with very different goals. I gravitated towards passing fads in an attempt to look “cool.” Meanwhile, my mom longed for me to wear pantsuits, and evaluated clothing based on the weight of the fabric (“this is good thick cotton”) and the straightness of hems. When assessing outfits, if she described something as “adorable” (high praise in her mind), I instantly threw it in the reject pile.

Rocking a bow and bangs circa 1980. Accessorizing with my brother Oliver.

As I flitted from trend to trend and brand to brand, my mom would always urge me to “find a brand that works for you, and stick with it,” to which I would reply: “That’s not possible! That brand doesn’t exist!” She was right, and so was I. As I came of age, all the brands around me were having identity crises. From the Limited Too to Urban Outfitters to J.Crew, they seemed to shape-shift from season to season. Consistency was elusive, so I rode the trends. My teens and early twenties were defined by incongruent fads including Uggs, popped collars, and way too many going-out tops. It was a trying time for us all.

The irony is that as I neared the age of 30, I joined the founding team at a little startup called MM.LaFleur, whose mission is to provide a consistent, high-quality wardrobe solution for busy women. Under Miyako’s tutelage, I’ve learned the value of uniform dressing, of seeking high-quality fabrics, and of learning how to dress for my body type. And instead of finding the brand that worked for me (as my mother had always advised), I actually helped to build it.

Mom in casual cotton and “fun” necklace. Me in Osh Kosh B’gosh. Dad in sweet shades. Circa 1986.

It’s not lost on me that my mom’s advice is finally ringing true. Today, I would describe my style as mom-meets-MM. I wear a lot of staples from MM, punctuated with flair I’ve acquired from my mom over the years (her gold Cleopatra-style necklace, her long knit dress, her vintage Coach saddle bag, her ‘whimsical’ belt that looks like something my 7th-grade drama teacher would have worn). Some of these pieces are over 40 years old and still going strong.

’80s cocktail attire. I now proudly own and wear this sequined top (left). Mom as an exchange student in Germany circa 1967 (right).

It took about 33 years for our sartorial visions to align, but now that I’m 34, I’ve hit my stride. Every now and then, however, my mom has her own clothing conundrum. She was recently fretting over what to wear to a few upcoming events, and I suggested she go for a styling appointment at MM’s new Bryant Park showroom. She resisted at first. “I’m 71! I live in the woods! I can’t wear MM.LaFleur!”

But I got her to Bryant Park, handed her a glass of prosecco, and left her in Nyjerah’s capable hands. An hour later, she was beaming and declaring it “the best shopping experience of her life” as she purchased six new pieces that looked beautiful on her. (FYI: All moms love the Ono cardigan.)

I won’t go so far as to say that the years we spent battling in dressing rooms were all worth it for that moment, but it was gratifying. On this Mother’s Day, I am proud to say that I’ve finally learned to dress like my mom (“Good thick cotton!” / “Straight hems!”), and to admit that she was right all along. Even better: Now I can give her advice, so things have come full circle. Thank you for bearing with me, Mum. I love you.

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Tory Hoen is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor. She spent five years as the Creative Director of Brand at MM.LaFleur (where she founded The M Dash!) and has written for New York Magazine, Fortune, Bon Appétit, and Condé Nast Traveler. She loves doughnuts and inter-species friendships. Read more of Tory's posts.

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