My Grown Ass Woman Uniform

Ethical shopping, renting clothes, and postpartum times two

It’s a fact that I am a much more stylish dresser at thirty-eight than I was at twenty-eight or eighteen. This stands in direct opposition of the message society drills into us. That younger women are the coolest and most stylish, and the older you get the less stylish you’re going to be. (And once you hit motherhood, forget it; you’ll be dressing in burlap sacks.) This is nonsense. The more time I’ve had to work on my personal style, the more I’ve figured it out. And, frankly, I have more money to spend on my wardrobe at thirty-eight than I did a decade or two ago (that’s not the case for everyone, but I was very broke in my twenties and am delightedly not broke in my later thirties).

And yet, with all of fashion media focused on the under-twenty-five set, and most stylish clothes being pumped out for people who want to show ALL of their midriff, it can be really hard for women who are past their teens to figure out what looks good on them and what they should wear.

Recently we got the following question in our inbox:

Hello friends,

I’ve been deep in a rabbit hole about capsule wardrobes for mamas/people who are not teenagers. I started imagining my ideal stylish mom clothing roundup (Meg, Maddie, and Liz came to mind as icons), and lamenting that the APW clothing roundups (which I LOVE) are typically just about wedding-adjacent clothes.

As you may have imagined, this is a long-winded way of asking… would you please talk about your everyday clothes? The stuff you can wear to the office AND the playground? The stuff that makes you feel stylish, comfortable, and able to put a half eaten cheese stick in your pocket? The backpack that replaced your L.L Bean backpack from middle school and actually looks like something a grownup would use? Keeping my fingers crossed you can share your everyday fashion some day. And if you don’t have time, I love you anyway.

Besides the fact that compliments are the way to the heart, this question brought up an issue that I’ve given a lot of thought to over the past five years. Because for me, getting dressed is a form of self-expression. It’s a way of being seen. And damn, if it doesn’t make me feel better during a shitty day/news cycle/year. (In fact, I’m writing this from my dad’s bedside in the hospital, wearing a killer sundress that all the nurses have complimented me on. And if you have to be at the hospital, you might as well step it up and feel good, right?)

My Grown Ass Woman Outfits are just that—one person’s outfits. So while we’re hoping to expand this series to more staff members, more body types, and more styles, here is my particular story of how I figured out how to dress myself as a fully grown women, with a postpartum-times-two body, and a creative job.

A woman wearing a vintage romper in a desert backyardVintage Romper from The Flippery

Finding My Look

When it comes to my aesthetic, I know what I like. And I’d even consider myself to have good taste. But I have struggled for years to translate that into knowing what to put on my body. Or, more to the point, I had to A) start buying things that are not grey and boring (because basics always seem like a safe choice, but are not exactly fun to wear); and B) stop buying clothes willy-nilly, then deciding after I wear them a few times that they just don’t quite work, and then giving away a big bag of fast fashion every six months.

For years, I’ve been stuck in the cycle of buying cheap clothes, not really loving them, and then giving them away. This is what makes fashion the second most polluting industry in the world, and perpetuates the cycle of people working in near-slavery in sweatshops. I knew it was bad. I just wasn’t sure how to break myself of that cycle and still put clothes on my body that I like.

Dress from Rent the Runway

Then a year ago, I decided to try out Rent The Runway’s Unlimited subscription (#notsponsored). They now have two subscription services. With RTR Unlimited ($159 per month) you have four rental pieces in perpetual rotation (and I tend to rotate through them pretty fast). And with RTR Update ($89 per month), you have four pieces every month, non rotating. And if, like me, you easily spend this much a month on clothes (hiiii, my whole fun money budget goes to clothes every month), it’s a game changer. Not only have I stopped donating bags of clothes every six months (or really donating any clothes at all), I’ve also stopped spending money on the fast fashion that keeps women and children in near-slavery. Also, I stopped wondering what to put on my body. Here is what I learned, in a year of renting outfits.

  • Every time you think, “I love it, but I couldn’t pull it off,” a fairy loses it’s wings. Figuring out your style is as simple as figuring out what you really love, and then daring to put it on your body. The only reason someone else is pulling it off is that they were brave enough to put it on. Full stop.
  • Sometimes you just want a fun statement outfit and that new clothes feeling, but you don’t need to keep it.
  • Quality matters. Not buying fast fashion, when you can, stops you from funding human rights abuses. But also quality clothes are worth it. They look better, you’ll wear them longer, and again… THEY LOOK BETTER.
  • You can pull off wilder looks than you think.
  • A good dress and a good jumpsuit are worth their weight in gold.
  • It’s really nice to wear something around for awhile before you decide to own it.

Dress from Rent the Runway

These days, I own good staple pieces, and I rent flashier pieces. And if I really love those wilder pieces (and you know, they’re not $1,000 designer gowns), I buy them from Rent The Runway at a discount. So here are some of my go-to pieces, with some rent-to-own pieces in the mix. And while I’m not anywhere close to a capsule collection, I’ve started focusing on fewer, higher quality clothes and really pushing myself to buy ethical fashion when I can. (And the ethical fashion choices have finally gotten good.) So while I’m still gonna tell you about my Target standbys, I’ve tried to avoid referencing any of the worst offenders in fast fashion in this roundup. That means no Forever 21, H&M, Zara, Old Navy, and way less ASOS.

And pro-tip: If, like me, you’ve been thinking of years that you should be buying ethical fashion but can’t get yourself to do it, try this. I now Google the name of the store or the country the clothing was produced in, and “ethical fashion.” In many cases I’ll be faced with lengthy articles about human rights abuses, which I force myself to read. And once you know, you know, and it makes it far easier to put away your wallet and look for better options.

My Staples

If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that every wardrobe needs staples. You need the tried and true basic pieces that you can build outfits around and turn to in a pinch. Here are some of mine, plus the stuff I mix in for fun.

A woman sips on a cold drink while smiling wearing a white cold shoulder top and medium-dark jeans with ripped kneesTop from Urban Outfitters | High-Rise Skinny Jeans from Madewell 

Skinny jeans. There is a myth out there that skinny jeans are for the young (and skinny). But I beg to differ. At my most pregnant, I always insisted on wearing skinny jeans, because the last thing I wanted was extra volume, literally anywhere. I live and die by my jeggings, though with my postpartum body, any pant I put on better be high waisted. (Low cut jeans come right from the devil, if you ask me.) Target makes a great skinny jean (though the fit can be a little all over the place based on the wash) that are super affordable. And though I have more expensive jeans, my dark wash Target jeggings are on nearly constant rotation. When it comes for comfort (and again, that high waist) Madewell’s jeans are hard to beat. I like the 9″ high rise, though some people swear by the 10″. They’re worth saving up for. And while sadly not all of Madewell’s jeans come in extended sizes, the high waist jeggings are available up to a size 22 and are the most comfortable jeans when I’m a size 10 or up. (So maybe extend the rest of those styles Madewell, you hear me?) I’ve barely started to dive into the world of ethical denim (since with good jeans, I don’t have to buy new ones very often). But I recently discovered Good American, which is an size-inclusive denim brand made for women with curves, and it’s all made ethically in LA. (Khloe Kardashian is a founder, and on this one, she seems to be doing God’s work.)

Ballet Flats from J.Crew

Ballet Flats. While I’m a sucker for a good heel (and famous in the office for wandering around in heels everyone else claims they couldn’t even walk in), I need a good flat shoe for weekends with the kids and any time I just can’t be bothered. Shoes are one place where I am more than willing to spend money. I’ve been hard on my shoes since I was a kid, and a cheaply made shoe ends up in the trash can in a month, which is wasteful of resources and money. Ever since J.Crew’s shoe quality tanked (wherefore, J.Crew?), I’ve been on the hunt for a perfect classic ballet flat—and if you have a tip, meet me in the comments. But I’m currently in love with Sezane’s shoes. I have this fancy ballet flat, and I’ve been living in their sandals this summer. They’re simple enough to go with everything, and stylish enough to feel special.

a woman's legs in jeans with ripped knees and grey-taupe open-toed clogsClogs from Bryr Clogs

Clogs. I live and die by my clogs, particularly in the summer. I love the Swedish Hasbeens brand, which you can find both directly on their site and on Amazon. I follow them on Instagram and watch for sales (note, their summer sale is on now). I have several pairs, but these are very similar to the past season Hasbeens I live in. I’m also a fan of Bryr Clogs, which are made by an all-women team in San Francisco. I try to save up for one pair of their shoes a year (their seasonal colors are particularly good, as are their bridal clogs). Clogs are pricey, but they’re ethically made, sturdy AF, and I wear them nonstop. I don’t buy them often, but I do save up for them and have amassed a tiny (and always growing) collection.

A woman smiles with her arms above her head wearing a white tee that reads "Women Do It Better" In red block lettersT-shirt from local Bay Area boutique Therapy

Crop Sweatshirts & Soft Jersey Tees. My husband once told me that I’m “just not a casual person,” and he’s not wrong. It’s rare that I leave the house without earrings and makeup, even if I’m taking the kids to the park on the weekend. My motto is that I always want to look like I tried, which means I always… you know, try. That said, I have finally given into practicality, and I know that I need to have some casual clothes in my wardrobe. I’m a big fan of the American Apparel short sweatshirt. It’s not a true crop, but it’s short enough to give a little shape and style. (The Bee & The Fox often has cute graphic versions of this sweatshirt, besides just having the best motherhood-related shirts around.) I’ve also come around to T-shirts, now that more soft jersey is on the market. (Can we all agree that the high neck thick jersey crew is flattering on basically no human with boobs?) Current options that I like include Skyler Yoo’s women-owned feminist inspired graphic tees, and J.Crew’s graphic picks.

Dress from Rent the Runway

A Sundress. I spend most of the summer in a dress. If it’s warm enough to pull off a dress without tights, I’m on it. I try to balance my dress collection between really high quality staples and flashy and fun. Reformation is my current pick for dresses that I’m going to wear again and again, year after year. They’re a little more expensive, but they’re also produced sustainably by people making a living wage. ALSO ALSO? The quality is so high that it has made me remember what it feels like to wear real clothes, not semi-disposable outfits designed to self-destruct before the season is over. One of the ways that Ref keeps their fashion sustainable is they make clothes in small size runs. Which means the dresses I bough earlier in the summer are now gone (and that if you love it, you need to buy it before it’s gone forever). But here are some current Reformation faves that I haven’t bought (yet): this is perfect for vacation or looking cool during the dog days of summer, I bet this will be flattering AFRef’s wrap dresses are always perfection, and someone who doesn’t need a bra should live my dreams in this one. My flashier sundresses were all bought after I tried them out from Rent The Runway, and include this piece of perfection (with cherries!).

Skirt from Rent the Runway

Some Good Skirts. I’ve learned over the years that I want a few solid skirts in my wardrobe that I can pair with a graphic tee or a simple top. I am on the hunt for the perfect jean pencil skirt, always and forever. (The last one I loved I ripped up the middle, and I have sewn it together and continued wearing it, because I just can’t find anything else that good.) J.Crew is my failsafe for a more grown up denim skirt, and they’ve currently got a great one. I also like having a simple non-jean skirt or two. This side button skirt is a perfect neutral to pair with a graphic tee, and this rainbow skirt from Reformation is flattering AF and currently on my short list. I rented this black skirt last year, and may end up owning it soon. And while not technically a skirt, I’ve started to come around to culottes. This pair is on my short list to rent, and I love these floral culottes from Paper Crown so much I intend to buy them soon.

Jumpsuit from Rent the Runway

Jumpsuits & Rompers. Y’all. I’m on team jumpsuit, and I am unapologetic about it. Every so often someone asks me if it’s hard to pee in a jumpsuit, and how do I have time for that? The answer is that it’s about as hard to pee in a jumpsuit as it is in pants. You just have to pull off the top half when you pull off the bottom half. (The one exception to this rule is the vintage romper I own that buttons at the shoulders. Dear god why.) A good jumpsuit is basically like wearing formal pajamas, except everyone thinks you’re so stylish and daring, when really you’re just comfortable. Plus, it spares you from putting a whole outfit together. Just pull it on and done. I recently discovered the ethical clothing brand Rachel Pally, and her jumpsuit collection is epic. This perfect summer jumpsuit is about to be mine. Madewell’s jumpsuit game is also on point right about now, and I’m trying to figure out if I could pull off this denim romper. I wore this formal jumpsuit for APW’s Ten Year Anniversary Party, and it was everything and a half. This ruffle jumpsuit seemed like it might be way too much look, but now I want to wear it everywhere.

Sweater from Rent the Runway

A Long Sweater. While I like to pretend that winter will never come again and summer will last forever, sadly, that is not the case. And in the APW offices we joke that everyone has a different wardrobe crutch for surviving winter: a wear-indoors jacket, a sweatshirt, or a sweater. I roll deep with sweaters. Over the years I’ve found that my favorite sweaters are tight-fitting tunic sweaters that I can pair with jeggings. (Sometimes I pair them with jeggings I got at Walgreens, if we’re being honest.) Or oversized sweaters that I can pair with skinny jeans. As I write this, it’s July, so sweaters are not exactly flooding the market. But my go-to brands are Free People and Anthropologie. (I’ve learned that I’d rather have fewer sweaters than cheaper sweaters. Target sweaters always end up in my “these were disappointing; I guess I’ll give them away” pile, and I’m really trying to stop that kind of waste.

Dress from Rent the Runway | Earrings from Anthropologie

Enormous Earrings, Tiny JEWELRY. Here is the thing about big earrings (or if you don’t do earrings, a big bracelet… though I am perpetually dubious about the so called “statement necklace” but YMMV). They make your outfit look like you tried in about one second. Sometime last year I decided to up my earring game, and again (sense a theme), invest in some good pairs and forswear the trash at Target that is like arsenic for my ears. Turns out earrings that cost more than $20 last longer, lay better, and just… look good. The ethical jewelry brand Soko is woman owned, has an awesome mission, and is killing it in the big earring game. I own and love their capped quill earrings (though small children could snap them, so be careful when you wear them), and am dying for these outline hoops. Anthro is another go-to in the earring department. I currently love these crescent stone hoops, and these enormous gold fringy things. And while we’re talking BIG, I recently scooped up some one-of-a-kind earrings from Yung Hussy on Instagram, and totally recommend her work. And if it’s not earrings I go tiny. Like the Maya Brenner necklace with both kids initial that I never take off.

How about you? What clothes do you swear by? How have you learned to dress your adult woman body? What fashion problems are you personally trying to solve for yourself?

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