A friend of mine once hosted a party themed to "dress like your mother the year you were born". The theme was designed to promote a communal sigh at the dagginess of times gone by. "Oh how we've evolved," we all thought as we imagined the ludicrous ensembles we'd need to curate for the event.
I launched into the research process - digging through shoeboxes full of old photos. Mum, the year I was born. 1978. I found a photo of Mum and some friends at the beach. A beautiful round-edged, Kodachrome picture - with the look that every second iPhone app tries to recreate. Mum is leaning back on the sand. She has big hair, big sunglasses, and high-waisted jeans. She looks relaxed. Cool. She looks, well, like me and my buddies round about now.
It's often said that as we age we become more like our parents. There are the genetics we can't avoid - the way our hands age, the patterns of our smile lines, the greying of our hair. The social opinions that manifest themselves in the way we vote or the books we read. Maybe even the way we keep a house or the music we listen to has been shaped by our parents (my complete back catalogue of Bob Dylan's every recording is testimony to that). But what we wear? Our self selected style? Surely not!
I admit there has been a history of parental influence in my fashion files. As teens, my friends and I would forage through my mother's wardrobe looking for long-forgotten treasures that had survived the ravages of time. In the early 90s we looked for chunky pendants, peace signs, crochet dresses and platform shoes. When grunge emerged a few years later we hunted out tartan shirts and petticoats - while my bemused mother looked on (perhaps it was that we wore the petticoats as the main event rather than under a dress). The cyclical fashion of fashion brought even the least likely items back to life - for a spell.
Like milk, most fashion has a use-by date. Unlike milk, it sometimes gets a second chance later on. We wanted the real deal, the vintage piece. Something lived-in during the first time round held more prestige than the inevitable Main Street knock-off.
I'll be honest, there were moments in my mother's style history that were not to be repeated (Scout Jamboree T-shirts, "comfortable" sandals and Ken Done sweaters from Oz?!) but for the most part she looked pretty good.
What I soon realised was that the impact of my mother's style went deeper than recycling her vintage jewellery. From the first time I stumbled around in my mother's heels or watched with childlike wonder as she coloured her lips for a night out, I was looking to my mum as my own personal style icon.
In her late teens a friend of mine found a picture of her mother from the 70's so fetching she took to wearing her hair and makeup the exact same way. Her Mother's smoky kohled eyes, tousled hair and heavy fringe struck a chord. She realized that if she was cut from the same genetic cloth then the look should work for her. It did. And quite frankly (judging from her long list of suitors) it still does.
From an early age our mums show us what style is and more likely than not, we follow that lead. Mums are a futuristic genetic template of what does and doesn't work for us.
My mum's style has always been effortlessly cool (except a short period in the 80's when burdened with school runs and gymnastic tournaments she succumbed to the comfort of Reeboks and trackpants). When I was a child I'd sometimes cringe at the things that made her not like the other mothers. She recycled before it was normal. She baked biscuits instead of buying. She had travelled the world and cooked strange dishes. She didn't fall for fast trends or wear a lot of makeup. She rejected materialism. Mum's image reflected who she was and what she believed in. She had her own style. One that I now realise has become my own.
Mum encouraged me to lead a varied life. To try different sports, arts, music and foods. She encouraged me to travel, valuing life experience as equal to any lessons taught in institutions or schools. Mum led by example, questioning everything. Following that lead got me in trouble in school but taught me how to construct a good argument when the need arose. She encouraged me to make the most of every opportunity, to take nothing for granted and most importantly to always be honest.
My mum. The bohemian. The rule-breaker. The tough-nut who tells it like it is. The woman whose brand of tough chic inspired my wardrobe choices many years later. Fashion and beyond, our mums shape us into the people we are. Next time we're looking for a party theme designed to amuse we are going to have to look harder. Dressing like your mum it turns out, might not be that bad at all.
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What was your mum wearing the year you were born? Have you inherited any style pointers from her?