shopping, showers & self-sacrifice: the lesson of the blue dress


Let me know if you’re guilty of this, moms: you shop sales racks looking for what you can get at a good price rather than what makes your heart sing. You buy things that seem like good bargains, even if they don’t look that great on you. And then you proceed to never wear them. Or you do wear them, out of necessity, and feel schlumpy the whole time.

Sound familiar?

I have given bags and bags full of said outfits to Goodwill over the past couple of years. Tops and pants and skirts and sweaters that were just so-so, but came at what I deemed to be the right price (i.e., the lowest price I could find) and “good enough” for me, since I’m home with my kids all day anyway. I focused on quantity–how many shirts can I get for X dollars?–over quality: how awesome can I feel for X dollars? And I passed over things I loved, but didn’t feel were affordable enough. Of course, the money I spent on the “value” outfits was wasted, since I never actually wore half of them. Wow, what a bargain!

Lately I’ve been thinking about how illogical my shopping habits have been. I don’t actually save money in the long haul when I buy cheap, unflattering things. I’d been confusing frugality with some twisted, frumpy sense of virtuosity. I realized that the most value-conscious choice is to buy things that are well-made, that will last…and that I love.

So I decided to try only buying things I look and feel fantastic in. This is more challenging than it sounds.

It means pretty much staying away from places like Target and Old Navy, where the clothes tend to look great on my teenage nieces but ridiculous on me.

It means shopping a lot less often, buying fewer things when I do shop, and taking better care of the things I purchase.

It means saving up for weeks, maybe months, and doing all my shopping for the season at once so I can make smart, coordinated wardrobe decisions…instead of picking up a $10 top here and a $12.99 (clearance price) pair of pants there and trying to cobble it all together somehow…(and usually failing).

But it also means feeling great in what I wear.

It was with this new attitude that I went shopping for my New York trip. I stayed away from the discount department stores and headed to Moxie’s Boutique, a cute store downtown that carries a mix of designers–not too expensive, but still more than I’m used to spending. I saw a dress in the window: a fabulous, electric-blue dress that I could tell would cling in all the places a year-post-baby mom wants a dress to cling and hide the areas she might want to disguise. I went in and found it in my size–success!

Still. The price. It cost more than I have spent on a single item of clothing since I bought my wedding dress. It was my entire conference clothing budget, right there in one dress, and here I’d been thinking maybe I’d luck out and find some great pants and a few tops on sale to round out my wardrobe. You know, those “practical” items I’d “get a lot of use out of” because I could “wear them to other stuff too” or maybe even use them for “hanging out around the house”, only chances are good I’d actually “figure out I hated them after all” and “end up shoving them to the back of the closet”…

Anyway, I grabbed a few less expensive things, hoping that they would magically look fantastic on me and I could forget the blue dress. I tried all the other outfits on first. They were okay.

Then I tried on the blue dress. And the clouds parted and the angels sang. I absolutely loved it. I loved the color, the way it fit, and the way I felt in it. I twirled in front of the mirror. I flipped and flounced. I got the saleslady’s opinion. She agreed, the dress was fantastic. So I handed her back the other things I’d tried on, took a deep breath, and bought the blue dress.

When I got to the conference, I got compliment after compliment on the dress. My confidence shot up. At the conference, there was a booth where you could sign up for a photo session with a photographer. I’ve needed a new professional headshot for years, and with my magical blue dress on, how could I go wrong? I signed up and out into the streets we went.

Yes, I felt a little goofy hamming it up on the corner of 45th and Madison in midtown Manhattan, but the photographer, Mark Bennington, did a great job keeping me at ease and making it fun. And so, in addition to all the more traditional headshot-style photos he took, I have a few sassy ones like this.

and this….

Thank you, blue dress!

I was musing on the Lesson of the Blue Dress when I got home and learned of a Facebook status update that’s been making its way around the mom world:

“I traded eyeliner for dark circles, salon hair cuts for ponytails, designer jeans for sweat pants, long hot baths for lucky if i get a shower, late nights for early morning cartoons, designer purses for diaper bags and I wouldn’t change a thing!! ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ Repost this if you don’t care what you gave up and will continue to give up for your children!”

Fellow moms, I have a problem with this kind of self-congratulation disguised as self-deprecation.

It’s not that I have anything against pony tails or diaper bags. I love pony tails. They’re cute and practical. Ditto diaper bags. I’m also not negating that motherhood is time-consuming and shifts a woman’s priorities (not to mention her budget) in a major way.

It’s just the idea that a pony tail is a sacrifice motherhood demands. That our kids are somehow better off if we live in sweats. The thing is, our kids did not ask us to give up our purses or our daily showers. Going without a bubble bath doesn’t make us better mothers.

Maybe designer jeans never were your thing anyway (they never were mine) or you couldn’t care less about giving up eyeliner. Then it’s no big deal. If you’re comfy in your sweats, fantastic! But unwashed hair or sloppy clothes isn’t a sign of virtuousness. Sacrificing the things that make us feel feminine or happy or heck, just human simply because we are mothers isn’t helping anyone in the long run.

I think that moms have a hard time investing in ourselves. Whether it’s spending more money on the clothes that we feel great in, or taking the time to do our hair, anything that could be considered shallow or frivolous or even overly feminine is supposed to fly out the window once we take on the Grave, Deep, and Meaningful job that is motherhood. We’re not really women anymore, we’re like asexual, frizzy-haired superheroes who live to sacrifice everything–even small things like showers, for crying out loud–for our children.

In my blue dress and fresh-from-the-salon hair and makeup, I felt pretty. Confident. Yes, even happier. I can’t dress like that everyday…in fact, right now I am wearing cords, a t-shirt, and not a lick of cosmetics–but it was a powerful reminder that what’s on the outside does effect the inside, and that I am deserving of the investment.

There’s nothing wrong with being a mom who likes designer jeans. Or who takes time for her daily bubble baths. Or who applies eyeliner. Or refuses to carry a diaper bag (ever noticed that diapers fit just fine in purses?) Or who, like me, decides to splurge on something as selfish as a dress she feels fantastic in.

We’re worth it. I promise. And you know, I think our kids would agree.

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