Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Mother's Lasting Impression, Her Sense of Style

This Sunday marks the 94th year since becoming a national holiday we celebrate our mothers. Granted its original purpose to celebrate mothers who had dedicated themselves to peace probably didn’t include offerings of cards, flowers, and breakfast-in-bed, but it does require a note of thanks.

The last time I saw my mother was in December. After an all day flight from the West coast, she unloaded her impressively packed suitcase containing 6 - 8 outfits and 4 pairs of shoes to stretch a three-week visit.

Her mastery of packing is a result of having raised ten children who all demanded a bit of organization collectively and individually. Food and toys were rationed carefully just as our wardrobe options. We shared clothes for sleepovers, camping trips, and family visits, amounting to a few duffle bags amongst us. The parents were no exception. Presentable? Always. Designer label-wearers? Not so much.

Mom dressed herself in trends fitting of the era, mostly in flowing long dresses if memory serves. She would deny claims as ever being a trendsetter, but has recalled fondly images of a more fashionable young adult before entering motherhood. She hailed from a family of socialites who entertained regularly, where the ladies adorned themselves in costume jewelry and form-fitting cocktail dresses all appropriate of course by Texas standards. My grandmother - a wife, mother, and businesswoman - dressed my mom and her sisters in petticoats and delicate laced gloves for Sunday Mass. Mom once confided in me she dreamed of being Rosalind Russell's version of Auntie Mame – always coiffed and dressed for a party.

That dream may not have been realized but mom can hardly fault herself. As with all mothers of the world, investing in clothes – and just the act of shopping for herself – becomes less a priority. The stress of finding time and the finances to keep current gives new meaning to the word "comfortable." Mothers find comfort in a tracksuit because it requires no dry cleaning. Why button when you can slip on elastic waist jeans? Saturday Night Live immortalized the "Mommy Jeans" and fashion designers responded feverishly by introducing hip designer options at more affordable prices (thank you, GAP).

Regardless of our family's meager means, mom always evoked elegance. Sure, she may have felt crazy on in the inside (did I mention that she raised ten kids?!), but her appearance signaled a different message. Her slender silhouette akin to Katharine Hepburn accommodated a classic look of tailored blouses and trousers and dresses on special occasions. Even her yoga uniform of leotard and tights and a turban-like head wrap oozed chic. We knew we were in the presence of someone grand, confident, and strong. It was in those early years that I learned the difference between fashion and style.

Now that her children are leading adult lives, she has resurrected the image of a modern-day Auntie Mame. Albeit resigned to a palette of black, grey and white, she sports designer jeans, heels, and the occasional bold-colored blouse. Her signature look; however, is jewelry. Each piece – ring, necklace or bracelet – draws you into her world to discover a woman who constantly gives and produces life. Just the way Auntie Mame lived (life is truly a banquet).

Mom and I braved the cold weather that December to participate in a shared favorite activity: shopping. She was my Fashion Guru. I sounded like a client questioning colors, prints, and shapes. "Perhaps, you may want to try a bolder shade to enhance your coloring," she would respond with diplomacy. In between changing rooms, we exchanged views on what constituted as age-appropriate clothing, the demand for green production in the fashion industry, and if yellow was going to be the new black this spring season.

We had a wonderful visit, as to be expected. However, our goodbye brought a sense of comfort. My mom left proud of my success to date and from her, I realized that I still had lots to learn about style and grace.

Happy Mother's Day, mom.

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