Thinking About: Unpacking My Style Baggage

Celine black wedge pumps

What The Heck Is Style Baggage??

I think of style baggage as a set of beliefs and attitudes that sometimes hold us back from dressing and visually expressing ourselves as we’d like. Women of our generation were often raised to conform and be people-pleasers. We may have grown up with a myriad of rules and narrow definitions of what was considered “appropriate” to wear (and do and say and BE). Even if we rebelled along the way, some of those proscriptions may still influence our choices. One of the most powerful things about the proliferation of style blogs has been seeing so many women challenging these assumptions, and defining for themselves what works or doesn’t.

But I also think it helps to examine where some of our beliefs come from, and decide if they still are relevant. Sometimes casting light will send the ugly bugs scurrying away.

Early Lessons, Deep Impressions

What I remember having the most impact on me was hearing my mother’s frequent refrain, “you can’t wear that…you’re too fat!” Whether it was true or not, that belief was planted very early and very deep. I picked up that the only acceptable body type was a very thin and angular one (not mine), and that clothes didn’t “look good” on any other type. (And to some degree, there’s still a lot of societal reinforcement of that wrong idea.) I learned that the main goal of choosing what to wear was to make myself look as close to that ideal as possible. Was it “slimming?” Everything else was secondary.

By the time I was in high school, my mother would sometimes make me buy clothing a size too small, thinking it would motivate me to lose weight. (Never mind that I was struggling with anorexia and then bulimia during those years.) To this day, I can’t stand wearing anything that feels constricting or binds or pinches.

I was also taught that it wasn’t appropriate to call attention to oneself. Yes, one should be well-dressed and well-groomed, but never “loud” or gaudy. Bright colors, animal prints, bold jewelry were all on the Don’t list. And that prohibition on calling attention extended to acknowledging one’s accomplishments. “Tooting your own horn” was considered ill-mannered, for the female half of the population anyway. That especially was something that held me back in my career until I learned to do it in a roundabout way. (I think it’s something that holds a lot of women back, even now. Even if we get over our reticence, many around us still are not comfortable with women who openly self-promote.)

I should add here in all fairness, I think my mother was motivated out of wanting what she believed was best for me, in an era where women had many more cultural constraints and fewer options.

And then I developed early, which brought unwanted male attention I was totally unprepared for. And made it harder to find clothes that fit without emphasizing my chest. So I’ve also never been comfortable dressing in an overtly sexual way. I felt as though there were already plenty of assumptions being made based on my body shape, and I wasn’t going to add to them.

Old Beliefs Or Current Tastes?

A lot of my style comfort zones evolved around camouflaging my figure “flaws” and not calling too much attention to myself. And in that these beliefs sometimes hold me back from wearing what I’d like, I’m working to overcome them. Yet, not all of my style preferences developed from a negative.

I adore simplicity. I love black and white photography, and monochrome outfits. I admire elegance (in the sense of refinement and gracefulness, not formality). Clean, sophisticated and modern styles have always appealed to me. I love movement in my clothing, and a little bit of drama. Sumptuous fabrics that drape well are a delight. I enjoy a bit of the whimsical, and admire those who can dress with wit.

I’m still working on letting go of some of my old hangups, without losing sight of what I love. Reminding myself that my body is OK, that curves are OK. Giving myself permission to wear something that draws attention. Not saving my favorite pieces and “good stuff” for special occasions. Indulging in a bit of sartorial drama. Not apologizing for my tastes.

Above: my “witchy” shoes, as described by someone IRL. (My response, “you say that like it’s a bad thing…”) They’re Celine from last year. Found them deeply discounted back in January. Here’s a more budget-friendly style with a similar shape.

What old beliefs have you let go of in order to express yourself with style? What new, positive ones have taken their place?

Simple, Bold, Elegant…

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  1. Wow…you really hit the nail on the head! I can recall many similar experiences concerning “What Not To Wear” (e.g. maternal dictates, snide remarks by “mean girls” at school, the frustration of NOT having a “Twiggy” figure…). It has taken decades (my d.o.b. is 1949) to discern what truly looks good and what feels “like me.” As a retiree, I rely principally on classics and comfort when it comes to clothes and accessories (Chanel-style comes to mind, as do high-quality knits (Eileen Fisher), leather shoes & bags, and anything made from natural fibers). My “signature” pieces, which I wear daily, are sterling silver earrings and bracelets, many of which I received as gifts from my husband. I always feel “complete” when I put them on! Susan, I treasure your blog posts for their sincerity and creativity, AND for the encouragement and support you offer us, your admiring readers. Many thanks.

  2. Wow! Why did your mother say that to you?
    I was always told i looked pretty (o vanity), have always told my daughter she was pretty and now telling my granddaughters they look pretty.
    Finfdig my style is very difficult to me, due to the age changes I went through. From 49 kg to 72 kg is a big change to fiigure out what looks nice and what doen’t. I am shedding weight right now, 8 kg. down, 12 to go. And boy, will I splurge on new clothes. I like your style but not all that you’re showing is available in the Netherlands. On the other hand, Paris is for u Dutchies a 5 hour drive away 😉

    1. Hoi Giensie,

      I grew up in the US and moved here at 38 and I realize that a lot of girls here had a very different upbringing than a lot of the girls in the US. Here they have been taught to be very comfortable with their bodies from birth and to not be ashamed or cover up.
      I was so shocked when I went to a friends, daughter’s voetball game, years ago. She was 8 at the time, I went to help her get ready in the dressing room, in walks a couple of the father’s of some of the girls to help them get ready. In the US that would never be allowed, but here it is normal and not one kid stopped not one mother stopped and said a thing, it was totally normal.

      Another time when I used to live right in front of a playground it had a little wading pool that they filled up in the warmer months. One day I hear a bunch of little boys and girls 3-4 years old screaming and laughing and I look out the window and see them all running up to the pool literally ripping of their clothes, underwear and all, jumping in the water playing. The local preschool had an afternoon trip.
      I tell you it was the most happy innocent thing I have ever seen. At that moment I knew I was living in another whole world. I was literally crying there in my living room wishing that my children had been able to grow up in such an atmosphere.

      The Netherlands is one of the top countries voted to have the most happy children and there is a reason for it. They are left to be children without pressure or hangups about themselves. Lines are blurred in a healthy way. This acceptance and openness about how children are raised helps them to grow up with out such negative feelings of one self.

      It isn’t perfect here, some of the stuff on TV in the early evenings goes way to far. But the Dutchy girls I know are not nearly as hung up on the “imperfections” as the girls I grew up with.

      While some of this is changing with the youth now a days and I do hear about hard childhoods of people, they seem to have an attitude to keep going and carry on.

      Also, while I may not like the fashions here very much, I do really admire that people really choose what they want to wear and aren’t as pressured to conform to a certain style, and this may also have a huge influence on how girls feel about themselves. I really admire it crazy colors and all:)

      You were very lucky to grow up in such a society, I tell that to all my Dutchy friends all the time:)

  3. I think that it’s possible to call attention to oneself in a way that’s still not garish or gaudy; being in Rome last week gave me a full dose of garish that will last for months! Quiet good taste always has its place in the world, and will attract attention in its own way.

    That said, if you want to wear something vivid, bold, or just plain LOUD, nobody should stop you! We’re all quite old enough and smart enough to know what makes us happy, and happiness should be the bottom line.


  4. It’s funny how comments made by our mothers still haunt us. My mother told all her friends “too bad she’s so homely” like I wasn’t even there to hear the comments. To this day I find it very difficult to accept a compliment even as I approach 60.

  5. Wow, what a wonderful post. I can relate to a great deal of this. Love your blog, love your witchie shoes (said like that’s a good thing). Keep on inspiring us!

  6. I too went through the same thing with my Mom. ” I will love you more if you loose weight” was the best zinger of them all. I am 58 and still questioning what I wear, will it make me look thin? I’ve come along way but it is always a struggle. Thank you for sharing your experience with us! It is nice to know we are not alone!

  7. I was a mousy adolescent who deferred to my mother’s very conservative wardrobe choices for me. Can you imagine growing up in the 70’s and not owning a pair of bell bottomed jeans? I think I have always dressed older than my age until I reached my 50’s. I am making up for lost time and experimenting with fun fashion trends.

  8. Enjoyed this post as it describes my conservative Pacific NW upbringing, and why I veer away from certain styles and colors so as not to embody that look now. But it’s difficult. So while I have a hidden Iris Apfel inside, Doris Day takes hold as I make the more conservative choices, in style, jewelry, and even home decor and where to go on vacation! But the Iris in me is itching to BE. Thank you for this blog.

  9. Susan, I think we were living in twin houses! Certainly the comments were similar. And Karen, I didn’t own a pair of jeans till I was 22, (a broke student living at home) and subsequently endured endless comments about “not going out looking like that”!
    It took me years to develop my own style. Being tall, broad-shouldered and “bountiful” I look best in clothing with simple, classic lines with accessories to dress them up, or down. I have a fab collection of scarves and earrings!
    By the way, those shoes are wonderful!

  10. For what it’s worth, I had just the opposite experience as a young girl. I remember my Grandmother coming over to our house and saying to my Mother, “Bessie (yes that was her name!) you’ve got to put some FAT on that girl.” My poor mother didn’t have much self-esteem…who can blame her growing up with a mother like that…and would try to fatten me up. No, it didn’t work. I just did not like to eat. Period. Consequently, I spent many years thinking I was too thin to look good in any kind of clothing. That is, until I started gaining weight as a teenager!!! Oh, the things we all live through. And yes, our Mothers had so many constraints and rules: so many more than we have now.

  11. Oh, my goodness! How I hated to be told that an outfit was slimming! When I look back, there was absolutely nothing wrong with my sturdy body. My mother still rejects “frilly-dilly” or bold (a brightly coloured scarf or larger jewelry) I feel comfortable in choosing to wear accessories or even a hat if I wish. I do select my clothing to be flattering and I enjoy compliments. I, too, realize that if I had “tooted my own horn, a little more often, my professional life and my personal life would have been quite different.
    Oh, well…It is baggage and one of life’s lessons is to travel a little more lightly on the earth. I love the “witch shoes.”

  12. Those comments from your Mother were similar to mine. …. “you just cant wear clothes like your sister”. That and other commments made still haunt me in the dressing room.
    Twice in Nordstrom sales women have said to me “You are a large”……actually this happened again yesterday. I purchased a medium. Its still so upsetting. I would think salespeople would be better trained.
    Anyway Im sorry you, me and many many others have endured body shaming. BTW you look great.

  13. Thank you for a great post. Sorry to hear that so many Moms gave/give such negative messages to their lovely daughters – women get enough negative messages that what happens at home is even more important (go Dove campaign).

    I’m in the “don’t like the witchy shoes camp” and I love that you feel stylish and comfortable wearing them – good on you!

  14. I was a tiny child who grew boobs and hips seemingly overnight as I hit puberty and I think my parents panicked a bit about the weight gain (with the best of intents) but I was on diet pills at 15 and even though I was very active physically every day – my calories were restricted to 1,000/day – not good. Plus I had two younger sisters who were “the pretty ones: – I was the “brainy one”. All I wanted to do was disguise my body as much as possible. I looked back at some photos not so long ago and was astonished to see how small I look – I’d kill to be that size now – I always say that I’ve yo yo dieted up to my current weight. Now what I eat is about being healthy and losing more weight because it’s good for my joints and BP and not because it’s the only socially acceptable way to look.
    I’ve finally started to wear brighter colours, even some prints, and tighter fitting clothes and the compliments I’ve received have been a real revelation – it’s never too late! I’ve always been a bit of a mouse but as I get older my inner Iris Apfel is coming out!
    PS – love those witchy shoes!

  15. I came of age in the mid-sixties and early seventies. my mom was a wild card, hot pink, orange jumpsuit with fake fur trim! so in reaction i became a hippie, no bra,no shaving,old clothes. Now that i am older and rounder, i am more conservative! I like your style, especially the red coat. I do have a fondness for leopard and yes, pointy shoes!

  16. Thank you for this post. Growing up, my mother definitely impacted my sense of self worth. Clothes shopping (at Kmart and the equivalent) were miserable experiences. My memory is that my choices were often criticized. At 5’10” my mother would make remarks about how I should be wearing heels. Okay . . . you grow another 5 inches and tell me the same. I was already taller than many guys. My style to this day is a reflection of insecurities ingrained while growing up. I imagine childhood memories are part of why style blogs — like yours — are popular with the over 50 age group. Fashion therapy!

  17. So on point. My mother even said that colored stones, emeralds, rubies, etc were vulgar! To this day I feel most comfortable with pearl earrings and black or monochromatic fashion. A string of pearls around one’s neck was always acceptable. I am currently trying to incorporate pops of color! But you article certainly spoke to me!

  18. I’ve always loved clothes and I get that from my mum. She couldn’t afford nice things when I was a kid, because as a single mum raising four kids, there was no money for extras. But she had an old friend who used to send Mum things she wasn’t wearing anymore. A fur jacket, wool dresses and matching boleros (loved those!), skirt suits etc. And she learned to sew…although she hated it (me too, as it happens)… and “ran up” a couple of cotton summer “shifts” every year for work. Then she’d buy a little scarf to match each shift. I think that’s where I get my desire to hang onto good things, put them away until they come back into style. I watched her making do, mixing hand-me-downs with new things …and I believe that’s why I love to do that. Funnily enough neither of my sisters does the same thing. Maybe as the youngest child who sat on the toilet seat yapping to Mum as she got ready for work, I was more aware of her “process.” The smell of Adorn hairspray (or any hairspray) still reminds me of those morning chats.

  19. So sad to hear so many wonderful women with the baggage of mom’s comments still dragging them down. My mom was a tiny little gal, very slender – everyone she met said the same thing, “I can’t believe you have had 7 children!!” She was a lifelong size 4-6. I have three sisters who were all also on the slender side. Then there was me. I was zaftig even as a little one. I was a solid size 10 by 7th grade. My older sister still says ‘you had chubby thighs as a baby and you still do” ( yeah… that’s another story)
    But when I could not fit into my older sisters’ hand me downs ( slim cut pants for their tiny hips) my mom took me aside and sat with me and told me, “so many girls would love to be in your shoes. You have a Marilyn Monroe build, a Jane Russel build. You need to wear skirts and dresses, not boy pants!!” We went to the fabric store, bought an A line skirt pattern and some kicking Quina knits and made the nicest fluid skirts for my jr hi years. I owned it, I was a sweater and skirt girl.
    And when i finally did see “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” , starring those two lovely ladies, I swelled with pride that my mom saw that in me.

    1. I agree with Penmorepenelope – that’s an absolutely lovely story, thanks for posting! Such a shame it’s so rare.

  20. I was raised in a very thrifty household. In the 1960s, my mother considered a dress that cost $17.00 to be very expensive. As a result, when I was on my own (in college) as far as buying my clothing, I felt guilty every time I bought clothing for myself. Then, came the early years of our marriage, when there was little or no extra money for clothing purchases. It was a truly a make do time. Finally, with more resources available, I was able to buy appropriate clothing, but found that I still had that guilt going on whenever I spent money on myself. Slowly, I realized that there was not a scarcity of funds and began sticking my toe into the waters of high/good quality clothing. Now, if I find something that is perfect for me, and I think I will get a lot of wear out of it, I will buy it—even though others might find it too expensive. (An example of this–I purchased a pair of $400+ Weitzman flats some weeks ago).

  21. Love, love, love the witchy shoes. I always enjoy your fashion and travel posts, and this one is especially insightful. I’m 54; my mother is such a child of the 50s that she’s only now, in her 70s, becoming comfortable wearing a bit of bling. It was all about blending in, being “ladylike” and modest, and that’s the fashion message she tried to pass on to me. Some of it must have stuck; I look at women my age chasing not-so-flattering trends and think, “Who are you trying to fool?” Echos of Mama’s voice, no doubt. When shopping, which I hate, I aim for simple elegance–though I don’t always hit the mark. Sometimes I land in a big ol’ pile of schlumpy. Your outfit posts are an inspiration for me–just the right amount of personality and shine.

  22. I couldn’t have said it better… along with many other reasons I grew up feeling I was “not good enough, a disappointment, not worthy” … I lack confidence in every way. I try to have fun with fashion … as I get older I just don’t care as much what others think. I buy the clothes I like. Everyone has an opinion… I just don’t understand why everyone feels it needs to be said.
    BTW I am in LOVE with your “witchy” shoes! I have “witchy” boots I found on sale (more reason to love them) a couple of years ago while visiting my very dear friend in Park City Utah. So, they come with a great memory.. we both bought a pair and then strutted down the street wearing them!

  23. Hi Susan,
    WOW what an impressive essay on how our early years impact our fashion choices many years later! I was always a short “chubby”(remember CHUBBY sewing patterns?) but I was also muscular with the perfect bod for long distance swimming and developed the broad shoulders from hours spent in the water. My Mom was Catholic convent raised and boy did I pay for it!! She had the weirdest ideas about what was acceptable..I desparately wanted to start horseback riding and she told me I was too short and too fat and forget ballet I was too ‘chubby’ and too short (most ballerinas are quite petite height wise…) My mom’s 79 year old sister was visiting for Mom’s 90th birthday a while ago and I was showing my Aunt the leopard print (subtle) top that I had purchased for Mom to wear. My Aunt nixed that stating “Us ____
    girls don’t wear animal prints, too Coronation Street” WTF???? I was wearing a very elegant zebra print top at the time..regardless I put the leopard top on Mother who looked stunning in it with black ponte slacks and her gold jewelry. Hilariously, my cousin, another cousin’s wife and I all showed up at the party sporting various accessories and clothing pieces in leopard cousins wife sporting a pair of Valentino heels in that print!! So NOT Coronation Street!!!
    My Grandmere was my biggest fan and one day I was bemoaning my broad face (the legacy of my Metis heritage inherited from her)…my grandmother commented “Well dear, you will grow into that face and be thrilled at 60 to have the cheekbones others will envy” She was correct…I have impressive bone structure which shaves a decade off!!!!
    Today at 61 I wear what I like, but like you I have also developed a sense of personal style that works for me. My hair is long (collar bone length) and expensively coiffed and coloured every 6 weeks or so.
    I have trashed so many of those edicts of the previous generation especially one that I advise us all to leave behind…the tendency to be a little too Judge Judy-ish on our sisters of a certain age. Believe me I struggle daily with it. If you want to go gray, do it but don’t dis my chestnut locks and I will support your decision 100%…
    As they say in Paris bon chic bon genre (BCBG:)

  24. Susan, and the other ladies with similar experiences, it breaks my heart to hear stories of how your mothers spoke to you about your weight. I have always been slightly overweight and I remember years ago my mom telling me a story that I’ll never forget. We were quite fortunate to be customers of a certain higher end children’s clothing store in suburban Toronto – Maison Vali (a french name no less!). During a fitting for a custom made fancy dress, the owner remarked to my mother that I could be fitted off the rack if I just lost some weight. That day, my mother vowed never to return to her store and we never did. While both my parents supported me in my efforts to manage my weight and diet if I so chose to, they never once suggested that I needed to. When I speak to my twin 14 year old girls, we talk of health and strength and nothing more.

    I’d also like to comment on your idea Susan, that not enough women tout their own horns and how that can negatively impact their careers. This happened to me as I spent 17 years with a major marketing services agency. I was under the impression that if I put my head down, was loyal, and always did good work, that I’d be recognized and rewarded. I was wrong, and while I rose to the level of VP, it was pretty clear that I had not played enough politics to advance further. For those of you who may need a little push, don’t be afraid to play the game – it’s in your own best interest. You deserve it!

    1. You are so lucky to have supportive parents. I too grew up in Toronto and my mother frequented a children’s clothing shop on Bloor at Royal York Rd. I remember the feeling of dread when I had to go and get ‘fitted out’. One time the sales lady brought out out some pretty dresses, took one look at me with my ugh Pixie hair cut and deemed loudly that the garments were perhaps TOO DAINTY for me!!!! I wish my mother had crossed that place off her list and taken me to Honest Ed’s!! Sadly, we continued to patronize the store until it became clear they could no longer accommodate my burgeoning bosom;)

      1. Ainsivalavie -Madison Vali was at Humbertown at the Kingsway/Royal York and Dundas – very close to Royal York and Bloor. Perhaps it was the same store?

        1. I know Humbertown Plaza, I grew up on the Kingsway! No, the store was on Bloor across from Our Lady of Sorrows Church…there was a shoestore nearby where I was forced to wear Maryjane’s:( Halstead’s(?)

  25. Sue, thank you so much for this post. The questions you raised are also on my mind, but not because of baggage piled on by my mom. Life’s many phases and some interesting fashion decades did that. But now at 70 years old, my life and I are changing again, thanks to retirement and renewed energy to address my own needs and those of people I love. I want to refine my personal style(s) to reflect those happy changes.

    Role models offer us so many benefits, but there are so few at my age. The clownish “Advanced Style” popularized by Ari Seth Cohn is the antithesis of what I find attractive. Instead, the classic, casual looks of Lauren Hutton, Georgia O’Keeffe, Katherine Hepburn and their ilk inspire me. Committing in this direction would require me to clear my closet of things I never wear, but haven’t found the courage to break up with. It’s time to keep only the things I love and actually wear.

    I hope you keep writing about this topic. I am enjoying the conversation so much.

  26. I am battered into submission by my mothers comments on my size. I was a slim pre teen and took the contraceptive pill ( period pain) at 16. I seemingly overnight went massively curvy.

    After many many different weights , I am now post menopause carrying an extra 2 stone.

    I love your article and your style but to be honest, I see a slim, tallish lady who looks great in jeans.

    I look awful, nothing fits. I am 58 and still dread seeing Mother and her critical tongue

  27. You bring up some excellent points! I’d like to see all women stop criticizing each other, now. At 60, I just get annoyed when a women criticizes my appearance. Can’t we all just learn to be supportive?

    1. If I hear one more woman tell me I should color my hair, I can see on their face when they look at my silver streak and start to speak. I have stopped them mid sentence and still they plow on, even after I say how I love my hair color now and it took a lot to get rid of the hair coloring and how I hated myself for over a year while I had to wack my hair short and grow it out…. Yep they plow on with their advice, even friends…. I also know it doesn’t look bad, I get plenty of compliments, and most women along with a compliment say I wish I had your guts to stop coloring…usually followed by, but my grey doesn’t grow in like yours, mine is all over or on the sides not that pretty silvery white you have, it almost looks painted like that it’s cool!

      I have no problem with it when women color their hair, even with some colors I think are horribly unnatural colors and especially when they don’t match the skin tone. But it is their choice!

      Please leave me the frig alone when I tell you I don’t want to color it, leave me the frig alone with your advice and what you think would look better.

      It is never put in a nice way, never. They have this turned up twist to their nose like they are looking at something distasteful:( so offensive.

      If I wanted to give a lady any advice on her clothes or outfit and I started to speak and she stopped me in any way I would stop speaking then apologize.
      And even if I did give any advice/comment, it may be if she changed it already to something I thought was attractive on her. “Oh I really love this style haircut it compliments your lovely bone structure.” Or if I thought she was wearing an awful outfit I would wait till she had a great outfit on and say “this style/outfit really suits you.” I would never expressly open a conversation about how she looks if I don’t like her outfit or hairstyle, if she asks what do you think of my outfit/hair, even then I would say, I find your prettiest style is that dress you wore the other day, or I love when you wear red it makes you literally glow, or I like the pixie cut on you best it is my favorite, but you should be happy with what you want.

      Sorry about the rant it opened up a can of worms…. It took a long time and a lot of effort to feel good about my looks and myself, and is always a work in progress, so unwanted or negative advice is hard to listen to.

  28. Body shaming has occurred for decades (probably centuries) and is alive and active today. In high school in the ’70’s I weighed 142 lbs and was considered huge and felt so fat. Now at 58 I’d love to be that size! My mother has only varied about 10 lbs her entire adult life and has always commented about my need to lose weight. But almost always pushes food on me; go figure. Mothers can do lifelong damage with their tongues. And it’s reinforced by the fashion world and social media. No wonder eating disorders are so prevalent.

  29. Love your “witchy shoes”. Love your blog. Mother once said to me “Well, you are not “chocolate box pretty but you could be interesting” Rushing towards 80, I am still not “Chocolate box pretty” but I am interesting and happy! Keep up the good Blog.

  30. I totally agree with you. I grew up wearing school uniforms and cousins’ ” hand me downs”. Then I worked as a nurse for 40 years. It isn’t until I retired that I began to think about what my style was. I still hear my mother’s voice when I overheard her telling one of her friends that I didn’t care about her opinion of my clothing anymore. She really liked mother – daughter dressing and our tastes were not similar nor were our body types. You always look great.

  31. A very brave and interesting post. A mother’s influence is certainly one that lingers for a long time… Making the break and finding your own style is a very exciting and empowering experience.

  32. “Your slip is showing.” I have had a hard time coming to love the layered look (with a shirt longer than the jacket) because of my mother’s constant nagging about my slip. Slips! I don’t know how many I wore over the years, but I do know I don’t own one now.

  33. Excellent post – you are so right about the damage these sorts of comments can do both in terms of style hang-ups and in our professional lives. The comments are super helpful too just because they make me feel less alone as I try to move past this old stuff at this late stage of the game.

  34. I had the fat shaming mother, as well. It never ended. On her deathbed she asked me, “So, how much do you weigh?”. I tolerated it for the last time and moved on. She did give one piece of clothing advice that my husband loves. She said that I should “show a little cleavage so people won’t notice my hips”. Ha! I do what I want now, but certainly appreciate your reminder to let go of the baggage.

  35. Susan, your comments rang so true to me! I had a teeny tiny mother. Unfortunately, I resembled my fathers side of the family. “Stocky and sturdy” would be good descriptors. Mom was always going after my weight and appearance. It didn’t help that my sister was beautiful and charming. Mom bought all my clothes, which were for her body type and coloring. I thought that I couldn’t look good.
    My opus came when three other women engineers asked me to join them in a community education class. It was taught by an image consultant and covered body type, color, personality, etc. It was amazing to see four geek girls discover themselves and start enjoying their clothing! I learned the best clothes for my X type body, the best colors for my Spring complexion, and found out my clothing style (Classic, natural, romantic). The image consultant was an expert so I could allow her opinion to override the voice of my mother. It turned out that my mothers choices for me were the worst possible for my body!
    I would strongly recommend seeing an image consultant if you think you look bad in your clothes, or if you feel uncomfortable in your clothes. It would make a great Christmas present too.
    It was a breakthrough moment for me and helped me to break the negative Mom-talk.

  36. Susan, I read your post early this morning and thought about you all day at work. My mother–it wasn’t what she SAID to me. It what she didn’t say. I have two sisters. Both have always had straight luxurious hair. I had the coarse wiry hair. What I heard growing up was how BEAUTIFUL my sisters’ hair was. I’m cross-eyed and always had to listen to how beautiful and sparkling my two sisters’ eyes were. I was the heaviest of the three sisters–and I was by no means fat. I just had more to love. I heard about their perfect bodies all the time. Needless to say, I am a fan of Jane Birkin because she said that she’s thankful she wasn’t a beauty (although I digress) because aging hasn’t been as hard on her as it was for all the perfect girls. I stand my ground on that one.
    And as a mother to a daughter, I forbade ANY fashion magazines in my home from the time she was a pre-teen to the time she left for college–she didn’t have to or need to compare herself to the fakeness of the fashion industry’s advertisements or editorials. And when we went shopping together I allowed her to make her own choices and surprisingly, they were exactly like mine!
    I love when you post stuff like this–it’s so relatable. Thank you.
    As far as the shoes. They are not “Witchy” shoes, they are “Bitchin’ shoes and I love them!!

  37. Thank you for this post, Susan. So much baggage… I won’t leave it here, but oh my gosh. The old belief that I need to let go of would be … that I need to please anybody but myself. I try to look professional at work, but really, if I had my druthers, I’d wear jeans every day. When I have achieved tenure at my university, I will.

  38. Am now feeling super grateful for my mom. You & I are the same age, I think, but our moms were obviously shaped in different ways by their times. My mom was a “career gal”, and I think in her younger days she was quite stylish (on a budget). She made a few fashion statements in her time, and was not worried about standing out. In my formative years, I don’t recall her ever offering much of an opinion about what I wore, and as a result I wore some inappropriate outfits, now that I look back at it! She did comment about my block heeled shoes, when she said that I looked like I had a club foot (cringe!). When I was in my forties I gained quite a bit of weight, but she never commented on it…although I’m sure she had an opinion. Now that I’ve gone back to my normal weight, I wish she were here to see my cute outfits….

    The one voice I do still hear in the back of my head, five years after she died, has to do with whenever I buy something expensive. Mom grew up during the Depression, and she & my Dad were always very frugal. If I splurge on an item, I can’t help thinking, oh I’m glad Mom doesn’t know how much this cost!

  39. Susan (also my first name), I was the only girl and the baby. I had many privileges being the baby with two older brothers (I always blamed things on my brothers, and most times that worked!), but my brothers excelled in most of the areas (grades, looks, sports) important to my folks. I cringe when I think of how I wasn’t able to live up to them and their accomplishments. (My brothers didn’t know this, and would never have let me hurt if they had known.) I learned to disappear so people wouldn’t compare me to them…..beige became my favorite color…I became beige. I’m 68 now, and am breaking out of the color restrictions, thanks to many including you, who have shown that it’s alright to be seen. I prefer traditional clothing styles in more visible colors and patterns. I’m getting wild in my old age….and I love it. Thank you!

  40. I do not like your witchy shoes, but will vigorously defend your right to wear them and to not care whether I like them or not!
    I was raised to dress to blend in – to wear what my friends were wearing. The twist was that my mother was not concerned that I would be embarrassed by showing up in something “different”. Instead she was concerned that I would embarrass them. Not exactly a confidence booster.
    I was truly scrawny, which brings its own set of problems. I couldn’t fill out the top of my Cos Cob shirt waist dresses, so the bust darts would wrinkle. And I couldn’t wear sleeveless blouses because the armholes were so loose that you could look right in at my bra. (Yes, there was a time that was unacceptable.) I think that is why I started wearing cardigans, which I am still doing 50 years later. (And I didn’t make that connection until this very moment.)

  41. How difficult this must have been for you to write. And how glad I am that you did so. It had honestly never occurred to me that other people might have encountered the same thing. In my case it was my father and not my mother who spent my childhood telling me I was fat and ugly. He said I would never find a husband and would have to stay at home. I only recently looked at photos of myself in my teen years having avoided them for 40 years. I was slim, very blonde hair and didn’t look bad at all. I have always had a terrible image of myself and avoid mirrors and photos whenever possible. Why do parents do this to their children? It is really cruel And can impact their whole life. I have been married for 35 years now, so my father was wrong about that too! It also meant I had a terrible relationship with my father. I think it is a matter of control and not wanting children to be “big headed”. I was not allowed friends in the house, I was not allowed to stand on the grass or else I was walloped, and always a good one this, when my mother was having chemotherapy and radiotherapy it was my fault she was nauseous because my cooking was poisoning her. He died some years ago. Have I forgiven him, well actually no I haven’t. It is something I have to accept and move on from. I will dress as I wish. Wear those shoes, buy them in bright red if you wish. They are terrific. Don’t conform to childhood stereotypes of ourselves.

  42. I find that a lot of women hold themselves up to how the men value us in this world and unfortunately, that is a lot of the reason why many women speaking on this subject right here had mothers that spoke to them the way they did.

    Unfortunately, I have never had a positive male figure in my life, my father or any of my partners, that ever valued my opinion. It has had quite the negative affect.

    But one positive thing is I am independent and if and when the s**t hits the fan I can show them the door. It is very freeing and has a tendency to make a partner, or parent treat you a lot better when they know you are not financially or emotionally dependent on them. I pay my own bills have my own home and know my opinion is the only one that matters to me:)

    I also no longer take any “constructive criticism from my Dad (is what he likes to call it), if he starts criticizing I politely tell him he is being rude and hang up. It works he has calmed way down over the years. If it didn’t I wouldn’t allow him to be any part of my life. As it is I purposely live very far away from him.
    He used to tell me growing up I was a lazy bitch that would never amount to anything, how wrong he was….

    My mother told him years ago, “‘one day you are going to be old and alone,” and guess what she was right!

  43. Some of the stories shared so generously here are overwhelming. Great pain was inflicted on some of you. Yet your courage to make your way after enduring cruelties you did not deserve is also overwhelming, but very much in “the good way.”

  44. This is the first time that I have commented here, strange as I follow this blog & the comments religiously. As you can see, Susan, this resonates with all of us. I remember so much of the same feedback from my mother.
    Today, I appreciate the validation I get from positive role models like you and understand that a large portion of us were raised by our mother’s well meant intentions in a man’s world. I still struggle with “friends” that make the occasional rude comment about my weight, or appearance in any way. Why do they feel they are justified to do this?
    My dad wanted a boy. Funny that his most repeated memory to me several times is how my mom would not allow me to have seconds at meal time.
    I struggled with anorexia & bulimia in my early adult years, being the “beautiful one”, made me feel sub par intellectually. Also, I heard constantly that “pretty is as pretty does” to counteract any ideas I might have about misbehaving in a way that might lead to promiscuity and thus relect badly on the family. Ha! As if I would have ever felt that comfortable enough in my own skin back then to even engage in a rebellious activity of any sort!
    Obviously, we all struggle with our parents’ legacies in our lives even as we mature. Thank you for your thoughts and being the voice of reason when old memories rear their heads as they often do.

  45. Now you can use your lovely pointed shoes to kick those old assumptions (and unkind voices) to the curb. A timely and heartfelt essay, as evidenced by the comments.

  46. Loooooove the shoes. The high instep is very flattering on “non-delicate” ankles like mine. 🙂

    Thanks to Susan and everyone for sharing their stories. Bringing these things out into the open and discussing them is the best way to remove their power. May all our daughters, goddaughters and grandaughters find themselves free of these mental constraints.

  47. What an honest and fair-minded post and how interesting the comments are: so many heartfelt stories about being a woman.

    We are all to some degree a child of our times and my lasting memory of being a teenager in the late 50s and early 60’s was a hatred of my curly hair. I so wanted my hair to be long and straight. The fact that I was slim,could wear mini skirts counted for nothing in my hair obsession. How times change. I am now overweight, but my hair is a rather nice shade of grey and with a good hair dresser it can look smooth and even stylish.

  48. Susan, you turned into a lovely, authentic stylish woman. I love your posts & you give me ideas… Thank you. Marybeth