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Take It From Me

Mommy Chic

How to stay fashion forward when you’re no longer fancy free

In my twenties, I was the quintessential city girl, living in Boston’s Back Bay and shopping in all the trendy stores. Even after I met my husband, said goodbye to the roofdeck parties, and moved to the suburbs of Andover, I didn’t change my fashionista ways much—until I had kids. Then shopping was scheduled between nap times and feeding times. Comfy trousers replaced my BCBGs, and looser tops that couldn’t be ruined by spit-up replaced my fitted Burberry sweaters.

When I finally lost the baby weight and needed new clothing, I was faced with a very large question: Who was I now? Being a mother was definitely wonderful. But being fashion conscious had always been integral to my identity. Could sticky fingers coexist with Diane von Furstenberg? Through trial and error—plus the experience of having a second child and going through the process all over again—I’ve learned that motherhood and a sense of style can indeed be happily married. The trick is to follow a few simple guidelines.

First, know your body. Buy pieces that highlight the features you love and, if possible, minimize those you don’t. The greatest invention is the wrap top and dress. The shape is universally flattering, because it can accentuate your waist if you have one or give you one if you don’t. If there’s ruching (a kind of puckering along the seams), it’s even better. That touch can hide the “muffin top” tummy that may persist after pregnancy, regardless of how much weight you lose. Another brilliant invention is the Yummie Tummie, which Oprah has been touting lately. The top and the bottom of this miraculous garment are like those of a regular cotton tank top, but the middle is a smoothing band of nylon.

You need not buy clothes just because they’re in style. Here the recent babydoll trend comes to mind: it does nothing for those of us who have already had children and do not want to look as if we’re in a continual state of pregnancy. Leave this one to the leggy 20-year-olds. Similarly, high-waisted pants may be for you if your torso is long, but if it’s not, they can look like a shelf for your chest.

And remember that fit is essential to looking your best in your clothes. If the fit is not quite perfect, do not be afraid to have the garment tailored. Recommendations are the best way to find a tailor you can trust, so consult your friends. Once you have a prospect or two, ask them some questions. Can they do a jeans hem? This means that the hem of your shortened jeans will look exactly like the original. There is a different technique to tailoring jeans as opposed to regular pants, and you’ll want someone who has mastered it. You should also find out whether the tailor can take in both the waist and the seat of pants. That’s because the back of the pants can pucker when the waist is taken in—which means the seat must be taken in as well.

Even after the all-consuming infancy stage has passed, motherhood cuts into our shopping time and forces us to be practical. It becomes more important than ever to build a wardrobe with a strong foundation. Invest in six key items: sweaters, T-shirts, jeans, black pants, a neutral skirt, and a black dress. And these should be what I call “good pieces”—classic styles with a unique twist. In other words, clothes that are not generic but will not go out of fashion immediately. One of my own good pieces is a black-and-white knit print Diane von Furstenberg jacket with a slightly boxy shape that’s classic; it’s the print and fabric that make for the unique twist. I can wear this jacket with jeans, skirts, or pants, and it will be a staple in my closet for years.

Sweaters make the pursuit of good pieces especially fun, since they come in so many marvelous shapes and shades. Purple is a must-have color for fall. In a basic knit, it will both outlive the trend and mix and match with other pieces in your wardrobe. As for styles, the turtleneck is always versatile. This season, look for one with a dolman sleeve or a cowl neck to give it more personality. Just make sure you have one chunky, multitasking cardigan. It can double as a jacket on a cool day or serve as the ultimate cover-up for carpool (no one has to know that you have your pajama top on underneath).

T-shirts are the ultimate comfort staple. Choose ones that have interesting details, like a keyhole opening, flutter sleeves, stripes, or a band at the bottom, and you will end up with outfits instead of glorified workout clothes.

Jeans are another story—select them with care. Jeans should be your best friend, but they’re so hard to shop for that you might feel they’re your worst enemy. My advice on how to weed through the jungle of options? Find a small store with a decent but not overwhelming selection, and ask a sales associate to help you decipher the differences and pull your sizes. Then give yourself enough time to try on many pairs. A medium to dark wash is the most versatile color for dressing up or down. The boot cut is the most universally flattering shape. If you have larger thighs, stick to a wider leg. If you want the look of the skinny jeans but don’t have the legs to pull it off, try a straight leg. If your legs are short, don’t go too wide on the bottom. Women with a large rear might opt for medium-sized pockets centered on the seat, while those with a flat rear might find that pocket details like flaps make them look more filled out. When you’ve found the jeans of your dreams, be sure to wash them before you shorten them. They could shrink up to a quarter inch in the length.

Black pants are my go-to solution for any occasion. I will pair wide-leg black pants with a fitted BCBG halter for a night out with the girls, or with a brocade jacket from Paris for a big event with my husband. Find a pant that not only fits you well but drapes well, and choose lightweight wool with a little bit of stretch to keep the shape. Stay away from stiff fabrics that don’t move with your body. Apply these same rules to a neutral skirt—which may be black or dark—and it will be just as versatile, paired with heels, ballet flats, or boots to change the look.

The little black dress, as cliché as it sounds, really is a must. This is the dress that can save you from nearly every fashion faux pas. It should, once again, fit well and be fairly basic so that you can modify the look for different occasions. Because it’s black, it may be the perfect foil for your favorite red shoes or the leopard print bag that doesn’t seem to go with anything else.

The main principle is to buy clothes you love—and nothing else. You’ll end up with a whole wardrobe of things that make you feel great. Above all, don’t forget that true style is a reflection of the self. And while it’s not psychotherapy, it’s amazing what a nice outfit will do for your frame of mind and your confidence.

These days, I have a pretty terrific closet filled with clothes that reflect the 30-something woman I am now. I am both a mother and the owner of a clothing store. When Ava, my oldest, visits me at work and gives me a hug that leaves a perfect chocolate handprint on my Rebecca Taylor pants, I am reminded of how lucky I am.

AMY (Gottesman) FINEGOLD, J93, the owner of Dresscode, in Andover, Massachusetts, says she always dreamed of opening a clothing store. “The satisfaction I receive from customers, who tell me I’ve helped them boost their confidence and their wardrobes, and from my five-year-old daughter, who tells me she loves to work at the store, is an amazing reward.”

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