You can blame my mother for my lifelong track record of great outfits. Since the day I was born, everything about my appearance — from the bows on my head to the frilly dresses I wore to family events — was meticulously planned by my mom. Every back-to-school season, she’d pick out ribbons and beads to make me headbands that matched my school uniform, and she would pick out fabrics for us to wear in the form of mommy-and-me dresses. I can’t remember a time in my life when fashion wasn’t part of my life. It wasn’t a vanity thing, but rather a tool my mom used to teach me how to navigate the world as a woman, who would need to get clear about who she was and where she wants to be really fast. She always taught me how to look my best, whatever that meant to me — even when I preferred sneakers to her beloved heels or all-black outfits to her often vibrant palette.
The relationship I have with my mom revolves around this shared love. When I was a teenager, we’d take our weekly shopping trips to the local mall where I’d pick out outfits for her to try on and she’d play stylist with me. When I moved out of her apartment, she even gifted me a Vogue adult coloring book so we could bond over our amateur art at a distance. Loving fashion is how I love my mom.
With me in NYC and her in Puerto Rico, we’re mostly relegated to sharing #OOTD inspo on Pinterest and Instagram. But that changed when the pandemic led me to move in with her for five months in 2020.
Enthused by the promise of a return to IRL offices following vaccinations, we were both inspired to make clothes for work. I sent her inspiration photos of a few of Princess Diana’s monochrome suits and spent hours at the local fabric store, one of the few remaining in my hometown of Caguas, walking the aisles filled with organza, taffeta, silk, and cotton fabrics to find the perfect linen and polyester blends to make mix-and-matchable suits.
With $250, I was able to get fabrics to make an eight-piece capsule collection of back-to-work outfits that, to me, are priceless. But what really excited me was the opportunity to work with my mom again. Reflective of our new relationship as two adults, our fashionable connection is more collaborative than it was during my childhood. After years living in New York and writing about the fashion industry, I’m able to bring in an aesthetic sensibility that aligns with today’s runway and street style trends. Meanwhile, my mom’s unmatched sewing skills, which she’s mastered for over 30 years, helps turn my vision into real garments. If we were to do this full-time, I’d be a creative director and my mom would be the atelier’s premiére.
We’re not the only ones who have bonded this way. “Fashion is a big part of our relationship – we have gone through many chapters of our lives where fashion always played a different role,” said Charlotte de Geyter, who, along with her mother Bernadette de Geytor, launched the brand Bernadette in 2018. “Having our brand together is a completely new and thrilling chapter for our relationship.”
Based in Antwerp, the mother-daughter duo make ready-to-wear and home collections that exude the kind of classically chic aesthetic they channel in their personal lives, featuring lots of silky pajamas sets, bold skirts, and white button downs that feel more like family heirlooms than brand-new clothes.
As a lifelong fashion enthusiast and former buyer for Ralph Lauren, Bernadette archived many of the clothes from her youth, saving them for when Charlotte was old enough to appreciate and wear them. “If I look at these clothes she wore when she was in her twenties, I feel like I get to know her at a point in her life when I wasn’t born yet,” said Charlotte. Much like me and my mom, Charlotte and Bernadette spent Charlotte’s childhood perusing stores, particularly an Antwerp-based luxury boutique called Cocodrilo, where the two marveled at the shoes.
For Akua Shabak and Rebecca Henry of House of Aama, the fashion connection started with crafts. Henry grew up knitting and sewing, and she passed those skills along to her daughter.
“When [Akua] got to high school and started wanting to upcycle and create her own clothes, I was there to help her,” said Henry. The two started their brand as an Etsy store stocked with upcycled clothes they made. Now, they’re CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund honorees, with a New York Fashion Week show under their belt. While Henry may be the master sewer, Shabak is the creative leader, and according to her mother, the boss: “She’s the one who’s whipping everyone into shape.”
As folklorists and history enthusiasts, Shabak and Henry dive into their own familial heritage through their collections. Their debut lineup called “Bloodroot” took inspiration from their Southern lineage and the post-Antebellum period. Their latest collection “Salt Water” comments on the relationship many Black people have with water, from the painful and joyful to the religious and cultural. It focuses in particular on Black resort communities like Manhattan Beach in California and Martha’s Vineyard.
While my mom and I have not shown our collaborations at New York Fashion Week (yet!), the process of making clothes together for five months both challenged and connected us, deepening our relationship. We started with a gray checked two-piece shorts suit with oversized ‘80s padded shoulders. I was transported to my childhood whenever my mom would ask me to come into her sewing room to get fitted. Decades later, I still knew the drill: get undressed, stand patiently, watch out for sharp pins, and repeat. This time, I got comfortable enough to make suggestions to shorten the hemlines or place the button a little higher.
The rest of the suits happened quickly. My mom would lock herself for hours in her home atelier and would only pop out to ask me questions or ask me to come in to get fitted. She never presented the final garments on hangers; instead, she put them on her mannequin form for me to see if I wanted to make any changes. In a span of three months, she made four suits. Of course, she finished them off with her namesake logo on the pieces.
Through it all, I saw how much my mom still cared that my clothes express who I am. She was excited about the possibility of me going back to the office and parading her suits at New York Fashion Week. All these years later, she’s still using clothes to walk me through the reality of being a young woman.
When I packed the suits to head back to New York, I felt giddy at the thought of flaunting my mom’s clothes too, determined to care for them like I would a family heirloom. A few weeks later, I put on one of the suits — a monochrome, bright yellow two-piece — for a job interview over video chat. I felt as though my mom was launching me into the next phase of my adult life, and in the process, bonding us even more.