My Style Is Unapologetically Weird & I Owe It All To My Mom

My Style Is Unapologetically Weird & I Owe It All To My Mom

Kristen Bateman is a fashion writer and founder of jewelry brand Dollchunk.

If I had to choose my favorite item in my entire wardrobe, it would be a glass chiclet-style necklace from Chanel. It used to be extremely long, but over time, from excessive wear, it has broken up and been restrung so many times that it is almost choker-length now. For a long time, the necklace was my mom’s only designer piece, an accessory she saved up for before she had kids, which she handed over to me when I was about 10 years old. 

This necklace is special to me because it symbolized my first “real” fashion piece — but also because it came from the person who has inspired my personal style. For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved dressing up. And while that’s a pretty common statement from someone who works in fashion, what started as a game of dress-up when I was younger helped me find a better sense of self as an adult.

I grew up with a single mother. We couldn’t afford much, but my mom would encourage me to be inventive with my sartorial choices, finding spare items around the house and tinkering them into new outfits for me. She would help me find new ways to layer things, style my hair in ways that could rival the most intricate hats, and look through magazines with me for hours, dreaming up ways to help me get the look, whether that meant wearing a shirt backwards or a brooch as a hairclip. She would show me pictures of what she wore when she was younger — everything from an American flag worn as a shirt to six-inch platforms — and I would try on her red sequin gown or strapless ruffled cupcake dress.

By middle school, I had decided I wanted to go to Parsons School of Design in New York City, and I was dressing like it, too. I wore lots of black leather, chunky heels, headbands (undoubtedly inspired by the original Gossip Girl), and oversized, slouchy totes instead of backpacks. I would look up Miu Miu runway images and cover my binders in them, taking the more whimsical elements from the collections and trying to bring them into my own wardrobe. I definitely couldn’t afford the dragonfly shoes I lusted over from the brand’s spring 2008 collection, but my mom helped me find alternatives for cheap. To counteract my days at school, where I was endlessly bullied for looking different (people notice when you’re not dressed like them; I got asked almost every day, “Why are you so dressed up?”), fashion became my escape. My mother and I would drive into the next town over to read fashion magazines inside Barnes & Noble and window-shop. We would spend hours at Target and TJ Maxx — the only places in the area to look for clothes that were decently affordable and fashion-forward — poring over different pieces, holding them up to see how they’d look on us, and suggesting styles for each other that we normally wouldn’t gravitate to.

Eventually, I did go to Parsons, and having more fashion options than ever before at my fingertips helped my style evolve further. Topshop was like heaven for me. So were secondhand shops like Beacon’s Closet that allowed me to buy designer pieces I could actually afford, sometimes for the same prices as Zara and Forever 21. My style became even more colorful and print-heavy. 

Shortly before I graduated college, my mom also moved to New York City, her original hometown. Ever since then, both of our personal styles have evolved and merged. Take, for example, my hair color, which I started changing up ever so slightly in middle school and then more dramatically in college. (At this point, it has been through all the colors of the rainbow.) It’s a move my mom always supported, and even helped me with when I couldn’t afford to get it professionally dyed. After she got cancer during my first year of college and lost all her hair, it grew back in a different texture and color. We decided to start dyeing her hair different colors, too, eventually landing on yellow as her signature hue. Now having colored hair is a key element of style identity for both of us.

When fashion week comes around, I’m lucky to bring my mother to some of my favorite shows. We plan our outfits together, plotting out pieces in advance and trying them on before the day begins to give each other feedback. I’ll usually add more jewelry to her looks — chiming in with a super chunky beaded necklace or pair of earrings — while she’ll offer styling that I never thought of, just like back in the day. Sometimes it’s adding a hat or hair accessory, other times it’s about switching out a bag to play with proportions.

The funny thing is we often end up matching in some way, even if we haven’t planned it, haven’t seen each other, or even spoken all day. I think it’s all due to years of planning out outfits together and bouncing ideas back and forth during our TJ Maxx years. These days, it makes for fun street style photos during fashion week and TikTok videos

Today, I would describe my style today as bold, feminine but not too girly, and ultimately a little bit weird. I love including an unexpected element like a handbag with a fake cookie attached, a neon faux fur hat, or a giant puffy dress that’s designed to look like a trash bag, and I’ll try any trend or style once. It used to be that my mom would push me to try things that made me feel slightly outside my comfort zone when it came to my aesthetic. But now it’s me who pushes her: I’ll encourage her to try an up-and-coming brand I’ve seen in Paris or Copenhagen or an unexpected layering move, like wearing a rhinestone crop top over a mesh shirt.

I firmly think that anyone can, and should, wear whatever they want. But as my mom always told me, you have to be ready for a variety of different reactions from all different kinds of people, even in a city as vast as New York. That said, it’s a lot easier walking around with someone who is just as eccentrically dressed or as colorful as you, as opposed to going it alone. Luckily for me, I get to do it with my style soulmate — my mom.

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