Some moms talk about “bouncing back” and fitting into their old jeans size after being pregnant and giving birth. I tried and still try not to go there — I think there’s something unhealthy about a culture that puts pressure on women to erase all signs of life experience from their bodies. #feistyfeministtalk
But still, I get it: there’s something about reclaiming your inherent self that’s symbolized, however problematically, by fitting back into your old size. We get so discombobulated by parenthood, so it feels like a nice triumph to incorporate some aspect of our pre-pregnancy selves into our newly fashioned lives.
The truth is, 20 months and one busted thyroid and metabolism later, I can fit into most of my old jeans, some of my tops and none of my blazers and jackets. (Nursing changed my bustline — I went up a full cup size — and most of my jackets were super precisely fitted.) Most items that returned to my wardrobe rotation were met with appreciation, but only one inspired a kind of wild joy: my black leather motorcycle jacket.
I’ve written about my black leather motorcycle jacket before, in an earlier blog I used to write. I never regarded myself as a “black leather jacket” type of person — I never felt cool enough. But long story short, one day I did come to own the swagger, toughness and general confidence to rock one. And I loved my black leather jacket: I wore it with pretty dresses, button-down oxford shirts, skinny jeans. It felt like me, but an elevated me. A more heroic version of me, if you will.
And then I became a mother, which both expanded and gutted me in so many ways.
Of course, after giving birth, all I wanted to wear was sweatpants and cozy shirts. And I certainly couldn’t fit into my black leather jacket, even if I tried. My jacket was size small, and designed to be a bit more shrunken. That’s what I liked about it: it didn’t feel bulky or overly boxy, but it also meant my nursing-mama self was just too top-heavy for my jacket to work anymore.
But even once I was able to fit into it, I still couldn’t quite wear it. I didn’t feel up for it. I put it on…and then took it off, feeling odd. I didn’t feel cool enough, tough enough, and my confidence was at an all-time low. I didn’t know what I was doing as a mama. I felt out of shape and like a blob. My post-partum depression left me feeling skinless, vulnerable, isolated. I put it on, and though it looked like it did before, it didn’t feel the same. I felt like a poser, i.e. the worst insult I could levy at someone when I was, like, 13. (#poserpolice!)
Of course, I’m not 13 anymore, so I had to unpack my discomfort. I had to, in fact, confront how I internalized certain beliefs about mothers, age, whatever. I’m in my early 40s; I’m a mother. These things aren’t traditionally cool badass territory. The idea of a ‘cool mom’ always slightly repulsed me. (I can’t help but think of Amy Poehler’s character in ‘Mean Girls’!) But I do want to dress however I want, despite my mom-ness and its edicts of practicality. Dang it, I want to wear my little jacket!
And so it began again: the circle of drumming up the confidence to wear something I want to wear.
This time, though, it was easier and a much shorter process. I simply remembered: Patti Smith. Also a mother, a writer, older — and who wears motorcycle jackets. And army jackets. And Ann Demeulemeester. She wore all of it, and quite well. Patti Smith is one of the ultimate badasses, for her talent, her boldness, her iconicity. If she can do it, well, I can at least try, too.
And so I wore my black leather motorcycle jacket out one day: over a hoodie and leggings to the gym on a rainy day. Just a simple, humble outfit. And no one laughed at me. In fact, the counter guy who gives out the towels said it was a cool jacket. The world didn’t come to an end!
Of course, I style it differently. I don’t pair it with other tomboyish elements in my wardrobe, despite the hoodie debut. I like it now with softer dresses or more whimsical, elegant blouses, maybe a ballerina flat or an elegant boot — you know, feminine things that want to be seen. For more everyday outfits, I recently picked up a fleece-y moto jacket — same moto cycling, just in a cozy-comfy fabric. In a way, it’s a perfect reconciliation of my past and present selves: it’s the same idea, just a different take that emphasizes comfort, practicality and ease. And that’s fine. That’s the great thing about clothes — their meanings are never static, but always ever-changing and in flux.
My toddler likes my leather jacket, though — he likes fiddling with the zippers and touching the leather. In a way, wearing it feels matter-of-fact, a non-event. I don’t feel cool or uncool in it, I realize, because those ideas aren’t applicable to my life anymore. I no longer see music or fashion hipsters on a semi-regular basis; I live in a town where sidewalks are just sidewalks, not runways. I don’t live up to my jacket anymore; I live within it, and it serves me.
But just for a moment, when I shrug it on, I do feel the old magic: it helps me stand tall and proud, sovereign and anchored in strength in my own life, no matter what role I occupy or what phase of life I’m in.