Shopping with Mom

Just in time for Mother’s Day, Emily Ferber reflects on important time spent with her mom


My mother carries a paper outline of my right foot around with her at all times. Initially, it was the sole of an old sandal she found abandoned in my closet when I packed up for college, which eventually evolved into a more flexible, less-worn version of the same concept. There was the cardboard model for a while, then the Dr. Scholl’s insert. In its most recent adaptation, my foot was traced onto a piece of beautiful Crane’s cardstock I gave her for Mother’s Day about a decade ago.

The process of stenciling my footprint was only slightly mortifying. Still, it was a necessary step that had to be taken.

She deploys this stencil every time she strolls through a shoe department having a sale. While I’ve never seen her in action, I assume the scene goes something like this: amidst the rows of overflowing racks, something catches her eye in a 7.5. She discreetly shoves my foot’s Flat Stanley in to check its size, sends me a picture, and on certain fortuitous occasions, a purchase is made.

Perhaps it’s a little strange – even marginally overboard – that as a 21-year-old, I still rely on my mom to pick out a good portion of my clothing. There’s a whiff of emotional reliance about the process coupled with the danger of living-above-one’s-means that I should probably stop ignoring. But I’d like to suggest, if only to save some face, that there is something grander at work here: a bonding activity that doesn’t make me childish, but rather, keeps us in contact.

Over the years, my mother has become my most trusted shopping partner. It took work to achieve our particular level of shopping telepathy. There were arguments, sensitive feelings, returned shirts, a few tears. But shopping has become a part of our ritual, like a passed-down tradition from grandmother to mother to me. If something is worth celebrating, we shop. If either of us is upset, we shop. If it’s a nice day, we shop. If it’s crappy out, we still shop. And the physical distance between us is nothing; we’ve turned Skype sessions into dressing room consultations and Facetime calls into proper fittings. Call us hopeless materialists if you want. I prefer to think of it as upgraded retail therapy.

Groups of friends bond this way too, of course — the idea of shopping companions is nothing new. But I’ve never been able to enjoy such team jaunts, however, because feelings of impatience and distrust lurk in my mind when third party judgements threaten to invade. It’s my mom, and my mom alone, whose dressing room opinion I trust.

Friends wonder aloud about my close relationship with my mother, vaguely hinting that it appears a large part of me forgot to grow up. Or, perhaps more ominously, actively refuses to. And I guess they have a point. This habit has turned me into somewhat of a helicopter child, entering adulthood attached to her both financially and emotionally. It can be hard to accept that at age 21, my mom still does things for me. Helps support me. My proverbial umbilical cord stretches through a cardstock cut-out and text messages about shoes.

The nice thing about moms, though, is that you can’t outgrow them. And besides, my feet stopped growing years ago.

Written by Emily Ferber. Her work has appeared in New York Magazine, ELLE and The Atlantic.

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  • Jasmine J

    21 with great writing skills and an amazing portfolio, i’d love to find out how you are doing so well at such a young age!

  • Aubrey Green

    This is really sweet.

  • Sweet Mona
  • first of all wow this piece is written amazingly! and second I love this because I am the same way with my mom, I pretty much only shop with her 🙂


  • Dancingcheektocheek

    ¡Ha ¡Ha

  • This is so wonderful. As a mom to a 2 year old, I now see both sides of this. That I love shopping with my mom and still depend on her to buy the majority of my jewelry for every holiday, and that I can’t wait to go shopping with my daughter and have this close of a relationship with her one day. Way to pull at the heartstrings, Emily!

  • I always get sentimental on Mother’s Day. Nicely written, Emily! Here’s my tribute to mom ~ The Card ~

  • michelleasweeney

    I read this and laughed all the way thru this. Then I read the byline at the end. Emily is a wonderful writer and a great shopper. I have shopped in Soho with her on a seriously hot NYC summer day.

  • Anton

    this makes me a bit teary, as for some reason all the mom-related pieces on MR does.. (also MR is the only “fashion blog” i still frequently read, so um kudos for that:) )This coming mothers day will be the second since my mother passed, and the wound is still fresh. Tell your mom how much she means to you, how funny, inspiring and brave she is while you still can.

  • This is wonderful. I started reading Man Repeller a few years ago and in the interim I had my first baby–a girl–who’s now a toddler. I’ve always appreciated good fashion writing and now appreciate musings about motherhood. This combined both. I really enjoyed this piece by Ferber. And I can relate to your mom, I used to photograph my baby’s feet–they were so dainty and tiny; I love them.

  • Mon

    I couldn’t agree more – my mother is my best shopping accessory. Since moving out after university she always gets me sartorial surprises!

    XX mon

  • My mother is the only person I can shop with. Otherwise, I go solo. I worry to much about lingering in certain stores too long or spending too much money if I’m with friends, even close friends. The woman’s got serious shopping stamina and she always wants to stay in Sephora for longer than humanly acceptable.

  • you write beyond your years, and at 36, my mother still buys me shoes- and posting them around the world. umbilical attachment it is not, but I dare say you’ll stop noticing the strangeness after your children arrive, embracing the sweetness of your bond.

  • Ms. Ferber, your essay totally had me smiling! You are such a good writer and I must say I am a little starstruck by the places for which you’ve written. What does that feel like?

    I really enjoyed the above piece specifically because it feels both so foreign and personal. My mom and I have never really shopped or discussed clothes together because she and I are on such different wavelengths when it comes to clothing consumption. I always longed for a rainy day of shopping with my mom, but at the same time your piece made me realize the special little things I will always rely on my mom for even if they don’t consist of purchasing shoes. I know when I go to college next year I am going to miss our weekend morning runs. Even though I am growing up, I refuse to give up the Sunday mornings I spend at the base of my parents’ bed reading the Sunday paper, too. I will never get tired of that cozy feeling.

    Thank you again for this amazing piece. You are going places, and by god you already have! xx

  • A relationship with your mum is precious, don’t feel pressured to move on from it! 🙂

  • Goodlacknail

    I totally agree with Emily – my mum also is the only opinion I fully trust when shopping. And no, one can’t outgrow his or her mum 😉

  • Ashley Laramie

    I love this, you are such a great writer! The cardboard cutout is a genius idea, definitely going to steal that one.

  • alexia

    Wow, writing like that at your age… That’s really amazing. Plus your style is so well defined (well, no wonder why, you have a very good partner!). I thought you were older because of your strong personality. I am amazed!

  • ohhhh lovely post!!!
    my profle and check out the outfits, See u there. XXX

  • Tracy

    Great post! You are really lucky to have the same taste in clothing and accessories with your mom!

  • Great piece of writing! Also, I love shopping with my mom. Her mom (and my grandma, obviously) used to be a dressmaker and passed on a great deal of her know-how to my mother. Thus she has an amazing knowledge of fabrics, different kinds of seam, etc. She might be a bit boring (basic?) when it comes to silhouettes but there is no one like her when it comes to finding quality pieces.

  • Kate Wilson
  • Its so refreshing to read that other people are the same as me! My mum and I are always shopping together (along with my sister). There is no other person that I trust to give me an honest answer to the question ‘does my bum look big in this?’! Its funny how mum’s also have a sixth sense about what will suit you and what you will like! Thank you for sharing this – it has made my day!

  • giselaandzoe

    I get it. As a mom to a 16 year old it felt so good to hear from my daughters mouth “Mom, I have more fun shopping with you then with my friends”! A teenager rather be with mom shopping then with friends? There is no better feeling in the world then to have a bond with your daughter! I can go on about this…but in the end that’s the best Mother Days gift of all!

  • Boyfriendsandblazers

    I was 21 years old when I got sober.

    I started spending a lot of time with my mother, and our conversations seemed to always head in one direction, fashion. As my friends continued to party, I continued to spend my nights at home with my mother gazing and tearing through magazines, learning everything I could about the fashion industry. I would spend hours going through my mothers closet and asking her if her size 8 Manolo Blahnik’s would ever magically shrink down to a size 6. At 21 years old it seemed obvious to me that I shouldn’t expect any sudden foot growth spurts.

    I am now 25. I don’t shop without my mother and I am constantly sending her pictures of “yes or no” to my outfits. She is my rockstar and my “Rachel Zoe”

  • I agree wholeheartedly! Is it strange that I prefer shopping with my mother than with my friends? Who else knows your style as intimately as your mom? I also love knowing that she’s thinking of me when I get a text “What do you think about these shoes?” from 3,000 miles away or I find a vintage Gucci bag in Florence in just the blue I’ve known that she’s been looking for as long as I can remember. Cheers to our moms!

  • diane

    This is so bittersweet for me to read, what with another motherless Mother’s Day just around the corner. Although my mother and I were always a bit distant, that all dissolved once we got inside the confines of a dressing room. Suddenly, amidst all that fabric and finery, we could talk about mutual likes and dislikes, which were more of the former than the latter, despite our lifestyle differences. My grandmother was a working seamstress who passed on her love of clothes to my own mom, propelling her on a (thwarted) career as a fashion designer. Both of them taught me everything I know about fabric, fit, French seaming, obsolete dressmaker details (like faggoting and tatting) all within the learning institution that was our local (now shuttered) Loehmanns store on Long Island. Before she passed away, I always teased my mom that she is the cause of my fashion fixation and my never-ending quest to find designer duds for a song. I would give anything to take my mom shopping once more, preferably in Italy where she always meant to visit.

  • Petra

    What a great story!

  • I think it’s really sweet, (and kind of genius) that she takes your sole with her. As a mom, I love hearing all of the ways people bond with theirs, since I never had these experiences myself. You should buy her some shoes for Mother’s Day, or maybe some insert soles of her own for a laugh 😉

  • Jordan Nasser

    the sweetest post, i hope there will never be a day when i can’t drag my Mom shopping. She is the only person in the world that knows I do not need another pair of black jeans and as for that white shirt….. that’s also a no

  • Maggi

    Brought back good memories of shopping with my mom. I hope to carry on the tradition with my daughters too, not to have ‘stuff’, but to bond. Thanks for the great read!