Archive | January, 2011

Leggings – liberating dresses everywhere

29 Jan prana moxie dress

I exercise twice a week, and on those mornings, it’s hard to know what to wear.  I don’t feel fully dressed wearing only gym clothes, but I would rather not lug an extra change of clothes around on the way to class. Lord knows moms lug way too much random stuff around already. (The back seat of my car usually contains enough random stuff to fill an entire shopping cart — kids’ jackets and hats, sippy cups, empty reusable grocery bags, books, crayons, twigs, stones and other “treasures” my son picked off the driveway).  So on my exercise days, I put on black stretchy pants and my cami that I will exercise in, and build the rest of my outfit from there.

Nowadays, I see a lot of young ladies wearing fitness type leggings in place of regular pants. Reminds me of how I used to dress in 7th grade. However, I (and my rear end) have long since graduated high school, and I feel comfortable with more coverage. For a while, I struggled to find a top long enough to cover the behind; even tunic-length tops feel like I am trying to pull off a miniskirt – which isn’t really the look I am going for. One exercise day, it occurred to me to try on one of the long-neglected dresses I had hanging in my closet. Revelation! An outfit is born.

Before kids, I always thought of dresses as reserved for special occasions. In grade school, I was the girl who wore shorts to school every day so I could swing on the monkey bars and turn cartwheels easily. At my first real job after college, I wore pants as often as I could to avoid a “Sharon Stone moment” while sitting at my desk.

Sharon Stone's famous miniskirt in Basic Instinct

It may be sexy in a movie, but sitting while wearing a skirt doesn't really work well when taking care of small children.

As a single woman living in the city, I chose black pants over dresses; they seemed too fussy, and I never really loved showing off my legs. After having kids, dresses only came out on special nights out with my husband. Even if I could find a washable fabric that had enough coverage, dresses seemed incompatible with essential mommy activities like nursing, climbing a playground structure, and sitting on the floor modestly.

Turns out, now that the nursing phase is over, dresses have found a place in my wardrobe, paired with leggings. Leggings address my below-the-waist modesty concerns, and also add a layer of warmth during the cooler months. They also make outfit picking totally brainless, since it’s a top and bottom in one. That comes in awfully handy at 6:30am when I have 5 minutes to put myself together.

Dresses have become much more mom-compatible, too; companies designing clothes for travel and athletics, such as Patagonia and Athleta, are making well-cut designs from stretchy, easy-care fabrics. (Athleta has even dubbed a category of clothing that works over leggings which they call “Yoga To Fro™.) My closet now contains at least 4 dresses that work well for active day with the kids.  So what do I look for when dress-shopping?

1) Coverage around the arms and neckline, and a skirt length to just above the knee, to make sure I am comfortable in all the athletic pursuits of motherhood – for example, lugging a toddler while carrying her baby doll and 2 bags of groceries, or bending over to pick up yet another toy off the floor without fearing that the nearest person can see down my shirt.

2) A flattering cut, comfortably executed. The dress should define my features (waist, arms, chest, hips, etc) without pinching or tugging. Ease of movement is a must. No Spanx required – it should make me look good without needing to suck in my belly.

3) A darker color (or a pattern) in a machine washable fabric – because I never know when a stray meatball in tomato sauce will land in my lap.

It turns out, quite a few companies are making dresses that fit the bill. My go-to stores at the moment are:

Patagonia, Boden, Garnet Hill,  Title Nine, and Athleta.

(If you have any other favorites, feel free to post them in the comments section below.)

The best thing about wearing a dress is that it feels like cheating – in a single piece of clothing, you have an entire outfit – no thinking required. If I can throw on a necklace or earrings, I can even manage to look “put together” with very little effort. And with a casual dress, finding shoes is easy because I can get away with boots, flats, or even lightweight, trendy sneakers.

My favorite toddler-compatible dress at the moment (which I happen to be wearing as I write this) is by Prana, a yoga clothing company that expanded into casual clothes.  I bought it at Title Nine in the Fall of 2010, but it doesn’t seem to be available anymore (the sales clerk said it was selling out quickly in the stores.) That’s ok, because there are plenty of similar ones out there.

 

Prana Moxie Dress from Title Nine

This stretchy dress by Prana is fun and easy to wear, and paired with leggings, can easily go from playground to civilized indoor pursuits.

This dress is super comfortable and stretchy, and the long sleeves add warmth. The pattern is plucky and adds a splash of color without any effort. It cost about $70, and will go from Fall to Spring without a problem.

Not so tight fitness pant from Title Nine

The "Not so tight fitness pant" from Title Nine costs over $50, but the easy, curve-hugging fit makes it my favorite pair of leggings.

Leggings are easy to find too – they are very trendy right now. I am wearing boot cut yoga pants at the moment for extra warmth, but slim, cropped leggings will work well with sandals as the weather warms up. They are available at a range of stores, from Target to The Gap to fancy athletic stores. I have found that the cheapest pants ($10 or less at Target or Old Navy) are not worth buying; they have a thin fabric which lose its shape faster. But after $20, it’s hard to tell the difference – the only difference between those and my $50 leggings is slightly better fit. If you want to add some leggings to your wardrobe that go from gym to playground, Title Nine or Athleta is a great place to begin your search. Both offer inexpensive of free shipping with minimum purchase. The Gap is a good option if you want to try on instead of buying online.

The only problem with wearing dresses at the moment is that my closet does not have enough room to acquire more. I guess it might be time to undertake another closet clean out, because there seems to be no shortage of cute, affordable and wearable dresses out there – and now that I can “childproof” them with leggings, I know I’ll keep putting them on in the morning, whether I am feeling dressy or just need to throw something on and get out the door.

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Dressing for the Part of…Janitor?

18 Jan Baby Bjorn potty

Ugh. Snail trail. My 2 year old daughter is crying her eyes out because of something I did that offended her (really, because it’s 5pm and she hasn’t napped all day). I look down where her face is buried into my shoulder and I see that shiny mix of tears and boogers imprinted on my brand new sweater. After a moment of panic, I recover my wits and toss the sweater into the next room, and ponder the paradox of dressing for mommyhood while I sit on the closed toilet lid in the bathroom and try to calm my daughter down.

Just earlier today, I trudged through the same bathroom only to step in something wet – which is never good when you’re walking by a toilet in a kids’ bathroom. Bending down to examine the material, my fears were confirmed – pee pee puddle, which my daughter had just pushed her new baby stroller into, and her footprints were following her into the next room.  After giving my 5 year old son the third degree about his toileting accuracy, I brought out the cleaning spray and paper towels and went to work. A few minutes later, even though the bathroom smelled like bleach, and my wet socks were in the hamper, I still couldn’t shake the memory of pee on the bottom of my feet.

Now, seeing my new sweater discarded in a heap, I had to ask myself – whom am I kidding, trying to make a fashion statement  in this profession of motherhood- those with similar jobs, janitors and hospital orderlies, simply choose to wear scrubs.

With my daughter calm, but still wet and naked in my arms, I take a deep breath, and I do my best to put the hopelessness aside.  I pick up the sweater off the floor, wipe off the visible boogers with a washcloth, and put it back on. I’m going to get through the day without looking like I’ve been run over by a truck, I tell myself. I just have to stay calm and keep my wits about me.

Soon thereafter, my daughter announces that she has to go “poo poo” and I follow her back into the bathroom. Turns out the poo poo boat has sailed already and what she really needs is a change of diapers.  Now, we’re new to pull-up diapers and I guess my removal technique needs improvement because in an instant, a large turd that has bounced off my wrist and onto the bathroom floor, leaving a light impression of poop on my skin.  I read in a potty training book that parents are not supposed to show disgust in the presence of poop, so, trying to look encouraging for my daughter’s sake, I do my best to contain the hazardous material while keeping my daughter from stepping in it. Meanwhile, I can feel the poop stain burning its impression on my skin. At least the sweater has short sleeves… after the poop on the floor is contained, I leap up to wash my hands, lathering and scrubbing harder than Lady Macbeth. Finally, I clean up my daughter, draw a deep breath, and we all continue with our day.

Now it’s nearing bedtime, and my kids are in the bath. Just when I thought that my janitorial duties were complete for the day, I hear my son calling out, “Poop! Poop!” Yes indeed, little sister had planted a floater in the bathtub.  When it rains, it really pours. My son is old enough to know he needs to get out of the bathtub ASAP. Of course. this is not my first run-in with a waterborne turd – which my husband likes to call Defcon because of the dead-serious look I get on my face. Children are evacuated, toys are discarded, everything and everyone is sanitized. A good while and a half bottle of cleaning solution later, I restore hygienic order for the third time.

Am I crazy to wear a cushy, cashmere blend sweater while swatting poop around on the bathroom floor? Perhaps. But I don’t like the alternative.  If my clothes only serve the purpose of utility, I end up with the mommy version of scrubs – clothes that are stain resistant, effortless, and uninspiring. So I guess I wear the pretty sweater despite my better judgement, for the simple reason that it upgrades my job description. I am more than a janitor, waitress, and chauffeur.  In motherhood, I get to write my own job title – and I prefer teacher, artist, and life coach — who just happens to put on rubber gloves every now and then.

The first time my son pooped in the bathtub as a toddler, I was so overtaken with the ick factor that I forgot to laugh. Luckily my husband was there to remind me that it’s actually funny.  Funny for you, I grumbled to myself, because you’re not the one with your face in a bathtub full of hot bleach.  Now, a few years later, we can all laugh about it. After all, my son is the one sharing the bathtub with the floating turd – if he can laugh about it, then I should too.  We’ll be teaching my daughter the lesson of lightness; everyone steps in a puddle of pee every now and then, but it’s less about cleaning up the bathroom floor, and more about what you do afterwards.

Shopping while sitting in a parked car

2 Jan Shopping at Gilt Groupe on the iPhone

I recently read that shopping from the mobile phone is rising fast.  Makes sense – when do we moms ever have time to sit at the computer? We barely have time to sit down for five minutes and eat our own lunch.   However, here and there, I do find myself with a few minutes of downtime with just my mobile phone, like when my daughter is napping in the back seat of the car.  It’s a great time to catch up on email (or at least make a dent in the inbox – we are never really caught up, are we?).  I recently tried browsing online stores on my 2 year old Blackberry, but it’s impossible – the experience stinks.  Product images are smaller than a postage stamp, page layout is all scrambled, and there are major user interface problems (navigational links disappearing, no way to choose sizes or colors from drop-down menus). I have to scroll down, down, down so much that my little track ball gets tired after a while and decides to quit, leaving me to rest my sore scrolling thumb.  Even if I know what I am buying, I can’t seem to complete a transaction – the checkout process doesn’t work either.  I have yet to make mobile shopping work for me, but millions of people have somehow managed it, according to this article in the San Jose Mercury News–  so I am suddenly very intrigued. I must be missing something.

Online shopping from my computer saved me this season – after the kids went to bed, I went online and purchased the vast majority of my presents that way. It’s a convenient way to ship presents to recipients in other cities, or to save a trip to the store.  When the cardboard boxes from Amazon started piling up in my front hallway, I told my 5 year old son that daddy had ordered a lot of tools for his workshop, and he was not the least bit suspicious. At least this year, he is still a willing believer in Santa Claus. Not sure what will happen next year when he is one year older and more skeptical…maybe I’ll have them delivered to my neighbor’s house. But I digress.

Despite recent online shopping failures, I still love shopping online, and cling to the belief it’s a great way to bring the store to me when I can’t get to the store.  Now I need to figure what mobile device offers the best shopping platform. It seems the two contenders are the iPhone and a bunch of different phones running Google’s Android operating system. Is it possible to browse a web site as is, or do I need to download a shopping app from the store I want to browse? Which platform has better shopping apps? Here is a screen shot from Apple’s web site of one retailer who has developed an app just for this purpose, the Gilt Groupe, an online department store.

Shopping at Gilt Groupe on the iPhone

Shopping on the mobile phone promises the freedom to shop online from anywhere, but so far, online retailers are slow to offer a good user experience browsing a regular web page on the mobile phone. In response, larger web stores have begun to develop custom shopping applications that run on the mobile phone. Here are two screen shots of The Gilt Groupe's app for the iPhone.

I am not especially partial to this web site, it just happens to be the example on Apple’s web site – but it’s interesting to imagine how much shopping online could be improved  if the experience catered to my personal preferences, such as the sizes I shop for, my target price range, or items I have purchased in the past.

Smartphones on Verizon network

The smartphone promises to make it possible to comfortably shop anywhere, anytime. Can it deliver on that promise?

I can’t wait to replace my not-so-smartphone; I am secretly waiting for the sticky scrolling mechanism to finally quit so I have a good excuse to spend $200 on a new phone. I don’t care about battery life or fitting the phone in my pocket – but web browsing must be great. The screen of the iPhone is still too small for my taste – not to mention the fact that AT&T, the only cell phone carrier at the moment, has lousy reception at my house. Does a better alternative exist?  If you are successfully shopping on your device, please share how and where.

Meanwhile, I will be following the headlines from CES 2011 in hopes that the mobile phone manufacturers have some breakthrough to announce. My ideal device would have a really large screen and a web browser that lets me shop online comforably, from at any site, without needing to download an app every time. It still doesn’t solve the problem of what I would order, since I am still searching for What to Wear After Kids – but at least my daughter could peacefully finish her nap in the parking lot of Target while I order her next box of diapers online.

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