When I was a teenager growing up in the suburbs outside of Boston, the thought of going shopping with my Mom seemed about as fun as taking the SATs. Instead, shopping was about time spent with my friends -- searching for the perfect pair of Guess acid-washed jeans, giggling about the edible underwear at Spencer's Gifts and hanging out at Orange Julius. In my teen mind, my Mom existed on a completely different fashion planet. She was good for transportation to and from the mall and occasionally for a little cash, but that was it. Many years later, I am still spending a lot of time at the mall and have been noticing a big change. Tons of tweens and teens are shopping alongside their moms -- and appearing to do so willingly and cheerfully.
So what's driving this change? The clues may be written in the generational stars. At 38, I am a Gen X consumer raised by parents that were born at the end of the Depression and the beginning of WWII. While we lived comfortably, my parents were adamant about not wasting anything, including really bad fashion. Our back-to-school shopping started with my mom bringing out the dreaded box of "hand-me-downs." As the youngest of three, this meant that many of my "new" fall fashions had already made their debut on my older sister and then on my older brother. (I remember a pair of corduroy bell bottoms that had so many iron-on patches on the knees that I couldn't bend my legs when I walked). As for whether or not they were the right brand, color, or style -- please! -- if they fit, they were yours and that was one less thing my mom had to buy. How times have changed! Today's tweens and teens were raised under a new regime. Often referred to as the "me generation," they are the products of a self-esteem building parenting machine. Not surprisingly, when today's teen declares that he or she must have a certain pair of skinny jeans to "fit in" and feel accepted, his or her parents actually listen and (to retailers' delight) buy. I am not suggesting that the teen desire to have an "it" item is anything new (I still remember trying to convince my parents that I would be mocked for eternity if I didn't have a pair of leg warmers and at least one slap bracelet). But what is new is the fact that many parents agree that being fashionable can impact a child's self-esteem and are more likely to buy what their children want. I can assure you, if my parents shared this mind-set, I would have spent a lot of time with them at the mall.
Our celebrity and youth obsessed culture is another reason why we see more mother and daughters happily perusing the same stores. Today, parents want to look younger, teens want to look older and retailers are more than happy to meet them both in the middle. In an episode from last season's Real Housewives of Orange County, Lynn Curtin, a 52 year old mother of two, is shown shopping with her teenage daughters at the uber trendy store, Intermix. The super tan threesome cheerfully try on the same Herve Leger bandage dresses and micro miniskirts. While Lynn and her daughters may be an extreme example, the phenomenon of moms and daughters shopping together at the same stores and buying the same clothes is anything but unique. And who can blame them? Women of a certain age are constantly warned about the evils of "mom jeans" and "muffin tops." There's actually a New York Times bestselling book targeted at Baby Boomers called, How Not to Look Old which offers style tips to look "Y&H" aka "young and hip" versus "OL" aka "old lady." If these are truly the only two options for moms today, I would be high-tailing it to "Forever 21 too"! Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, tweens and teens are feeling the pressure to look like sophisticated fashionista's at an alarmingly early age.
Wanting to appear older is nothing new. But when I was growing up in a technological age when our family computer looked and functioned a lot like the Ronco Showtime Rottisserie ("Set it and Forget It"), I certainly wasn't following fashion blogs and receiving daily email updates from my favorite stores. Today's tweens and teens are astoundingly fluent in fashion and as a result often covet the same items that their moms are buying. By contrast, I can't recall ever lusting after anything my mom brought home from Talbot's. So yes, maybe I sound a little bitter. Maybe I get a little melancholy when I see Katie and Suri shopping together and wearing identical high heels. But when I look back, I realize that it's my brother -- forced to wear my sister's hand-me-downs -- who should be really upset.
Follow Catherine Moellering on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheTobeReport