Elyce and Molly walk into a boutique and immediately eye the same item: a thin cotton strapless dress, in many vivid colors, that would look great paired with wedges or over a bathing suit. Instead of arguing about who saw it first, they agree it's totally fine if they both buy the dress — one chooses green; the other, peach. The scenario may sound familiar if you've gone cruising the mall with your best friend.
But Elyce and Molly aren't a pair of besties — they're mother and daughter.
"I never went shopping with my mom and didn't aspire to dress like her," said Elyce Neuhaser, 49, a yoga instructor and former editor at Women's Wear Daily and W. "Now I always go shopping with my daughter. It's totally a shared experience — I love it."
Despite jokes about "mom jeans," the case of Elyce and her daughter Molly, 21, shows that there isn't a singular way to define maternal style. With the desire for and awareness of fast fashion increasing across age groups, the last decade has seen a noticeable narrowing of the generational style gap. This is exactly what retailers want: Reel in customers in their twenties, and keep them shopping through their forties and on.
Ladylike fashion trends are certainly in retailers' favor as they strive for an aesthetic that appeals to women at many points of their style evolution. "The clear winner here is J.Crew, going from a very basic driven company to a forward-thinking, innovative fashion retailer with its own design DNA," says Sheila Aimette, vice president at trend forecaster WGSN. First lady Michelle Obama — one of the most influential dressers of the past six years — has definitely bolstered the brand's image as a hip place to shop for women of all ages. Her daughters Sasha and Malia wear the brand's kids' line, Crew Cuts, at high-profile public appearances.
But many brands are trying to strike a balance between trendy and classic pieces to accommodate moms' and daughters' varying tastes and body types. Women of different generations are increasingly able to style outfits to suit their various lifestyles, shapes, and tastes from the same collections. And retailers, like H&M, that have a reputation for skewing younger have made concerted efforts to reach women of all ages. The Swedish brand offers a maternity line called H&M MAMA and recently launched a "Fashion Family" line that boasts matching outfits for moms and daughters (and, in fact, fathers and sons). The looks for daughters — including structured jackets and slim-cut pants — seamlessly size up to dress moms, and vice versa.
Even Forever 21, which, as the name decrees, wants you to look 21...forever, put together a Mother's Day gift guide for daughters looking for gifts for moms. And Zara just launched a maternity line so that customers don't have to stop shopping at the store just because they're pregnant, making them more likely to keep shopping there after having a baby.
Online media and the ever-expanding world of ecommerce has also been key in assimilating wardrobes of mothers and daughters. Anyone can easily see what the first lady, Jessica Alba, Miranda Kerr, and dozens of other celebrity moms wore on any given day with a quick Google search, and many sites cataloging these looks use affiliate programs to direct users to online stores, where they can buy either the same outfit or something similar.
"The obsession is now more about being current, being 'in the know' and having things immediately and that includes [the mom] demographic, not just millennials," said WGSN's Aimette. Halsey Meyer launched Halsbrook.com, an online retailer targeted to women in their forties and older, after hearing her mom and her mom's friends complain about the youth-centric merchandising on many popular online stores. "I started doing the research of who was going on Net-a-porter and Shopbop, and I realized they were right — it skewed 18 to 30," Meyer said. "I realized they missed this opportunity and that this demo had purchasing power and was online."
She seems to be right. Jenn, 43, describes her 65-year-old mom as "much more fashionable than she was in the '80s." Jenn, who has been helping her mom shop for two decades, has seen a noticeable evolution in her mom's wardrobe. "At some point in my late twenties, I was able to get my mom to buy a real pair of jeans," she said. "The last time I went to visit her, she was wearing a top from Joie and I told her how great she looked. She was very happy and promptly ordered a couple more Joie tops." Shortly thereafter, she sent Jenn one of her own. (Jenn seems likely to enjoy a similar relationship with her 8- and 10-year-old daughters — she recently bought a pair of sweatpants to match theirs.)
Just like Elyce and Molly, Alexa Pollokoff, 24, also ends up wearing the same items as her mom. "We both needed a pair of nude pumps for summer events. Bloomingdale's was having an amazing sale, so we both went [separately] and coincidentally tried on — and purchased — the same pair of shoes," Pollokoff recalled. "We were texting pictures back and forth and realized only after we purchased that they were the same pair. So we agreed to discuss our outfits ahead of time so [we don't] wear them together."
With reporting by Amy Odell.