If your perception of Brooklyn Decker begins and ends with her bikini-modeling on magazine covers, there’s a lot the 29-year-old mom would like you to know. This week she’s debuting Finery, an online tool that’s the closest you’ll come to having Cher Horowitz’s closet-computer in your pocket; she serves as its chief design officer. Today, she participated in a Refinery29 panel about millennial women’s divergent paths to and away from motherhood, and Friday brings the debut of the third season of Grace and Frankie, the Netflix show on which she plays a mom wrestling her own have-it-all demons.
When I speak to her by phone, it’s 8:30 a.m. in San Francisco, and she’s in the backseat of a car with Whitney Casey, founder and CEO of Finery, about to take part in the panel. They’ve been up for three hours already, fueled by cookies and coffee, and no less chipper for it. In this moment, Decker could be a poster child for “having it all,” but she’d rather take the pressure off.
That's why their app is pointed at that familiar fashion foe: I have a full closet and nothing to wear. What sets it apart on the now-crowded market of fashion and shopping apps is that you don't have to sit there photographing everything you own before it's usable. ("If the idea is to save you time, why would you go through such a grueling manual process to put everything in a consolidated place?" Decker asks, intuiting exactly why all those apps you've downloaded never get used.) With access to your email, Finery surfaces all of your ecomm purchases and pulls them into your wardrobe. Then, with a Pinterest-like browser plug-in, you can add items to a wish list whenever you're clicking around online.
As Casey explains that women spend 2.5 hours a week outfit-planning, time we'd all like to get back, Decker interjects: “You can’t leave your house naked! I mean, you can, but you might end up in jail.” It’s a split-second repartee that shows just how she’s able to keep up with comedy legends like Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, and her onscreen sister, the deliciously deadpan June Raphael.
Ahead, my conversation with Decker about the universal struggle of getting dressed, the truth about "having it all," and why you’ll never see her son’s face on social media.
Something my own mom has told me is that it’s almost unfair that women have to achieve in every area of their lives at the exact same time: In your 20s to 30s, it can feel like everything from career success to establishing relationships to making decisions about kids all has to happen at once. Have you experienced that all-at-once pressure?
"I think women are taught, and now more than ever and there’s something beautiful about it, that we do have to do it all. We have to be a good spouse, and be a good friend, and a mother, and have an incredibly thriving career. And that’s real, but I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing as long as we can let ourselves know we can succeed at everything, and it doesn’t exactly have to be at the same time. So there is pressure to do it all, but the narrative that we can start changing, and that I do see changing, is that you can have it all, you don’t have to do it all at once."
We’re in this interesting time when I think women want to hold onto this feminist ideal that, ‘I’ll still be exactly the same when I have kids; my identity, my personal style, my aesthetic is so well-formed.’ But then when you have a baby that may not be the case. I think that’s when tools like Finery can come in handy. Does that struggle to maintain a prior look or lifestyle resonate with you?
"I will say as a fairly new mom, I would absolutely love to leave the house every day in sweats, because I’m covered in drool, or spit-up, or baby food, and if I didn’t have a tool like Finery, that has been built for a woman on the go, I don’t know that I actually would look presentable when I’m going into these VC meetings... [Luckily] we have a lot of tech supporting women now so that we can be as efficient as these societal pressures say we should be.
"As far as style changes go, without something like Finery, I would probably leave — I actually have left my house with boogers in my hair, and whose boogers are they? Are they my boogers? Are they my child’s?"
In the statistics you’re about to hear about at the Her Brain presentation, we found that two-thirds of moms feel like keeping up with their own interests and activities during motherhood is selfish. I think shopping and spending time on style gets wrapped up in that, which is why we have this trope of the hot-mess mom. What do you think about that selfishness idea, and where and how we fit in caring about our looks?
"I absolutely feel that as a mother, because you feel like if you are at home all the time, with your baby — I have a lot of friends who are stay-at-home moms, and before I went back to shooting Grace and Frankie, I effectively was a stay-at-home mom — you know, you ask yourself: Am I setting a good example for my baby? Am I doing enough for myself? Am I being a good spouse? And then when you actually go and do something for yourself, or you go to work, or you go have lunch with a friend, it’s like, oh I should really be home, I should be with my baby. But with tools like ours, you don’t have to be the quote-unquote shlubby mom. If that’s what you want to be: awesome, more power to you. But you can absolutely be an attentive mother, and go to work, and kick ass at work, and come home, and have a glass of wine with your husband, and be on a phone call for a friend… you CAN do it all (as I’m convincing myself that I can)."
You’ve spoken before about being pregnant and then breast-feeding onset, meanwhile you were playing a woman struggling with the decision to be a stay-at-home mom. How did you navigate your own decision about working or not working, and did your character’s lifestyle influence yours at all?
"I think stay at-home-moms get a bad rap. I think it’s an absolutely thankless job. Women stay at home, they tend to their children all day, which is lovely and luxurious, but it’s difficult work... My character is brilliant, hardworking, and has an Ivy League journalism degree...you can do all these things and choose that it’s best for your family to stay home. We tap into how complex that can be for women. Maybe it helps that our show is run by women, but we don’t just put her in a box. She has a life, she goes out with her sister, she’s there for her family, so I love that we get to celebrate that a little bit.
"For me, since I grew up with a mom who worked grueling hours, literally saving lives as an ICU nurse, she instilled in me at a very early age that I needed to work. And when I had a baby, [while filming] I didn’t have a choice, I went back to work in three weeks. For me, I think after you have a baby, you’re in this sort of weird utopia. Your hormones are crazy, you’re going on no sleep, and to be thrown into work during that time, I actually felt like Superwoman. Eventually reality came crashing down, and sleep deprivation hit me about two months later, but it made me feel really good. It was incredibly empowering to go back to work, and also be a mom, and a wife, and balance everything."
Do you have any specific pointers on how you found that balance? That’s a struggle that women in any industry can relate to.
"Quite frankly, I have help. I have a nanny. I have a wonderfully supportive husband [Andy Roddick] who is retired from his first career. I’m lucky to be allowed to go and work because I have support at home, and by the way that doesn’t just come with the entertainment industry, or fame, or money. With my mom, that help came in the form of neighbors... Up until very recently, communities raised kids...
"I feel like because we’re so busy now, we’re losing a little bit of that, but I think women need help. Moms need help, and I don’t think anyone should be ashamed of that, whatever form it comes in, whether that’s sending your kid to daycare, whether that’s asking your best friend to babysit. I know that without childcare and a supportive spouse, and friends and family who love spending time with my child, there’s no way I’d be able to balance it all; there’s absolutely no way."
Something you mentioned earlier is that the women end up bearing the brunt of this. Especially now that we’re moving away from that "it takes a village" model and each family operates as a unit on its own. How did you and your husband work this out?
"It’s so fluid, it changes every day. We’re on call at all times, and if Andy’s jumping on a call, literally it’s like we’re in a wrestling situation — tap in, tap out. Sometimes I’m the one carrying the load of maintaining the house and maintaining the family, and making sure [18-month-old] Hank gets changed and fed, and sometimes, like this week, it’s on Andy. I think because we’ve become so independent as family units, people are afraid to ask for help because they feel the need to look like they can do it all. Asking for help is the only way."
Shonda Rhimes had this great quote about how she does it all: “I don't. If you see me succeeding in one area of my life, it means I’m failing at the other. If I’m filming a scene late into the night, it means I’m missing bath time and bedtime. If I’m sewing my kid’s Halloween costume, it means I’m skipping a meeting or blowing off a rewrite.” Does that feel like your life right now?
"I love it. But I feel like we have to take that pressure off of ourselves. Just because you can’t make it to bath time doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother. It doesn’t mean your kid’s upset with you. They may be super proud or excited that you’re at work kicking ass."
So take failing out of it.
"Yes, exactly. I respect that she said that, it’s incredibly brave, and it takes the pressure off of doing it all. But, you know, my mom was incredibly present and was around for so much, but because she worked a full-time job, she couldn’t be present at everything, and I was unbelievably proud of what she was doing. I never resented her for that. I never remember feeling a longing or disappointment about that."
How do you manage being in the spotlight when it comes to your son? Whether that’s sharing photos on social media or not, guarding him from paparazzi or not. Everyone does this differently.
"We live in Austin, Texas! That’s the biggest thing. It’s harder because we have to be on call, and I do have to uproot my family when it’s time to shoot, but we choose to live outside of Los Angeles and New York. I love both of those cities, but for me that was a really manageable way to give my child a life that felt quote-unquote normal. Not that you can’t have a normal life in L.A., but when you’re in the entertainment industry it just sort of invites that stuff that can complicate things or be harmful.
"As far as pictures go, if my kid wants to be a CIA agent, I don’t want to get in the way of that. I don’t ever want to show his face, just in case he wants to go into the FBI. I feel like I have to protect his identity. And also, that’s his choice. In my opinion, as far as putting his face out there, that’s his choice, and that’s hard, because as mom you want to share every video, and every photo, and every snuggle, but ultimately your digital footprint is a permanent record these days and not something that can be erased. I think the image of him that’s out there should be his own."
Explain how you had all this — how you had moms — in mind, with Finery.
"As we’ve been talking about, we’re doing it all: We’re going to weddings, we’re going to work events, we’re going to our kids’ soccer game, we’re trying to meet our friends for lunch — we want you to spend time the way you want.
"There are so many services that manage your calendar, that manage your travel, and there’s nothing to manage your wardrobe. And if we spend more on our clothing than we spend on our college education, why isn’t that out there? It’s because, typically speaking, women aren’t the ones making the decisions when it comes to funding startups. So we are a startup run by women, funded by women, founded by women, to help women get their time back."
Below, an exclusive behind-the-scenes video from Brooklyn while on-set at Grace and Frankie.
Correction: An earlier version quoted Brooklyn Decker as saying, "you might end up ill," instead of "in jail." We regret the error.