You know how the old adage goes: mother knows best. And in my case, that absolutely holds true. There are not many things my mom has gotten wrong in her lifetime—barring from the plucked eyebrow trend of the ’80s, at least—and in her over two decades of being a mother to me, she’s made sure to equip her daughter with all the basic (and not-so-basic) tenets of fashion wisdom. Now, it’s only right that I share her indelible advice with the world and pass on the best fashion advice from my mom, to you.
There’s nothing that can elevate an outfit from basic to chic like a well-placed accessory—or three. My mom made sure I knew this from an early age; so early, in fact, I was wearing a traditional nameplate bracelet and bejeweled headbands when I was still in a stroller. She indulged my passion (and let’s be real, her passion, too) for all kinds of accessories throughout the years—from taking me to get my ears pierced when I was six years old and buying me my first pair of diamond studs, to indulging my questionable middle school hat phase and those 50 cent Y2K-era rings from grocery store vending machines—the same ones that are miraculously making a comeback today.
Clearly, no matter her own taste, my mom always fostered the space for me to experiment with all kinds of jewelry, hats, handbags, belts and more. These days, I’m all the more grateful for it. I have my own collection of accessories from past and present to pull from every day—and it feels great when my mom is the one borrowing one of my pieces instead.
Show Your Roots
For the women in my family, fashion is not only about style—it’s also a way to express our identity. On my mother’s side, it’s rare that you’d catch any of us without some kind of accessory or outfit pairing that doesn’t speak to our Puerto Rican roots on any given day. My mom, for example, never takes off the azabache necklace gifted to her by her late brother; the stone, formed from trees that went extinct over 65 million years ago, is a staple in Caribbean culture for its protective qualities (similar to the grounding properties of black tourmaline or obsidian crystals). My mom always made sure to give me a piece of my dad’s heritage to carry with me, too; as a child, I wore Dominican amber necklaces at summer camp, and today, I alternate between pieces from a large collection of larimar earrings and rings.
Comfort Is Key
Whenever I’m not sure about an outfit, the first question out of my mom’s mouth has always been this: “Are you comfortable?” Nine times out of ten, it makes me realize discomfort is at the root of why I’m not sold on an outfit. My mom has always held to the notion that it’s not worth wearing heels if they’re killing your feet, and forget looking snatched if your waistband is making it impossible for you to finish your meal—especially if it’s to impress somebody other than yourself. Your comfort should always come first. Sneakers and flowy dresses, don’t mind if I do.
There’s No Such Thing as Being Overdressed
One might call my mom extra. She’s the kind of woman who would throw on red lipstick, gold hoops and block heels just to go to the bodega—and in turn, she created a daughter who would do the same. This follows a long line of ladies in my family who, for lack of a better phrase, do the absolute most when it comes to getting dressed and ready for the day ahead. My maternal grandmother famously slept in a full head of rollers just to wake up with big, bouncy curls on the daily. My cousin and her daughter, who looks to me like more of an auntie figure, both pick out their outfits for the next day before they go to sleep.
For some, these rituals might seem entirely unnecessary—and in some cases, they’re a source of mild ridicule. Like my mother, I’ve often been met with the following question: “What are you all dressed up for?” This would bother me when I was a child, and I’d often ask my mom to change me into something more casual. But as I’ve grown older, I understand that what looks like being “overdressed” to others has always been a way for the women in my family to assert their personhood, especially in a world that may otherwise seek to stifle it. Now, I’m proud to be extra whenever the moment calls for it.
Investments Are Worth It
This isn’t exactly financial advice; although there’s plenty of that up my mom’s sleeve, too. Instead, this is all about those pieces you’ve been eyeing for days, weeks, even months, yet can’t seem to bite the bullet on over that hefty price tag. My mom’s advice? It’s worth the investment if you can’t get it out of your head. This has proven true in her own life, and mine. A leather jacket that ran her hundreds back in the 70s has stood the test of time and was passed down to me; a pair of vintage, discontinued Levis that I splurged on in Italy, of all places, have been my most-worn pair of jeans for the better part of a decade now.
Also worth the investment? Alterations! Hem those too-long jeans sitting in your drawer and wear them. Take in the waistband of the dress that’s just a little too boxy. Even a fast-fashion grab—while not ideal if you can afford to purchase sustainably—can take on a more sustainable life if you invest in repairing it throughout the years. Just ask my mom: I’m convinced that she’s singlehandedly responsible for keeping our local tailor in business all these years.
Make the Effort
Sometimes, all it takes to turn your day around is to put in the effort. This can mean many things to many people, but for my mom, it always starts with tending to herself—whether that’s sleeping in, eating a good meal or spending twenty minutes putting on lotion. As a child, I never understood some of her lengthy rituals; like when she sat combing her hair in front of a mirror long after it was detangled, or delicately lined her lips until the crisp line at her cupid’s bow was just right. Now, I realize these were efforts toward peace and composure before the start of her day—a kind of grounding exercise, if you will.
In adulthood, I’ve come to find my own meditative moments during what might otherwise look like a tedious “effort” to some. When I put on makeup in the morning, it’s a quiet and creative time to myself that I don’t take for granted. On wash days, I soak up the two-plus hours it takes to cleanse, style, and dry my curly hair without any guilt or FOMO from the time spent. It’s always worth the effort, as long as you make it for yourself.