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Momcore: From 'Bad Jeans' To A Toxic Sign Of Privilege

As a style of dress, momcore dates back to a scene in the 2004 film “Mean Girls,” personified by Amy Poehler’s “cool mom,” who had a penchant for pink velour and diamonds. Fast-forward two decades, and the TikToker known as Tinx — along with other notable influencers like Chriselle Lim — has rebranded “cool mom” as “rich mom.” 

Part spoof, part marketing ploy, the “rich mom” persona also owes a lot to franchises like “The Real Housewives” and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” which make motherhood and its outfitting a for-profit spectacle. But what started as a sketch or satirical cultural commentary has become problematic, mainly because, in 2023, notions of identity, privilege and motherhood aren’t really fodder for comedy. Plus, it’s hard to satire something with an amorphous definition.

To get a better understanding of momcore, we spoke with fashion historians and stylists, all of whom are scratching their heads a bit as they come to terms with the sartorial notion of momcore. As fashion historian Claudia B. Manley, author of 2022’s “Fashion Writing: A Primer,”  put it, “Momcore feels like a way to label something that doesn’t really need a label.” 

The Problematic Evolution Of Momcore

According to Liv Schreiber, owner of the fashion marketing agency Brand Caffeine, the notion of momcore is “hung up in stereotypes” and has undergone a style overhaul over the past two decades, evolving from “slumpy to effortless” ― both problematic in their own ways.

Manley noted that the current momcore trend seems isolated to a certain demographic. “It seems that when it comes to ‘momcore’ as a fashion trend, I mostly see white women talking about it. Many seem to be full-time moms or are mothers who are getting back to work. This is a pretty privileged position, which is not exclusive to white women but perhaps more often seen in that community,” she told HuffPost.  

The rebranding of momcore in the mid 2010s did away with the notion of a mom “letting herself go,” according to Schreiber, justifying it with the fact that she went to Pilates while wearing an expensive sweatsuit. “It evolved from the Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus-mom-[inspired] jeans and cardigan of the early aughts to today’s influencers in the mom space,” Schreiber explained. She referenced Larissa Mills, the viral 50-year-old TikToker described by WhoWhatWear as a perfector of “elevated basics” as emblematic of current momcore dressing. This catchall has little to do with actually being a mom, or the uniform used to perform motherhood, and more to do with making everyday outfits look chic.

Fashion blogger turned designer Arielle Charnas is an example of the rich side of momcore.
Fashion blogger turned designer Arielle Charnas is an example of the rich side of momcore.

Fashion blogger turned designer Arielle Charnas is an example of the rich side of momcore.

Back in the day, Fey’s “cool mom” look from “Mean Girls” exuded extravagance, but it was silly and meant to be a joke. The look stuck, however, and evolved over the years. Schreiber described momcore’s modernization in the mid 2010s as “skinny jeans, heels, boob job, Botox and a tight ponytail.”

“Look at someone like [Something Navy fashion blogger turned designer] Arielle Charnas, who belongs to Zero Bond [an exclusive members’ club] and struts down the Upper East Side in taupes and Chanel,” she said. 

What Momcore Looks Like Today 

Today, momcore has less to do with any actual representation of motherhood, and more to do with looking rich, chic and cosmopolitan. Consider Christina Najjar, the TikTok star known as Tinx and creator of the Rich Mom brand. Najjar, who launched a line of Rich Mom sweatsuits last year and partners with all kinds of lifestyle brands from Golden Goose (what she calls the official Rich Mom sneaker) to Tabasco, is not even a mom. 

“Being a mom nowadays doesn’t mean having to give up your own style; it means not forgoing your identity because of your kids, rather embracing the two identities, together,” Schreiber explained.

But this melding of identities, at least when it comes to dressing, takes privilege and money. Manley said: “There’s also a part of it that feels like it’s about style insecurity. There seems to be a need to make women who are mothers feel like it’s OK to dress in a way that’s comfortable and easy to move in.”

A Better Type Of Momcore

At its best, momcore is a style of dress that encourages ease of movement, as Manley outlined above. In this way, momcore is most relevant today. “We just need moms to know that they make the world go round, no matter what they choose to show up as,” Schreiber said, explaining that dressing moms is highly individual. “Dressing moms is also dependent on the person I’m styling; some want comfier shoes, others want stilettos to feel invigorated and unstoppable.” 

Here, she underscores the major problem with momcore as a cultural touchstone. Because there’s no one type of mom, no singular definition of motherhood, it’s problematic to assign it a uniform. But when we take the uniform out of momcore, and see it more as a style of dress that allows for easy movement, the term opens up.

Beverly Osemwenkhae, a New York- and London-based style expert and the founder of ProjectBee Wardrobe Consulting, told HuffPost, “When I think of the term momcore the first thing that comes to mind is comfort. Does it have stretch and can I move around in it?” She went on to explain the nuances of momcore, which can mean just doing you. 

“I think everyone just needs to wear clothing that makes them feel good,” Osemwenkhae said. “I don’t necessarily believe moms need to dress differently from other women; it’s about understanding your body shape and finding the right pieces that work for you and your lifestyle. If you’re a busy professional with young kids, it might be worth investing in clothing that can easily transition from work to evening to weekend. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, consider more comfort and invest in athleisure wear.”

Finally, her understanding of momcore isn’t necessarily tied to consumption. In fact, for Osemwenkhae, momcore is about rediscovering those parts of yourself that may have been overshadowed by motherhood. “I help [moms] rediscover their wardrobe by physically shopping their closet, giving new life to old pieces by re-styling [their wardrobe],” she said.

Shedding the label of what a mom should dress like might signal the end of momcore as we know it — or just redefine it with more acumen and cultural relevance. 

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