I wear sweatpants in public on weekdays. They’re typically tattered, ordinarily stained, and only occasionally (every three days or so) freshly laundered. But they’re always comfy and easy—paired with a t-shirt, they’re the perfect uniform for a mom.
I hardly thought my attire offended anyone until recently, when a Brighton business owner called me on it.
Dressed in my beloved sweatpants and toting two children, I’d gone into her store in search of a birthday present. That’s imprecise. To be fair, I stumbled into her store frenetic and inarticulate after walking a half mile through cold wind and drizzle at a wide-eyed, easily distracted two-year-old’s pace (What’s this? Oooh, a rock! Look! Another rock! What’s this? Oooh, a leaf!). My oily nose was runny, my greasy hair was windblown, and my coffee-stained white coat was stuffed with a three-month-old baby who erupted in a series of shrill screams as if I had just wrenched him away from his perfectly cool, calm, and fashionable mother. My two-year-old hung from my arm, his free arm windmilling this close to delicate merchandise arranged on glass shelves as he spun in uncoordinated semi-circles on one leg.
Instead of smiles, we were met with two perfectly plucked eyebrows raised over a set of bejeweled eyeglasses and a coarse Can I help you? emphasized in all the wrong places.
“Yes,” I answered breathlessly. “I’m looking for a birthday gift for my grandmother.”
“Our gifts are quite expensive. I assume you have a budget,” the woman remarked, looking me up and down.
At the time, I didn’t care to express my irritation. I purchased the first gift she recommended, and, before leaving, congratulated the woman on her beautiful store and wished her continued success.
Afterward, of course, I thought of every snarky remark I could have uttered. In one revised memory I ask, Was it the sweatpants that gave me away? In another I say, I suppose this isn’t the best time to show off my wedding band—the one my husband whittled from a quarter.
The Mommy Dress Code
While I’ve had fun reliving the incident, it made me wonder if I’m breaking some unsaid mommy dress code that endorses sweatpants only at the playground on Saturdays immediately following a work out.
A good look around revealed I’m not the only one dressed way down. Many Brighton moms sport wrinkled clothing, messy hair, and bare nails in public on weekdays. Others manage to put together a more presentable image, wearing jeans and cute blouses. And a handful are dressed so well and made up so thoroughly that I suspect child neglect.
Of course, I judged any woman who appeared more put together than me to make myself feel better: Heels! Really? On the playground in mulch at 10 a.m.!? Full make-up in the diaper aisle!? Curled hair at story time!?
Before my quick assumptions led to rude outbursts or filtered down to my impressionable sons, one of the women I had judged stopped my criticism in its tracks.
Fresh from my off-putting encounter with the business owner, I stood in a corner at the Imagination Station literally frowning upon women who seemed to have spent more quality time with their makeup mirror than with their children.
I sniggered as one woman, dressed to the nines in high-heeled knee-high boots and a dress, stumbled awkwardly after her toddler. And, to top it off, she was on her cellphone.
There I was—wearing pants I had rolled out of bed in for two consecutive days and a shirt smeared with one son’s puke and another’s snot—feeling so good about myself for putting my children first when the woman came close enough that I couldn’t help but eavesdrop.
“Just throw it in the oven and meet us here. I didn’t have time to change, so I’m out here in a dress and heels,” she said.
So there it is. Sweatpants might work for me, but they’re just not practical for every mom. In fact, some women save time for their children by not changing out of their dresses and heels and makeup into something more comfortable.
Other moms who can wear sweatpants all day every day choose not to as a way to maintain their own sanity. One mom I know posted on Facebook soon after she gave birth to her second child in two years: “Survived my first two days at home with two children under two. My non-negotiables for each day are for everyone to change from PJs into clothes and for me to put on some lip gloss and mascara. It might sound dumb, but it’s working for me.”
In the end, my hellish shopping experience was worth it. My grandmother loved her shiny, within-the-budget-of-a-sweatpants-wearing-wreck-of-a-mom birthday gift. The business owner undoubtedly loved her handful of cold, hard cash. And I learned to love my sweatpants all over again because it appears each mom has her own whatever-works-for-her dress code—even in public on weekdays.