My mom and I disagree on fashion. When we go shopping together, she always picks out clothes for a generation older than me; frumpy, dull and the cut of which would do me no favours. I'll admit, it's hard to keep up with my mercurial tastes, but at age 27, I see no need to dress like my mom just yet.
She went to art school, however, so she thinks she knows what she's talking about. When it comes to all things interior design, with a particular focus on cushions, she is clearly the expert, and I'd gladly defer to her opinion on skirting boards.
This would be fine, as no one expects their 62-year-old retired mother to be Carine Roitfeld, yet Helen Hamilton believes not only that she knows best, but that I am her doll. These are her actual words. I tried to explain that I am an independent, free-thinking human and not her plaything, but she still believes that once her baby, always her baby.
“I'm almost 30, you realise,” I explained to her.
“My baby,” she cooed back to me.
“I know you're doing this to annoy me, and it's working.”
My cousins currently dress their kids in leggings, trainers and Star Wars t-shirts, but when I was 11, Mom made me a yellow and orange plaid flannel hoodie, much to my despair. When she found a matching plaid flannel skirt in a charity shop, she was over the moon, and despite protestations I was made to wear it outside. Mother knows best, she kept saying, while everyone eyeballed the child dressed in an ugly plaid skirt suit.
When I told mom I thought it would be amusing for her to dress me for a few days, just to see what she would come up with, her face lit up like a jack-o-lantern at Halloween and I immediately wondered if my harmless experiment was going to end in tears.
“Then we could take you to the hairdresser and strip the colour from your hair and get it dyed blonde again,” she said excitedly. It has been her bugbear for the past few years that I am no longer blonde.
“OK, too far,” I said.
“I'll pay,” she countered.
“I like my hair,” I explained, firmly.
The first day, I let her loose on my wardrobe. As I'm currently living at home, half my wardrobe is in my brother's room, and the rest is on the floor of my bedroom. Mom put together 10 outfits and let me choose from them, giving me the illusion of choice. Outfit is a strong word for a red Pokemon t-shirt and cap (I think this was a joke) or ball-gown plus biker jacket. There is a difference between looking like you're photoshoot-fresh when you're an off-duty model in a fashion capital attending a boutique opening and when you're a freelance writer in a cold Northern European city who mostly hangs out in cafes. Who wears a ballgown to run errands?
The majority of the clothes she had curated were my former work clothes, from that bygone era of busyness when I was the editor of a magazine in a hot country. They were all my clothes, so of course I liked them, but I stopped wearing suit jackets, blouses and dresses when I moved back to Edinburgh.
“What about all the clothes I keep in my room?” I asked her. This is where I keep my collection of ripped jeans in monochrome colours, sweaters in neutral colours, and t-shirts of the stripe-y variety: the signature “Laura Hamilton doesn't iron” look. Practical, warm and maybe a little bit boring.
“I looked in that room,” she said, dismissively.
Hint taken, mother dear.
As I looked through my clothes, I was just glad the plaid flannel hasn't resurfaced. Apart from the Pokemon outfit, nothing was truly objectionable, but there was a clear aesthetic. Feminine, girlie, and business chic; it would be perfect if I were going to a lot of high-powered meetings in a warmer climate. This might have been a slight hint on her behalf about my current underemployment.
If mom had her way, I'd always wear skirts and dresses, cutesy and smart. Slightly impractical for wandering around the cobbled streets of the capital of Scotland in spring when it's still sporadically snowing.
The first outfit was a pair of Forever 21 blue floral pants, which I used to wear as work clothes, a beige jacket from Zara, and a pink COS t-shirt. I quite liked it even though it was preppy and I felt like I was Kate Middleton's quirky cousin. Of course, as soon as I went outside, I regretted it — I was freezing!
The second outfit felt wildly impractical. The rail of clothing was forgotten, and mom whipped out a long green skirt of hers from the '70s with embroidery around the waistline and paired it with a different pink t-shirt. It was really itchy, and I felt like a witch. I wore it while writing in the house, but as soon as I tried to venture outdoors, she told me it was eveningwear and it was only lunchtime.
“Eveningwear? Have you chosen anything for normal, everyday living? Why have I been wearing this for the past few hours then?” I asked her. It was only lunchtime.
“Well, I don't know.”
As soon as I paired it with my brown boots, it suddenly worked. I felt like Stevie Nicks.
On the fourth day, Mom took out a sweater she made for me when I was a toddler and we lived in France. It was red with green Eskimos and so tiny. Apparently, I had trousers that were green with red Eskimos to match.
“You were so cute!” she said. She held the sweater up to me, measuring it for size.
“You know I can't fit into that anymore?” I asked. It occurred to me that my childhood in France was spent dressed in lurid colours covered in pictures of igloos and Eskimos, and also once as a clown (thanks, Mom) — while the Parisian children were dressed in Petit Bateau and similarly chic clothes. It could be worse, though: when he was younger, my brother had to wear a sailor suit at family occasions.
Mom started on the familiar story about how she used to make all my clothes when I was a kid, so I gave up and went back to the rail.
I went with an evening dress from Marks & Spencers and a Topshop kimono. I quite liked the combo and I tried to dress it down so it looked less formal. It was quite hard to move about it, but doable, and I will definitely wear this again — as eveningwear.
I have a very high tolerance for embarrassment. I don't mind wearing weird clothes, but it does turn out I value comfort and warmth and the ability to choose what I wear in the morning. I'm not sure how I managed to deal with a school uniform for so long.
That's not to say I didn't take anything away from my mom's choices. I knew there was something wrong when I watched The Duff and loved the sartorial choices pre-makeover. And I will never stop loving my ripped jeans and comfy sweater combos, but there is room in my life for some sophistication. I have a lot of dresses, blouses and skirts that I never wear because it's too cold, or they need to be ironed, or I'm being lazy. So I may just ask for my mom's opinion in the future when I'm getting dressed.