THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH
by Kate Finnigan, Fashion Features Director
24 JANUARY 2016
If you’re a woman interested in fashion, the chances are that at some point you’ve looked in the mirror and fretted that you look 'mumsy’. No matter if you’re a mother or not, no matter how much you worship your own dear mama, that fear, rooted in who-knows-what existential angst, is real and so is the instinct to fight it. “Dressing like a mum”, unfair, unkind and unsubstantial a notion that it may be, is about as cool as dancing like a dad.
Or is it? One of the joys of the digital age is that whatever your views happen to be, you can now easily find a platform and an audience to support them. And there’s a rising wave of fashionable mothers with blogs and Instagram accounts attacking the cliché that mothers can’t 'do’ style - and they’ve got the selfies to prove it. Zoe de Pass, a 35-year-old mother of two children under four, is at the forefront of the trend. A year and a half ago she started an Instagram feed called Dress Like A Mum, which led to a blog that has led to an agent that she is hoping will lead, as these things must, to Dress Like A Mum becoming 'a big brand’.
In the meantime she has over 14 thousand followers on Instagram who applaud her daily photographs of the fashionable outfits she wears – “I’m renowned for wearing dungarees” - and the comical postures in which she shows them off – lungeing in leather trousers, for example. “I have no problem laughing at myself,” she says.
But it comes from a serious place. A former digital strategist for an advertising agency, De Pass had previously worked on a project studying the 'mum demographic’ and the perceptions big brands have of mothers. “I found there was a big disconnect from high street retailers between what they were doing and how they were catering to mums,” she says. “A shop that sold quite cool clothes would treat its maternity wear as an afterthought and yet this was potentially the same customer.”
After the birth of her first child she also found it hard to take comments on her appearance in relation to her new status. “When you’re a mum you get judged a lot,” she says. “'You look like a mum’, 'You don’t look like a mum’. It doesn’t stop.”
With judgements such as these ringing in her ears, De Pass started to search phrases like 'mum style’ on Google. “All the connotations were negative,” she says. “It was so dated. I thought, 'I don’t know any mums who act or dress like this. I want to turn it around.’” And so the hashtag #dresslikeamum was born.
In fact, the hipsterization of mum style – or at least a rose-tinted vintage version of it - had already begun. In 2014, Topshop launched a new jean - a high-waisted, loose-legged cut in rigid denim with roll-ups, to give the authentic appearance of those stiff jeans women wore in the 1970s and 80s. For some reason – probably because the buyers and designers were in their 30s and in possession of nostalgic school gate memories – these were given the moniker of 'mom jeans’, targeted not at mothers but at Topshop’s core 20-something customer. And it’s a look that’s taken off. This month, Vogue declared the rigid jean 'in’ and the skinny 'out’ and for this season Topshop has 25 different 'mom jean’ options available. You can also buy the Mom short, now updated with a side split – which is not a styling detail that will be seized upon by any mother I know.
Meanwhile, the status of mothers in the fashion world is possibly at an all-time high. Earlier this month the Russian street style star and new mother Miroslava Duma launched a website called The Tot, with a mission to “improve the lives of tots, mamas and mamas-to-be”. Dolce & Gabbana’s AW 15 collection, Viva la Mamma, was dedicated to 'mothers of the world’, with an array of highly feminine garments in whites and pinks, some smothered in blown up prints and embroidered versions of children’s drawings. Saccharine perhaps, but it went down a storm.
Some of the biggest fashion brands in the world are run by mothers: Victoria Beckham and Stella McCartney both have four children apiece; Claire Waight-Keller at Chloe is a mother of three; and Phoebe Philo at Celine has two children and persuaded the house to move its studio from Paris to London so she didn’t have to travel far from them for work. Between them these women have taken the reigns from the male fashion designers who used to control the big houses, driving forward fashion that is female friendly, even motherhood friendly - let’s not forget, it was Phoebe Philo who reinvented the fluffy bedroom slipper as something cool and minimal, a wry nod to mothers on the school run if ever we saw one. And they are wise to. It’s well known that mothers hold the purse power in most households and they’re not simply spending their money on washing powder and pasta. Recent research by Mintel indicated that in the past three years, 49 per cent of British mothers with children under the age of 16 have purchased designer clothing – including shoes and underwear – a rise of five per cent.
Tamara Sender, Mintel’s senior fashion analyst, suggests that the continuing trend for older women to have babies is changing the market. “They’re in a better financial position [than mothers of previous decades] and have more money to spend on updating their wardrobe and buying designer labels.” Fashion brands dismiss 'mum style’ at their peril. These are the women now buying all the cool, expensive clothes. Not the 20-somethings who are, after all, so saddled with university debt they’ve had to move back in with their mommas.