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No Cutoffs for My Daisy Duke: A Mother's Day at the Mall

04/30/2015 02:39 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2015

If shopping had been a sport in high school, I would have medaled in it. And my mother: a shopping Olympian.

Growing up in Larchmont, a cushy New York suburb, I hit department stores more often than Christy Turlington hit the runway. On weekdays, my mother, in her daytime uniform: tan chinos, white, man-tailored shirt, penny loafers, and brown Calvin Klein bucket bag, and I in my black parachute pants, white baby doll tee, strappy sandals, and silver/turquoise earrings the size of Medieval shields, prayed to Lord & Taylor, breaking only for tea sandwiches at The Bird Cage, the store's café. Come weekends, we zoomed up the West Side Highway and onto the Upper West Side's Columbus Avenue, dotted with upscale boutiques like Betsey Johnson, and where I once scored Sassoon jeans and a Goldie Hawn sighting.

Shopping was our love language, and we were fluent.

My mom was my personal dressing room ref, calling the shots mostly in my favor. "Oh Josie, that's adorrrrable!" she'd say. Or, "That, with your navy Dr. Scholl's? Perfect."

Rarely I'd get a "blech, take that off!" But when I did, as long as the item -- an army jacket or green acid-washed shorts -- wasn't too revealing, and I'd say my usual, "Pleeease?" I'd often win out.

But back then, besides short-short Daisy Dukes, sleaze-wear wasn't even an option, unlike today, when trolling stores at the mall (virtually our only choice when it comes to tweenwear), makes my usual liberal self feel like a nun wearing a habit, scoffing at styles that not only taunt young men, but my increasing disgust with what I lovingly refer to as the "slut cut" -- a seeming badge of honor, not a scarlet letter, sadly, aimed at girls often too young to know what impression this gives.

"I love shopping" said my daughter Daisy, recently toting a small Aeropostle bag as we ricocheted through the mall, past Cinnabon and the legions of teens dressed in distressed cut-offs, knee-high gladiator sandals and crop tops.

"Yeah," I said, "Because you're a size 0 and you're not paying."

Look, I get it. She's 12, a girl, and her need to express herself is almost as desperate as my need to exit that dreaded mall.

When I learned I was having a girl, I couldn't help but imagine styling her fashion future: baby in yellow frilly bikini; baby in brown bear booties... My baby? My taste.

Now my baby's almost a teenager, with strong opinions about peplum versus straight-cut, and a slick m.o. about how to make me cave to her fashion choices (um, it runs in the family).

But unlike my own mother, I'm not buying it. I have no sympathy for her or her wanna-be outfits I've rejected, abandoned in dressing rooms around Omaha, where we live. "No, you may not get the crocheted, off-the-shoulder peasant blouse that shows your ta-tas." How's about this top? "Mom," she pleads. "That's just a boring blue shirt." My response: "Exactly."

Times have changed.

A recovering retail rat who now much prefers a score at the Goodwill, Daisy still asks me to join her. Our new found sport is this: she periodically washes, folds, and sells her outgrown clothes, then we thrift it like gypsy chicks, combing the dollar bin where she's nabbed a black-and-white striped, sailor-style romper, a bright floral dress, and a Navy Hollister sweater. I give her free reign, and guidance when needed, achieving a balance between "No" and "No problem." This means a short dress thrown over a score -- old Levi 501s -- and a Forrest Gump tee is a "do" while a short knit tunic with cutouts on the sides and heeled boots, "Please mom, I can wear it to the Young Playwrights wrap party," is a "No way."

As I sit outside the dressing room waiting for her to parade her curated thrift outfit or even during our occasional forays to H&M, I can't help but think of my mother and me in the same scene thirty years ago. But this time, with my own daughter, it's different: as crazy as her outfit choices can be, she is her own person, confident in herself in a way I never was.

That is, until she steps out in ultra short shorts and a top that's way too tight.

"But mom, I can wear these over tights! And a jacket over the top."

"Blech, take that off!" I say, echoing my own mother.

But wait: I begin to see the possibilities.

"Only if you wear them over tights. Dark ones."

Maybe I'm not so much like my mother after all.

joey hoffman