Style and the Stay-at-Home Mom: Building the Uniform, Part 1

I began working on my “mom uniform” a few months ago, frustrated at having lots and lots of clothes but nothing to wear (as described in last Saturday’s post).   I decided to build a functional wardrobe, and not collect pieces at random as I had done for years.

Mary, of With My Sisters, has a very helpful,  ongoing series on building a wardrobe on a budget.  I’ve drawn lots of inspiration from that and also from Audrey’s series on Building a Wardrobe From Scratch, over at Putting Me Together.  Both ladies say an initial step is to make a plan, to determine what you really need for your lifestyle.  (And here I was, all my life, thinking the first step was to browse the 70% off rack at Target!)

This is what I think my ideal wardrobe would look like:

  • 7 casual outfits, comfortable enough for chores around the house and presentable enough for being seen in public
    • 4 pairs of pants would be enough here, but
    • 7 separate tops are ideal because the kiddos leave so many mementos of themselves on me throughout the day
  • 4 church outfits
  • 2 dressier outfits (weddings, fancy parties, etc.)
  • 1 or 2 “going out”/ “dressy casual” outfits (I have so much trouble with this category).

Another crucial step  is cleaning out your closet.  I made a big purge of summer clothes last year (no pictures though), and one of winter clothes this year.

Mary describes the process well on her blog.  I did my big closet clean-out before she wrote her post, but I pretty much followed the process she describes.

The most crucial questions for me were

(a) Does it fit? and more fundamentally

(b) Whether or not it fits, would I enjoy wearing it?

I was surprised at how often the answer to (b) was “No.”

Here are my rejects:

Casual sweaters and tops, all either uncomfortable, unflattering, ill-fitting, or pilled.  Plus a truly ancient denim skirt.

Casual sweaters and tops, all either uncomfortable, unflattering, ill-fitting, or pilled. Plus a truly ancient denim skirt.  (I later decided to give the cardigan at the top left another try.)

An assortment of (mostly) old work clothes.  Any guesses what my color story used to be?

An assortment of (mostly) old work clothes. Any guess what my go-to color scheme used to be?

I bought the top on the left at Target when I was a few months post-partum and DESPERATE for something that fit.  I hated it almost as soon as I bought it but kept wearing it for months.

I bought the shirt on the left at Target when I was a few months postpartum and DESPERATE for something that fit. I hated it almost as soon as I bought it but kept wearing it almost every day for months.  Good riddance!

Assorted not-me tops.  I love the colors of the green shirt in the middle, but the style was uncomfortable and unflattering.

Assorted bad-idea tops. I love the colors of the green shirt in the middle, but the style was uncomfortable and unflattering.

A skirt and assorted pants that were old, old, old, never did fit really well and never will.

A skirt and assorted pants that were old, old, old.  Most never did fit really well and probably never will.

A pair of Sevens for $6 at Goodwill!  $6 too much, as it turns out, since the rise is ridiculously low and I will never ever wear them.

A pair of Sevens for $6 at Goodwill! . . .  They were six dollars too much, as it turns out, since the rise is ridiculously low and I will never ever wear them.

What’s amazing to me is how many of these items I bought at thrift stores, consignment stores, or on super-duper clearance but never really liked.   I wish I hadn’t been so “thrifty” and had bought just a few nice items instead.  I probably would have spent less money in the long run.

At the end of this process, I had whittled down my cold-weather wardrobe so that it all fit here:

My tops, skirts, dresses and jackets, plus all my shoes, all hang on my side of the closet.

My tops, skirts, dresses, jackets, and shoes all fit on my side of the closet.

Some jeans and sweaters are on the bottom right shelf.  Gym clothes, underwear, and night clothes are in the drawers.

Jeans, sweaters, and sweatshirts are on the bottom right shelf. Gym clothes, underwear, and night-clothes are in the drawers.  You can see my rejects in the box on the floor, awaiting a trip to the consignment shop.

Summer clothes and maternity/post-partum clothes are stored away in bins.  Also (I admit), I have ten or so items hanging in my daughter’s closet: things I really like but that don’t fit now, plus some suits and blazers for the occasional times I need to look professional.

Once I cleared away all of the items that (a) didn’t fit well, (b) I didn’t like, or (c) weren’t appropriate for my life, it was pretty easy to put together an everyday “uniform” mostly from items I already had.

For the first wardrobe category–my everyday outfits–I’ve assembled these:

IMG_1284

Plus jeans.  I’ve decided that right now I want to wear blue jeans every day.  Boring perhaps, but it works for me.  Finding the right blue jeans, though, has been an ongoing process that is anything but boring.   I’ll describe that in a separate post.

Everything is machine washable (crucial, crucial, crucial) and comfortable enough that I don’t mind wearing it all day long.  Ideally nothing would need to be ironed, but I make an exception for the chambray button-up.  Usually, though, I wear it about once a week and can get away with washing it every other time.  So I only have to iron every two weeks.  😉

Here’s how it might work on a typical day:

When I get dressed in the morning (sometimes not until late morning but oh well), I can grab a pair of jeans and a top (or sweater/top combo) easily, without having to think about it.

Woo hoo!  Dressed.

Woo hoo! Dressed.

If you knock on my door in the middle of the day, I’ll probably look like this:

Just call me Mrs. Joe Gargery

Just call me Mrs. Joe Gargery

But if I’m going out, it only takes a few minutes to pull myself together because I’m already wearing real clothes!  Brilliant, right?  😉

IMG_1551

Today was chilly and we were going to the playground, so I put on a navy corduroy blazer over my cardigan and added a pink scarf and a black hat (because brown, navy and black totally work together, right?):

IMG_1553

And there are some lots of days when the girls are uncooperative and we need to leave ten minutes ago, and all I can manage is this:

IMG_1560

But hey, it’s better than pajama pants and Crocs!

I’m not looking to make it on anyone’s best-dressed list.  I still have so much to learn about dressing well.  But I’m happy with the progress I’ve made, so I share it with you.  If you have any comments or suggestions I’d love to hear them.  (If you think it’s hopeless and I should just give up now, well, just keep it to yourself.)

In my next post in this series, I’ll give more details of my current wardrobe and some thoughts on how I’d like to improve it.

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25 thoughts on “Style and the Stay-at-Home Mom: Building the Uniform, Part 1

  1. This is excellent! 70% off rack at target is how I normally still pick my clothes. I really love the whole uniform idea though, and actually taking the time to figure it what I like (but I’m always waiting to lose those last eight pounds
    before I buy anything.
    Also, love ur photo shoot, totally illustrates it!

  2. This is so helpful! I really love how you popped on the boots, scarf, and blazer, and it looked so awesome! This is my problem. I have the jeans, the reasonably cute tops, but the outerwear isn’t as polished. Very much love. (and this English teacher loves your shout-out to Mrs. Joe! I am quite convinced the apron is all you have in common, however!)

  3. “What’s amazing to me is how many of these items I bought at thrift stores, consignment stores, or on super-duper clearance but never really liked.”

    This. This. A thousand times this.

  4. Thanks for the shout out, Laura! It looks live you have been BUSY! I’ve been meaning to recommend this book – It’s So You (Mary Sheehan Warren) – for awhile, it has tons of helpful, very practical info in it. This book is actually what started me on my whole sartorial journey…

  5. enjoyed reading this – i do the same thing, except i have to make a list of all my outfits so i will not forget! i really like the part about not trying to make a best dressed list just trying to be your best. very encouraging!! you look great!

  6. Reading your efforts to “fix” your wardrobe is kind of getting me down. For 2 reasons: 1. you “middle of the day/haven’t pulled myself together” look is my “pulled myself together” look. That’s all there is. I don’t have/don’t wear those cute necklaces or scarfs or hats that put that extra cuteness on it. There’s no accessories. There’s just a shirt and jeans. Plus I wear my giant Patriots coat all winter and look basically like a hippie boy with my scraggly-long hair that I never ever do anything with. Ever.
    2. I don’t even have an excuse! I don’t have a 4-year-old who knows what she wants and when she wants it, or a 1-year-old who is still in the please-don’t-kill-yourself stage of life with all those outlets and sharp corners around.

    • Eileen, (a) I should show you pictures of how I dressed at 22 b/c you are miles and miles ahead, and (b) you’re a college student! you dress the way all college students do and (c) you are young and cute and skinny and therefore look great no matter what you wear! I have to work harder b/c of the effects of the 4 and 1 year olds you mentioned. 😉

      • I think you’re forgetting that I in fact knew you when you were 22, and I still think you dressed well! 🙂 But that is true about the college student part. I don’t wear sweats to class, and that is definitely a win. Wait a second! As I was typing that I just remembered you HAD to look all good and dressed up when you were in college! All the more proof that you WERE well dressed when you were in college! 😉

    • Another difference: as a college student you have to deal with being broke, whereas Laura has unlimited access to all of the money I make. 🙂

  7. Agree, agree, agree on the thrift store and saving money thing. I’ve had fun doing the thrift thing in order to find something to “fix” with the sewing machine, but I am looking at it as a hobby more than anything.

    I think ultimately just biting the bullet and INVESTING in a good article of clothing is the best way to go.

    Do I follow this all the time? Not at all; however, I need to do some closet culling as well so I will probably be following the big sister’s example.

  8. Do you ever read Hallie Lord’s Moxie Wife (moxiewife.com)? She’s a big fan of the mom uniform. You look great, and I love this philosophy. Now if only I had a husband and kids to go with it. :/

  9. I love this! I’ve been reading With My Sisters lately and getting some great advice. I’ll be following you now too! I actually was inspired to pare down my outfits and create a capsule wardrobe (a la Francine Jay) where everything goes with everything else. But maybe I will start with this method so I can begin without actually shopping. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks, Micaela! After your comment, I looked up Francine Jay for the first time. Wow! That is minimalism beyond anything I had envisioned. I think I would get bored. And anyway, yeah, starting with what you already owned is more economical and “green.” Let me know if you blog about it . . . .

  10. Pingback: Top Posts of 2014 | This Felicitous Life

  11. I am 54 years old and have lost 60 pounds since last June. I have 6 more pounds or so to go before I reach my goal weight. I had several sizes in my wardrobe. I got rid of the two largest sizes leaving me with mostly size large clothes, but now I’m in a size medium. I started from there by weeding out stuff I don’t like and is worn out. I picked up some thrift store clothes, but my husband brought to my attention that we really can’t afford to do more right now. I am now doing sewing adjustments to clothes I have.
    I have been using the principles of color taught in Color Me Beautiful. I have a skin tone of a Winter and look best in hot pink, black, deep grey, stark white, and mod blue. The interesting thing is that I’ve always been attracted to those colors.
    I came to your site to get an idea of a basic wardrobe for stay at home Moms, because the Color Me Beautiful book only discusses wardrobes for the corporate working woman. Thank you for your tips. I think my biggest key at this point is going to be making or buying some jeans and jean skirts to make the rest that I have work.

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