The Real Reason Your Style Suffers After Having Kids

Photographed by CJ Isaac.
When I was gifted my first pair of maternity leggings, it was a hand-me-down from one of my most well-styled friends. The one who always had shoes to go with her bag, and earrings that matched her hand-scape — and everything always looked new. "You're never going to want to take them off," she promised. I think sending them halfway across the country to me was the only way she could be sure she'd finally stop wearing them.
I’m not saying my friend has “let herself go” (because, first of all, that phrase can F off). But she has definitely calmed down with the boutique-trolling, and instead finds a cute item here and there while shopping at Target, for her family. A mom myself now, I can understand that shift in priorities. If any of us has slacked in the self-styling department after kids, it isn't because maternity panties hold the secret to true lusty appeal, and leggings are the best pants. And it’s not because we want to look the part — like a martyr who is generally a disaster.
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It's because money. And time, too. And not feeling we have enough of either, nor the right to use them the same way we did before.
Fashion resale site ThredUp released statistics today around women's shopping habits across the country, and its survey found a whole lot of "mom guilt." Moms are 48% more likely than non-moms to feel shopping guilt, and two out of three moms reportedly feel it.
"Not to be such a psychologist about it," says Jessica Zucker, PhD, who is indeed a psychologist specializing in maternal health, "but to me these numbers are kind of troubling, because it seems that it's more of an identity crisis than it is a simple matter of buying stuff. Women are having difficulty knowing how to best take care of themselves in the midst of new motherhood."
It's not hard to understand how we'd get there: Why would I buy myself pants with hems and pockets and a zipper, in a style that's probably only going to last another two months, when they cost as much as about three months' of diapers? (Even if I can afford both.) Plus, that tent-y trapeze dress I wore for the last month of pregnancy two years ago still fits...it’s just a little more tent-y now.

I'd like to remind moms that even though there are endless responsibilities and things that now come 'before' them, it's just as important to take care of themselves as before.

Dr. Jessica Zucker
Along with the survey, ThredUp has released a campaign of videos called "Splurge Responsibly," which show its site as the cure-all for this calculus. The jumpsuit that brings your sexy back is only $33 in one. You can wear those stretch pants ev-er-y-where, promises another.
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It's not just "an excuse" that moms are lacking. It's time. The majority of women look at an item of clothing multiple times before clicking buy, but ThredUp found moms are twice as likely as non-moms to look at something five or more times before purchasing it. Raise your hand if you know a mom who can spend five times as long shopping as she did before having kids.
"We were surprised to see just how much stress and indecision mothers in particular feel when deciding to buy something for themselves," says ThredUp head of brand Jenna Bray.
For me, the single biggest lifestyle change has been the end of that certain kind of spontaneity that often found me shopping just because. The momentary decision to walk the long way home, and maybe stop in a store I happened upon, and maybe spend two hours and a couple bucks there, is just not possible — for me, as a working mom, right now.
But it's not just me, is it? ThredUp found that 70% of moms shop less impulsively than they did before having kids. (Dr. Zucker points out the very obvious reason for shopping less, and less impulsively, which is the mounting expenses you never had to worry about pre-kid. Sometimes the choice literally is between diapers and a for-fun new outfit, and in that case the choice isn't one at all.)
If every purchase has to be planned and considered and mulled over five times as I weigh whether or not I deserve it, or if I deserve it more than my daughter deserves that block of time with me or a bump in our savings for her future, I’m probably not going to make many purchases. It’s just harder to convince myself that it’s okay.
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But motherhood shouldn't be a maze in which we lose ourselves, says Dr. Zucker. "I'd like to remind moms that even though there are endless responsibilities and things that now come 'before' them, it's just as important to take care of themselves as before — if not more. If we don't tend to ourselves, we're not going to have much to give."
It's not as if we have to shop for ourselves for the sake of our kids, but it's at least worth trying to shake off some of the unhelpful feelings when we want to click buy. And that friend of mine? She never asked for those leggings back, and still looks cool-girl great, scummy mom sweatpants and all. I can only hope she wears them guilt-free.
Welcome to Mothership: Parenting stories you actually want to read, whether you're thinking about kids or not, from egg-freezing to taking home baby and beyond. Because motherhood is a big if — not when — and it's time we talked about it that way.
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