I’ve been reading Lauren’s blog, Crumb Bums, for years now. I appreciate her thoughtful posts about parenting and educating her three young boys (Milo is 8, Oliver is 6, and Emil is 4), and look forward to seeing what she’s working on as a freelance writer (she’s frequently contributes to The Washington Post‘s On Parenting newsletter), as well as what her husband is recommending for new music picks when he occasionally makes an appearance (always good). But lately I’ve also been particularly drawn to her style posts. Lauren has been posting what I’d call “Outfit of the Day” photos in a column she calls “Dress that Mama” for years now, and she always looks fantastic—and very real.
I wrote to Lauren to learn more about what motivates her style posts. First, I admire the confidence it takes to share these: I post so many photos of myself and share personal stories all the time that it’s counterintuitive, but I am still less comfortable with posting the self-aware outfit photos of myself and tend to do so only when prompted by a request. (Which is not to say I don’t get pleasure from sharing photos—especially the flattering ones!—but only that I sometimes still feel self-conscious doing so.) Second, Lauren is not posting these on Instagram or for advertising. In fact, I learned, she has never called them “OOTD” and doesn’t use a smartphone! And third, years! Aron took weekly photos of me when I was pregnant with Hudson and nine months felt like a long time.
I wanted to know more. I wanted to know her sources, of course, and learn more about her evolving style as a mother, but I also wanted to know about the why, and the lessons to be learned.
By Lauren Knight of Crumb Bums
On starting the Dress That Mama series…
I started the series four years ago when my youngest son was still an infant. In hindsight, I think the idea occurred to me as a way to preserve my sanity; I was staying at home with three boys under the age of five and my days were anything but calm or glamorous. Style was always something I enjoyed—I notice what others are wearing and find it really interesting to see how people choose to adorn their bodies. Though it may seem like a very superficial, indulgent thing, I can honestly say that getting dressed in something I loved every morning helped me be a more focused, confident person. Expressing my personal style in early motherhood helped me feel like me, like someone creative and with diverse interests and ideas.
Motherhood is a tricky thing—there are times that are so emotionally and physically draining, it’s easy to lose oneself in the daily responsibilities and meeting the basic needs of others. I may not have been able to sit down and enjoy a good book, or peruse an art gallery, or discuss a range of important topics with my friends, but by gosh at least I could dress myself! I guess what I’m trying to say is that coming up with outfits was a great creative outlet for me during a time when I had a limited ability to be creative!
On her process…
I’ve been posting weekly outfits for the past four years. Recently, I decided to up the ante and go for five days a week for a month straight—25 unique outfits, using no new clothing! During the month, I was forced to really take a look at what I had, what I didn’t wear often enough to keep, and how to mix and match different pieces.
It was a lot of fun and a lot of extra work—coming up with outfits, photographing them, editing photos, uploading and organizing them, linking to all of the clothing items, it all took a lot of extra time! Many days I put together two or three outfits and my husband, Andrew, took photographs of multiple outfits so I wouldn’t have to scramble the night before to get an outfit ready. This made the process much easier.
On her husband as photographer…
Oh, my lovely husband! He puts up with so much! Andrew is so good about stopping what he’s doing to take a few photos for me when we’re hanging out at home on the weekends. He always, always says yes, never complains, and only feigns exasperation occasionally. He’s such a good sport. He assures me it’s no big deal, but I am really grateful that he helps me. I couldn’t do it alone!
On evolving one’s style (publicly)…
The best (and worst) part about the whole process is that I can look back and see how my own personal style has evolved over the years, and how some things have stayed the same. I still tend to gravitate towards neutrals, I still tend to wear a lot of dresses and skirts, but I think my style has matured and I’ve become a little better at staying away from trends and just going with what I love. There are plenty of cringe-worthy posts, where my hair is a mess or the outfit is just not good, but I’ve chosen to keep those up because they were me at that time.
I tend to gravitate toward more timeless, feminine clothing and silhouettes. I love ’40s and ’50s hairstyles and have had fun playing around with mixing vintage pieces (especially lacy Edwardian tops, lace-up boots and clogs, and cat-eye sunglasses) with more modern clothing (like high-waisted jeans, crazy printed tights, and Ace & Jig patterns). My favorite outfits are ones in which I feel comfortable, feminine, and pulled together.
Ultimately, I’d describe my style as just me! Friends and plenty of strangers over the years have described my style as “very French.” I guess it’s also retro-feminine and bohemian.
On choosing clothing as a mother with young children…
My husband often says, “You’re going to cook wearing that?!” My answer is always “YES! I love this, so I’m going to wear it! That’s what aprons are for.” When my boys were very little, I didn’t dress as nicely. I wore a lot of cotton shirts and jeans or skirts that were easy to throw into the wash. My oldest was a loose cannon—he used to spit-up and have diaper blowouts constantly. I learned that during that time, I was going to get really messy.
As my kids have grown older, I have collected nicer things (clothing and furniture) because they have learned to respect it more. They really don’t wipe their noses or hands on my dresses or skirts or anything like that. My youngest, Emil, absolutely hates having dirty or sticky hands—he washes them immediately after eating or playing in the mud, which is really cute and funny because it seems to be such a part of his big personality. His Montessori education is also responsible, as they have hand-washing as a lesson for the little ones and they come to really enjoy it and take pride in their cleanliness. I guess I lucked out in that sense!
I do prefer fabrics that are breathable and natural: cotton, linen, wool, silk, etc. I read somewhere that natural fabrics are better for the environment because they break down more easily when we’re finished with them, as opposed to synthetic fabrics that nature can’t break down. I hate to think of all the polyester and nylon hanging out in landfills for ages. I also prefer fabrics that can be washed easily, either by hand or washing machine.
On figuring out one’s style…
My advice to someone trying to figure our her own personal style is to take pictures and really experiment with your clothing. You don’t need to show anyone the pictures, I just find it helps to see what something looks like from a different perspective—a perspective that a mirror can’t always honestly tell you.
On what she’s learned…
Be thoughtful when shopping for new things and resist the impulse-buy. I’ve found that saving up for a high-quality item that you love is a better idea than buying a whole bunch of things you feel indifferent about. And my biggest piece of advice: ignore what is trending unless it is something you can see yourself wearing long term—good style is not fast fashion, it is what you choose from all the droves of clothing out there that represents your own self-expression. Classic, well-made pieces are the ones you will keep coming back to again and again.
Thank you, Lauren! I loved this! And I can’t help but think how much I would have loved to see all of these photos of my mother expressing her great style.
I’m curious to know how others feel about their personal style and whether you have tried documenting it? And how do you feel about being in front of the camera? Do you prefer to take selfies? Or avoid them? (I gather that there is some generational divide on the matter.)
Lauren Knight lives with her husband and three boys in St. Louis. She is a frequent contributor to The Washington Post’s On Parenting Online Newsletter and blogs at Crumbbums.com.