Never Let Them See Your Sweats


See that dress? Totally appropriate for taking the Smartlings to a kids' ballet matinee, yes? It is also so soft and comfortable that I have napped in it. Read on to find your own Secret Jammies below.

True story: one of the very first posts on this website, almost exactly 4 years ago, was about my pants. Specifically, it was about whether and how to dress well while in the throes of parenting young children. It had a happy ending wherein I discovered how to look better and still function in my life. But something was missing from the puzzle, something very important.

People, I forgot about comfort. I mean, basic comfort was covered, yes. I could move in the clothes I ultimately bought, and I did. But by the end of the day I was cranky and couldn't wait to rip off my clothes* and change into my jammies as soon as possible.

It was when I found myself engaging in less and less play with my kids, particularly at the end of the day, that I had to interrogate the reason why. Now, I like my kids an awful lot, and I know that "floor time" is important for bonding, closeness, and a general good family time. But I just wasn't doing it, to the detriment of my family's happiness. The reason why (neither the fatigue I generally blame for everything, nor the insipidity of little kids' games) was peculiarly surprising. I didn't want to play with my kids because my pants hurt.

Yeah, even those super cute, super stretchy, walk-for-hours jobbies I got to replace my horrible postpartum mom jeans hurt me by the end of the day, and the last thing I wanted to do was sit on the floor in them, forcing the waistband to dig in and the legs to bunch up and the crotch to invade my southern hemisphere.

And that's when I realized a very fundamental truth about this meatsuit I walk around in all day long: I am definitely a Highly Sensitive Person, a descriptor whose definition is all in the name. I feel minor irritations and mild sensory input as dramatically distressing and disagreeable.

It's incredibly inconvenient and annoying to myself and those who have to accommodate me. Just ask my parents, who struggled to dress me for years when pants - jeans especially - hurt my legs too much for me to wear and the toe seams on socks had to be thin, soft, and placed just so across my toenails so I felt them as little as possible. Or ask my Smartner who has had to deal with the perfect laboratory conditions necessary to lull me to sleep (cold room, pitch dark, no ticking clocks, yes white noise, heavy blanket, digital clock faces turned away, blanket pulled up to my chin, but not over my ear, hands balled into fists, pajama pants regardless of the weather so my leg skin doesn't touch my other leg skin.) Or ask my children, who heard me say "no" to their repeated invitations to play because I just. couldn't. bend. in those jeans for another minute.**

Thus, the early jammies. Better to give up on being dressed than give up on playing with the kids.

And that early jammies-changing? It's a gateway drug for me. The jammies started coming out earlier and earlier. And, when I had to leave the house after jammies time I'd often throw on my yoga pants or workout clothes to affect that "athleisure" look that we kid ourselves with. Which then led to just skipping the middle man and wearing the yoga pants and sweats all damn day long. I sure was comfy, and I sure didn't invite respect or serious consideration in my old maternity yoga capris and stained grad school sweatshirt.

It was time for a new uniform. Not the skinny jeans that made me cringe, though they looked so cute. Not the sweats that made others cringe, though they felt so great. I needed a middle ground, and I found it.

Welcome to my current fashion uniform, which I call "Secret Jammies."

The idea of Secret Jammies is simple: Feel like you're wearing pajamas but look ready to greet the public with some self-respect and self-care. As revolutionary as this idea felt when it dawned on me, it's also been relatively easy to implement. Now I feel as comfortable as I did when I wore my sweats all day long, but people compliment me on my outfits.***

So, if you're Highly Sensitive or just want to get away with sartorial murder by wearing what feel like outdoor jammies, then read on. I've got some great recommendations that can make both your body and your wardrobe happy.

Step 1: Comfortable Bottoms

My biggest challenge is finding clothing to wear on my bottom half that doesn't make me want to KILLKILLKILL by 4:00pm. Things I can't stand: waistbands that bind, rises so low that my stomach and hiney try to escape, rough inseams that make me want to walk like a cowgirl to avoid thigh contact. All of the following recommendations avoid these pitfalls and are wearable from dusk to dawn.

Wit and Wisdom 'Ab'solution Jeans

Skinnies on the left in black; Itty Bitty Bootcut on the right in dark indigo. (Image Source)

Currently, these are the only jeans that I wear. I love the Itty Bitty Bootcut in dark indigo so much that, when it's triple-point day or the anniversary sale at Nordstrom, I buy multiple pairs of them to last me through the year. The interior waistband on 'Ab'solution jeans are elastic cleverly sewn to a stretch denim exterior so that they look like normal jeans but feel like yoga pants. The fabric itself has a ton of stretch to it, but not so much that you'll be all saggy-assed by the end of the day. The only drawback of these jeans is that, because they're not made of denim really, but rather a stretch cotton, they don't last that long. I will bust through the thighs on 3-4 pair a year with moderately hard wear. For me it's worth it because I can wear them all day long and through all events, from nap time to play time. Your mileage, however, may vary.

What to wear with these? Shirts, dummy! More to come on that...

Pull-on Jeans

Jag Jeans "Paley" Bootcut in After Midnight on the left (Image Source) and Old Navy Midrise Rockstar Jeggings in black (Image Source)

I don't actually own any of these, but I'd like to try some and see how they compare to the 'Ab'solution. A close friend swears by the ease and comfort of Jag Jeans's wide, pull-on waistband that is completely hidden as long as you don't tuck in your shirt. And if I can find comfortable, good-looking comfy jeans at Old Navy prices, you know I'm in!

Hue Leggings with Wide Waistband

Left: YES! (Image Source) Right: NO! (Image Source)

The cardinal rule about comfortable bottoms is that a wide waistband is your best friend. The wide waistband means little to no cutting into your tender flesh, no rolling down, no turning your perfectly singular midsection into a Michelin-man-type segmented abdominal situation. I found these Hue leggings at TJ Maxx (WIN!), so they were more reasonably priced than they are at their full retail price here. Find them where you can, or find their wide-waistbanded equivalent where you can. Just find them.

Note: I strongly believe that leggings are not pants. I wear these with tunics and dresses. My general rule is that if the top covers the crotch, then the bottoms can be leggings.

Commando Tights

(Image Source)

My little cousin, who used to be a lingerie and hosiery department manager at Nordstrom,**** introduced me to these. They are, basically, tights so comfortable that you can almost forget that you're wearing them. Their secret is, again, that forgiving wide waistband. I generally find leggings to be far more comfortable than tights and, whenever possible, opt to wear those under dresses. But when fashion or occasion dictates a more formal look, I'll reach for these tights to finish a fancier look. (Don't tell my cousin, but I've also found these at TJ Maxx and at Nordstrom Rack. *Shhhhhhhhh.*)

Jockey Skimmies

IT ME! (Image Source)

So many of the original Smarty Mommies Facebook group wear these that we have dubbed them "Smundies" (Smarty + Undies... get it?). I love wearing dresses in the summer, but I hate having my thigh fat rub against my other thigh fat in the phenomenon coloquially known as "chub rub." Enter Smundies. They aren't attractive, but they are lifesavers. Plus, if you're as uncoordinated as I am and have a tendency to accidentally flash people when you're at the park in a skirt, then these are your answer. Thigh protection and modesty - what more could a Smarty ask for?

Step 2: Cute and Comfortable Tops and Dresses

Finding good tops and dresses is less of a struggle than finding comfortable bottoms, but I'll give you the basic formula I use to feel comfortable and put together at the very same time. (I'm still so happy I can type that truthfully that I'm grinning at the screen.) Here goes.

With Jeans, Interesting Versions of Basic Tops

My definition of "interesting" isn't actually very interesting. I shoot for a pattern or some kind of funky detail to set it apart from a plain t-shirt, and call it good.

Left to right: Hinge Print V-neck Top, Topshop Scallop Frill Tee, Madewell Plaid Tie-front, Button-back Blouse

(All images sourced from linked websites)

See what I did there? It's easy. Comfortable, easy tops one can move in but that look a step (or two!) above a plain t-shirt. Add some shiny accessory somewhere on your person, and you look like you've tried without giving getting dressed a second thought.

With Leggings, Easy Tunics or Dresses

Left to right: Billabong Wandering Blues Chambray Shirtdress, Spenser Jeremy Knit Tank Dress, Loft Bluebell Blouson Dress

(All images sourced from linked websites)

Simple, right? Once you've found your comfy bottoms, comfy tops just fall into place. These are three very different styles of dresses, and they'd all work equally well over a pair of comfortable wide-waistband leggings. I'd want a sweater or a jacket with the tank dress and possibly a camisole under the chambray shirtdress, but beyond that all you need are simple accessories and you're out the door.

With Tights or Smundies, Any Dress Will Do

When I do need to get dressed up, I will still reach for something comfortable first and foremost. I've had great luck at the magical Value Village near our house thrifting eShakti dresses for more formal occasions, many of which are made from soft cotton poplin, cotton knit, or jersey. These dresses feel like longer versions of comfy t-shirts but look the part of put-together, dressed-up lady clothes.

Left to right: Pleated Cotton Jersey Knit Maxi Dress, Obi Belt Cotton Poplin Shirtdress, Contrast Trim Cut-out Front Cotton Knit Dress

(All images sourced from linked websites)

And, really, there you have it. This is how I dress myself in the morning. Boots in winter, sandals in summer, sassy platforms with fancy dresses. A pair of earrings goes a long way, as does a watch or a necklace. Extra next-level bonus points for a scarf (I just keep tying it in weird knots until I think "That looks French!")

It's so easy to look acceptable and feel comfortable these days that I truly regret the years I spent wincing at my clothing or walking around looking like I didn't care at all about myself. Don't make those mistakes, people! Especially don't make those mistakes, mom people! We're worth looking like we're worth something, and it isn't as hard to do once you find clothing that makes you feel as good as you appear.

Happy shopping, friends! And report any recommendations you have for comfortable clothing in the comments below!

*Get your mind out of the gutter.

**Sound familiar? Take one or all of these quick tests and see where you and yours rank.

***It's so hard to accept these compliments without saying "Ha ha! Tricked you! MY CLOTHES ARE BASICALLY PAJAMAS!," but I'm working on it.

****You haven't lived until someone you used to babysit fits you for your first postpartum bra. And you really haven't lived until you've been fitted for a bra by someone you used to babysit while Danica nurses her new baby in the same fitting room. What times we had that day!