Home > motherhood, Uncategorized > Protective camoflauge as a soccer mom

Protective camoflauge as a soccer mom

I fancy myself a practical woman, especially sartorially. I favor jeans that fit and do not show any unsightly cracks in the rear; sneakers or clogs that can take my weight over the five or six miles I walk each day; and natural fiber tops that suit the weather.  (I’ll admit that I hold out an outdated fondness for t-shirts with oversized flannels unbuttoned over them. Grunge will never die while I’m still buying my own clothes.) I never ever wear make up except for weddings, interviews, and the symphony.

Which is not to say that I don’t get a little clothes-horsey when the new Eddie Bauer or J.Jill catalog arrives in my mailbox. However, while I lust after the lovely and fashionable stuff therein, I rarely buy it and usually just got with the old faithful: L.L. Bean. 

My look, such as it is, is practical. But not particularly … fashionable. 

And then I enrolled the Child in her preschool. Out in one of the most expensive bedroom communities in Boston. We’re talking 7- or 8-figure houses, even in this market, where the families often take two-month vacations in the summer, and talk easily about paying for tuition at Yale or about charity dinners with $5,000 plates. Big bucks. 

Some of it is even old money. If it were all old money, I could hold my own. I was raised by a Southern Belle and can tell the difference between a cream soup spoon and a clear soup spoon. Not only do I have a full set of sterling (Old Master) and china (Wedgwood, Nantucket Basket), I can identify most of the popular patterns at ten paces. I know that J. Press is more impressive than J. Crew, I know that if someone is going to school at Harvard you should say “at Cambridge,” and I know that someone who plays the flute is a flautist, not a flutist. 

Old Money doesn’t need name brand lables to denote class. They drive twenty year old Volvos and have thier shoes resoled ten times (okay, $700 shoes, but still…) As my mother would say, “Class will out,” and I can hold my own in these circles. At least not look like an idiot. 

Alas, High End Bedroom Community is at least partially filled with the families of the guy who made his money in securities before it all went to hell this week, and dot-com folks who had the sense to get out early, and Mitt Romney types who made their money the old fashioned way: by selling crap to corporations. And, of course, such nouveau riche types need a young stay-at-home mom, three kids (the latest prestige accessory), and an eco-friendly preschool.

And to people like that still think that buying your shirt at Pink is classy, wear ties with the Brooks Bros. sheep flagrantly displayed, and wouldn’t be caught dead in last season’s Ferragmos. 

I am proud to say I still don’t know what a Ferragamo looks like. 

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I decided that I needed to at least aspire to the sort of casual Old Money style if I didn’t want to be a pariah at The Child’s nursery school. Happily, the L.L. Bean practical look doesn’t take much to tweak it to L.L. Bean Old Money.

Sneakers gone, replaced by clogs. Hair down instead of up. Red wool sweater instead of red cotton t shirt. Cotton tote replaced by nice leather satchel. The jeans stay just as they are.

And, my secret weapon, bought in a moment of insane self-indulgence many many years ago: a chocolate suede jacket. That jacket goes a long way to dressing up my super-casual mom outfits. 

I’ve tried to do this very casually. I don’t want The Child picking up the idea that appearance is all that important. But the thing is…. it is important. My suede jacket gets me faster service, bigger smiles, and a better attitude at any shop. We’re humans — our big mental leap was the ability to catgorize quickly and one of the ways we do that is clothing and looks. I’ve already got a strike against me — I’m fat — but I’ve got a pleasantly symetrical face, shiny hair, and straight white teeth. With the right clothes and a good smile, I can do okay.

But I still feel like I’m putting on a costume or camoflauge when I get dressed to take The Child to school.

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Categories: motherhood, Uncategorized
  1. Juliet Bravo
    September 23, 2008 at 12:10 pm

    I don’t understand this post at all. You know, I am your friend (so don’t get mad!), but it sounds like you are caught up in this strict classist stereotype by which you are judging others, and you are then fearful that they will judge you in the same way. My attitude is, screw that. Who cares if you are rich or not, or whether your grandfather was rich or not. Poor people have manners and standards just like everyone else. The important thing is that you are all parents, and you are all giving this great experience to your kids. And to be brutally honest, if you are worried that you are going to pass it on to your kid, you probably will. Kids pick up on this stuff very quickly. Certainly it sounds like you picked it up from your mom. If you don’t want to pass it to the next generation, you need to change your attitude, not hope that she won’t notice it.

  2. jamanda
    September 24, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    Juliet —

    There’s a difference between “buying into” the class-ist structure and acknowledging the reality of it. If I were to declare “screw that”, I would be like a black man declaring that he doesn’t believe in racism — it’s naive and potentially dangerous. These women are the mothers of children I hope will become friends with my child. I don’t want The Child not to get invites to parties because the moms think I’m some urban freak. A little protective camoflage prevents months of having to undo that bad first impression.

    I imagine that I could, over time, undo their initial impressions. But I don’t want to create that uphill battle, certainly not where my child’s happiness and social skills are involved. She’s going to school to have new friends, to learn to socialize. Let’s not weigh her down with Mommy’s penchant for 90s grunge.

    What’s more, I’m making pretty minor compromises, all in all. There are no Ferragamos on my feet and the word “Juicy” has never been scrawled across my ass. I just spiff up a little before going to preschool.

    I don’t mind teaching my daughter the ideal that you should take the time to get to know everyone before judging them. But I feel I also need to teach her the reality that most people don’t do that. Classism exists. First impressions count. Attractiveness gets you places in life. I’d no more ignore these lessons than I’d ignore the lesson that sexism exists and she’s going to have to be aware of that.

    So I’ll teach her how to deal with it, strategies for coping and getting around it.

  3. marsupial jones
    September 25, 2008 at 11:11 am

    interesting discussion.

    your blog rocks.

  4. elcynae
    September 28, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    Ah, another problem I am too ignorant to have. 🙂 I can’t tell the difference between all these classes and attitudes. I try to look nice when I take mine to dance class, and I know I’ll do the same when she’s in pre-school. But it’s _my_ nice, to show that I’d like the other moms to think well of me. I’ve no idea what they think of my clothes. Half the time last class was spent discussing where the best places to take your boat in the summer are. I didn’t even recognize the names. I admit to a couple second thoughts about my choice of community then. Then on the way back from our vacation, I overheard a couple explaining ‘duo’, ‘duet’, and ‘falsetto’ to their toddler. It turned out they also live in the same city. I think I’ll just make friends with those sorts of people, and not worry about the others. But I’ll still dress in my pregnant-hippie-costumer finery when we go out. Looking nice feels good after all, in addition to it social implications.

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