Real (Business) Women Don't Wear Sweatpants: A Work-From-Home Mom's Struggle to Impress Her Daughter

woman sweatpantsLike most married American women, I rolled my eyes wildly when Eva Mendes recently opened her mouth and inserted her foot, blaming sweatpants for who knows how many divorces in America. If my husband leaves me over what I choose to put on my legs in the morning, he's not the man I thought I married in an off-the-rack on sale after Labor Day $9 white dress more than 14 years ago. I don't worry about my sweatpants ending our wedded bliss. I do, however, worry about the message they send to our daughter.


After all, on a recent Friday night, when she stood in our bathroom and announced, "I'm dressed just like a businesswoman!" I winced as I looked down at the same pair of purple sweats I'd been wearing since Tuesday. The "y" in Old Navy had been hanging by a thread for months, the hoodie had traces of flour from the mac and cheese I'd made Wednesday night.

In her dress with an owl on the chest, sweater tights and Mary Janes she looked not like a businesswoman but like the 9-year-old headed to her first dance that she was. Beside her I looked like a bag lady.

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"A businesswoman?" I protested? "I'm a businesswoman!" 

In fact, I'm one of a growing number of Americans who works not in an office but from the comfort of one's own home. My job is full-time, with benefits, and in five years with my company, I've climbed the ladder to a job I've wanted for years: editor. Although lucky enough to be home already when my daughter's school lets out early due to inclement weather or run out for 10 minutes to grab her from her after-school dance class, mine is not a job fit in between bouts of brownie baking and laundry folding. I field -- and answer -- hundreds of emails a day. Lunch -- if eaten at all -- is done so at my desk, crumbs falling on my laptop. And often when it's time for dinner, I'm still huddled over the keyboard while my husband is throwing something into the oven.

I do it all in my sweatpants, save for the rare day when a Skype meeting is planned, when I moan and groan about the necessity of showering before I sign online, the need to wear something other than my favorite hoodie for the whopping 20 minutes it will take to chat with my co-workers on video.

But my daughter doesn't see it that way. I've worked this way since she was 4, while the other adults she knows work -- and dress -- differently. Her father dons collared shirts and dress pants every day to trek into an office building. Her teachers wear dresses, high heels. Even her bus driver has the wherewithal to throw on a pair of jeans in the morning.

"I don't mean you," she answered my protestations. "I mean a woman who works in business, someone who goes to an office! They wear 'real' clothes. You wear sweatpants!"

Businesswomen, she continued, wear dresses and fancy shoes and bracelets (she held her arm, with its rainbow loomed bangles on it, high above her head to prove that point). The unsaid, but very clear implications were that businesswomen are important people, and that important people make an effort ... with bracelets.

I have a bracelet that my husband bought me, to which he adds charms on important occasions. I wear it occasionally. Never to work -- it would get in the way of my typing.

This is much the attitude I hear from other moms -- be they work-at-home or stay-at-home mothers. We could dress up, but it's easier not to. The work we are doing -- and yes, stay-at-home moms are certainly working -- is ill-suited to donning a pant suit and heels. We don't dress up not because we have little respect for ourselves, but because it's not terribly comfortable ... and more than a little illogical.

Sure, I could sit in my dining room in a dress. But then I'd have to pay to dry clean said dress after a day of getting up 15 times to let the dog out to pee, sweating like a normal human being, and standing up 30-odd times to get more comfortable in an outfit not made for extended sitting in front of a computer. 

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A stay-at-home mom could throw on dress pants and a silk blouse. But then she'd have to pay to dry clean said items to remove the baby puke, and, well, you get the idea.

This all makes sense in my head and in the heads of the countless women (and men) who cried out at the outrageousness of Mendes' 1950s sentiment last week. But explaining it to a 9-year-old is far harder.

Kids don't understand nuance or necessity. They don't calculate costs vs. rewards. They go by what they see.

They see women who "make an effort" as successful.They work. They bring home paychecks. They affect change in the world.

They see women who sit at home in their sweatpants as "just Mom." They see those of us who toil in obscurity in much the way the rest of society does: as sidebars, after-thoughts.

And it's hard to argue with them when we, their mothers, tell them not to dress like slobs, demand "nice" outfits for family portraits and other important events, berate them for ruining their "school clothes," and dictate which outfits should only be used for "play" (read: sweatpants and similar attire). I admit I've even banned my daughter from wearing sweatpants outside of the house -- with the exception of dance class or soccer practice -- because I was raised to see them as slightly slobbish.

Like it or not, clothing does dictate how people are judged in our society. In one survey, two-thirds of women said they felt pressured to dress a certain way to get noticed at work ... and more than half of women admitted they judged others on how they dressed at work.

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Therein lies the struggle: how to teach our kids when clothing matters ... and when it doesn't.

Because clothes may make the man, as they say, but they only tell half the story.

Because being a mom who chooses to be practical should be something we should be proud to teach our kids ... not something that fills us with shame.

What do you wear day after day? What do your kids think of it?


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