I love you, but I hate your style.
July 3, 2008 9:32 AM   Subscribe

I'm 28 and still being dressed by my mother. Every birthday and Christmas, she buys me more clothes. But they're awful, hideous things. How do I get her to stop?

I love my mom a lot, but she thinks I'm still 12. Sure, it's the thought that counts. However, shouldn't I be able to get some joy from my holiday gifts? And it's not like it's one thing, she's probably spending $100 on things I'll wear once to be polite (if that), then let fester in my closet before going to Goodwill. To top it off, I've lost 40 lbs since college, but she thinks I'm still 2 sizes larger, despite my repeated efforts to correct her.

My sister (32) suffers the same fate. It's an ongoing joke about our regular trips to donate our "Mom Clothes". We've both made slight hints that we would prefer gift cards so that we could pick out our own clothing, but she insists she knows better than we do.

Of course, giving gifts brings her joy. But, I feel bad that she's wasting her money. Am I just ungrateful?
posted by hwyengr to Society & Culture (33 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Tell her to include the receipt so you can exchange them for a better fit. Pretty much all clothing stores give gift receipts with the price fuzzed out, and if she can’t do this she’s being odd. In that case just send it along to goodwill. Personally I'd skip modelling them though as this may give her the impression you love her picks. Just pretend that your mother is donating to goodwill in your name as a gift.

Still, I have no advice about the sizing issue. My mother still shops for me like I am a slightly hefty A cup, forgetting that I've been a svelte C for five years now. Once she accepted I was a chubby 15 year old, her mental picture of me has not changed.
posted by Phalene at 9:42 AM on July 3, 2008

Try being blunt: It is so wonderful that she buys things for you, but the clothes don't fit your body or your lifestyle.
a)suggest that you could go shopping together or
b) Find a catalog with clothes you like, tell her that the sizes run large so you only need an x from this catalog and then let her choose and surprise you.

Option B: tell her they are the wrong size, you need to exchange them and ask for the receipt and/or not cutting off the store tags. (It is OK if she cuts off the price at the bottom)

Depending on how much she needs to be in control, neither or these may work but it is worth a try. If she really likes the shopping and surprising you part, the catalog might be the best route. Good luck.
posted by metahawk at 9:46 AM on July 3, 2008

When I was in college my mother came to visit and saw that I had hung a shirt she'd sent on the wall as an ironic ornament, still pinned together in its plastic wrapping. She never sent me clothes after that.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:48 AM on July 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'd pre-empt her: Think about something you really need (say, a hip-length black cardigan, or whatever) and tell her very specifically what you want, including your size.
posted by chowflap at 9:51 AM on July 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

I used to send pages of catalogs with stuff I liked marked and the correct size noted to my mother-in-law but she was looking for ideas. It did stop her sending me preppy clothing in the wrong colors and sizes though. I think you have to be blunt and it still may not work.

My mother always wanted my brother to dress more formally. He's a geologist who does field work and works in a lab. She gave him so many white dress shirts that it became a running family joke and a threat - "if you don't give me gift ideas I'll send you a white dress shirt!" good luck
posted by leslies at 9:55 AM on July 3, 2008

My mom did the same thing - clothes I would never wear, usually too big. ("There's an old joke - um... two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of 'em says, "'Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.'" The other one says, "'Yeah, I know; and such small portions.'") I felt really bad about it as I didn't want her to be spending money on me.
My advice would be to tell her that you are trying to simplify - you've been sorting through all your things and are trying to throw out that what you don't use. Knickknacks, books, clothes - you just have too much stuff and need to pare down. And look at how many clothes you have! So many that you've hardly even wore... Ask that as part of your simplification efforts she not buy you any more clothes.
posted by queseyo at 9:56 AM on July 3, 2008

Does she shop at a specific place? If the salespeople there know who the clothes are for, they might help steer her in a proper direction. Try going along with her, if they are good at their job they will pick up on the situation.
posted by ghost of a past number at 10:10 AM on July 3, 2008

If you can't bring yourself to say "Mom, stop buying me clothes," or if you do say it and it doesn't work, then start asking her for the receipts. If she says she can't find them or makes some other excuse to not give them to you, you could just leave everything with her to return. It would be a pretty strong message, and I don't know if you want to do it (I don't think I would), but it might work.
posted by boomchicka at 10:11 AM on July 3, 2008

Addressing the symptom (gifts of clothing in the wrong size and style) didn't work in our family, and just left my mom feeling hurt that she'd failed somehow.

This is what DID work: my sisters and I united to tell my mother that now that we were all grown up and independent we felt blessed by the abundance in our lives, and this year for Christmas how about we all pick charities to support instead of getting each other presents.

This made my mom feel proud for raising such successful, public-spirited children, virtuous for giving larger charitable donations than she otherwise would, and not unhappy about the deductions at tax time. And we don't have to feel guilty about a gift we don't want, don't like, and are never going to use.
posted by ambrosia at 10:13 AM on July 3, 2008 [4 favorites]

As a last resort, you could always sell your once-worn gifted clothes on eBay and buy yourself things you WOULD wear. I'd definitely try one of the PP's suggestions, first, though.
posted by alpha_betty at 10:20 AM on July 3, 2008

My mom always had decent taste, but I never wore the stuff anyway (too many clothes I'd bought myself). One year, she got me three shirts that were *identical* to ones I'd bought myself. I mentioned this, and got receipts to return them, and now she gets me other things besides clothes. I guess she feels that her taste is validated (since I bought the same stuff), she no longer needs to dress me.

The charity thing can backfire - I asked for charity donations one year from all my relatives, and instead they got me even more tacky crap than usual - they actually said, "no, we want to buy you things!" instead of donating. And specifying exact things in a catalog can backfire, if you're my grandma and think one pair of pants in that color is the same as any other pair of pants in that color so might as well get the cheap pair!
posted by notsnot at 10:21 AM on July 3, 2008

Am I just ungrateful?

Yes. You're a terrible person for wishing to break your dear ole mother's heart by actually having an adult conversation with her in which you say, "Hey mom, you know I love you, but this year I really don't need clothes, but what I do need is..."

Horrible and despicable. You should be ashamed of yourself...
posted by wfrgms at 10:21 AM on July 3, 2008

Do you see your mom often? Can you tolerate a few hours of clothes shopping with her? Because if you can get her to come with you to pick something out ("Gee, Mom. I've been having problems with the fit of the clothes you send. How about next time I visit we can go to this store I like and pick out a nice work outfit for me, and then we'll be sure it fits and looks nice") you might be able to retrain her.

I had this problem for years with my dad and stepmother until one year we all went together to buy clothes for me; from that point on the clothes they sent were much more my style and fit.
posted by stefanie at 10:32 AM on July 3, 2008

How about this: propose a Christmas or Birthday shopping trip. She buys. you You have lunch, try on clothes, walk around the mall... you get to put a positive spin on it "we get to spend the whole afternoon together!"also try "I really have lost weight, and I want to try everything on to find out what size I should be wearing now." and also get a say in what you get.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 10:34 AM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

you could just leave everything with her to return

One year I left some clothes I´d been given behind -- ¨can´t fit them in my luggage, if you can mail them, no hurry¨, not caring if I ever saw the things again. Well I did see them again, I got them as presents AGAIN the next year. She forgot that she´d already given them, and just remembered that they were intended for a present.

It wasn´t a very exciting present the second time either (12 sizes too big is really, truly unwearable, even if it was on sale), but at least saved her the money and trouble of buying some other unwanted thing.

shouldn't I be able to get some joy from my holiday gifts?

Yes! This is why I buy myself a holiday gift every year. Sometimes I get joy from my gifts by giving them away to other people, or showing clothes to other people who will find them humorous. Think showing how much you like the stuff from mom as a gift to her, since it makes her happy. If you feel bad about how much she´s spending, keep in mind that she might have bought the stuff that no one likes off the $5 clearance rack, if everything is really that terrible. Maybe she´s not spending as much as you think.
posted by yohko at 10:44 AM on July 3, 2008

My mother actually usually has excellent taste when it comes to clothes, but you know, every so often she goofs. My sisters and I are usually pretty blunt with her: "Mom, this is really nice but it just doesn't look on me/isn't my style/isn't the right color - can I have the gift receipt?" After a few years of this she now just includes the gift receipt with the gift.

I don't know how sensitive or not your mom is, but if you can think of a way to say it bluntly without hurting her feelings - like just sandwich it in between nice things, like "this is really nice, but it just doesn't fit right, and rather than let your hard work and your gift go to waste, I'd like to exchange it" - then maybe after a few Christmases and birthdays she'll get the general idea.
posted by sutel at 11:02 AM on July 3, 2008

You do know this is a control issue right? She apparently does not like your clothing choices-otherwise she'd do a gift card or give you a gift receipt.

I guess all you can righteously do is hand them back, tell her they are not the right size, and ask her if she has a gift receipt, and if not can SHE swap them?
posted by konolia at 11:26 AM on July 3, 2008

HA HA </nelson> I'm 38 and my mother still sends clothes that I haven't been able to wear for the last 10 years or more... underwear, socks, jeans, shirts totally unsuitable for Southern California. I just accept the love and donate them to a half-way house. I can tell the stuff that my sisters picked out, it's T-Shirts and stuff that I would wear. I'm on the opposite coast and get a birthday/christmas package once a year, it's not much trouble and mom is too set in her ways to change. Accept and move on.
posted by zengargoyle at 12:15 PM on July 3, 2008

I'm 44 and my mom STILL buys ugly clothes for me. The difference is now she has stopped doing it for my birthday and for Christmas. Why? Because my brothers and sisters now present our family with a WISH LIST for birthdays and Christmas. We physically hand my mother the lists and reiterate that this is what we'd like. It's made a huge, huge difference.

This doesn't mean that she still won't buy me ugly clothes "just because." Last time we saw each other, she presented me with a spectacularly ugly jacket with horrific day-glo flowers splattered on it. I graciously accepted it and added it to my Goodwill pile for donation.

But at least I didn't get it for my birthday or Christmas!
posted by HeyAllie at 12:25 PM on July 3, 2008

I was, in fact, able to tell my mom "no more short-sleeve, plaid, poly/cotton shirts, please," but, yeah, it was kind of awkward. It took years of, first, gracious acceptance, then second, heavy hinting. She always shops at outlets, so I couldn't even return them. Goodwill got some nice, new shirts every year.

The fact that it was consistently short-sleeve, plaid, poly/cotton shirts made it a bit easier--she was visiting one summer, and I said something about going all linen or cotton for the season. I really emphasized that, bringing it up a couple of times as we walked around sweatily. For some reason, she remembered that, and next Christmas gave me a gift card, since she couldn't find anything in my size and with those restrictions at the outlet. It has stuck for the last 5 years of so, thankfully.

I'm 42.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:33 PM on July 3, 2008

You do know this is a control issue right? She apparently does not like your clothing choices

It´s perfectly possible for someone to enjoy picking out gifts for others and believe that they are choosing things that fit in with the person´s style. Just because clothing that is received as a gift is not at all what the recipient wants doesn´t mean it´s a ¨control issue¨, it´s just very easy for someone to make a choice of something that won´t be wanted, and there´s a lot of advertising that goes around supporting the buying of clothing for gifts, when clothes actually make terrible presents.

Just because something is a useless gift doesn´t make it a control issue. I end up buying a lot of gifts that people might not like, because I´m participating in gift giving rituals and buying a gift card, which would be perfectly happy to get myself, would be seen as tacky by the person hosting the festivities. I can understand why it would be, because I don´t think unwrapping the presents would be very interesting if everyone just gave everyone else a $50 gift card for amazon.com.
posted by yohko at 12:34 PM on July 3, 2008

Response by poster: @konolia: It's control, definitely, but not that she doesn't like what I'm wearing. She doesn't think I can handle myself in the outside world, so she thinks she has to do things for me. A lot of it also has to do with compensation from what she feels she missed out on during her childhood.

Thanks for the advice, all. It's a really touchy issue, for the reasons above.
posted by hwyengr at 12:43 PM on July 3, 2008

4 words:

Salvation Army or GoodWill.

Your mom will feel as if she is still buying you clothes for whatever reason she feels it necessary. You will feel good that you are getting some NEW clothes to people who NEED them.

It doesn't seem as if your mom is poor, or that you need her gift cards to live. Just give them to charity as soon as you can (without letting them fester in your closet...especially when you KNOW you will not be wearing them).

That's a win, win situation. No need to battle your mom on this. You're not 12.

Good luck!
posted by hal_c_on at 12:44 PM on July 3, 2008

yohko, we aren't talking just anyone's giftgiving here...those of us with a certain type of mom can spot them a mile away. We love them, but sheesh...and being a mom myself of adult children, I myself am terrified of buying them clothing. Because we moms have OPINIONS!
posted by konolia at 1:30 PM on July 3, 2008

"Mom, my closet is full of clothes I love, and I can't accept any more for now. How about we focus on the (kitchen/bathroom/etc.) for a few years instead?"
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 1:36 PM on July 3, 2008

I just let my mom know that the only thing she could buy me with any certainty of usage was jeans. And then I gave her specific instructions on which jeans I want (and at what size, since she likes me to wear my clothes baggy for some reason?).
posted by apetpsychic at 1:43 PM on July 3, 2008

Let me reiterate one point almost every one has skipped: do not do the one polite wearing. That will add to the impression that the gift is successful. Never wear any of them. By all means, ask for a gift receipt - if you can bring yourself to tell her they're "just not my style," rather than they don't fit, that seems more likely to stop the trend, rather than "doesn't fit" which might just make her try a different size.

Maybe try asking for real basics you both can agree on? Surely everyone can use a white button-down, or red cashmere scarf, or navy peacoat, or something where the two of you intersect. Try to steer her to that intersection of taste. Or maybe you could steer her to jewelry, and ask for some basics - gold hoops, CZ studs, etc.
posted by timepiece at 2:57 PM on July 3, 2008

I just kept on giving them back with 'doesn't fit' 'i don't like it' until she got the picture.

For context: mum would give me clothes every time she saw me (once a week, approximately). It took me two years to get her to knock it off.
posted by ysabet at 3:46 PM on July 3, 2008

giving gifts brings her joy
In that case, I agree with the above commenters that you should take her shopping. Take her into the stores you shop in, pick out some styles you like, and have her help you select the sizes that you wear. You don't have to buy them there but at least she'll be able to take mental notes about brands, styles, and sizing.
posted by junesix at 4:39 PM on July 3, 2008

I made/keep an amazon wish list full of books, cds, and other non-clothing items I would like then when holidays roll around I remind my mom about the list or print it for her and she buys the stuff at whatever store she likes/has it on sale. Works great, easier shopping for her and I enjoy whatever she picks off the list.
posted by estronaut at 6:35 PM on July 3, 2008

Start buying all your clothes in thrift stores, or say that you do. It takes time, you have to be there in person, and control-freak Moms of this type refuse to buy thrift-shop clothes for themselves or their children. Furthermore, you can lay on the eco-leftist guilt trip.


Seriously, since I started doing this, I've avoided the hellish shopping trips chez maman of my teen years.
posted by bad grammar at 8:18 PM on July 3, 2008

No, you're not ungrateful, but you are making things more difficult than they need to be. Think of the clothes as a symbolic gift. The point is the giving and receiving, not the actuality of the gift. It's the emotions that are important, not the facts. You have to pretend you are happy to receive them. It's a ritual. Play your part. It's not about how well the clothes fit or how well they match your style. Just go with it. Make her happy.

I think it's in the DNA of moms to love giving things to the children. For my mom, it's food. No matter how many times I have rationally explained what I like and want, she insists on giving me what she thinks I should want. So, now I just take it and say thanks and then later get rid of it. You sound like you've probably had several conversations, at least, about clothes and she doesn't get it. Think of it as a harmless compulsion. Accept the gifts, show some gratitude and respect, and then do what you want with them.
posted by conrad53 at 3:02 AM on July 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

However, shouldn't I be able to get some joy from my holiday gifts?

Most mothers don't think their kids can survive without their help. After all, for several years, it was true! It's not easy to take care of someone for years and years and then suddenly stop helping them. Especially if you were somewhat neglected--you never want your children to feel that pain.

Even if it's completely misguided, unless it's actually hurting you or someone else, I would grin and bear it.

Donate them to a local battered women's shelter. Someone will get a new start in life, with the help of you and your mother. Isn't that a wonderful feeling?
posted by sondrialiac at 4:26 PM on July 4, 2008

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