Once a year I pay tribute to my late Mum, who taught me more about style than anyone else. She sowed my style seed, and was a fabulous shopping buddy. She wholeheartedly supported my extreme career change at age 21 when I moved away from psychology to study fashion, one of the best decisions of my life. I wish I could tell my Mum how instrumental she was in giving me the confidence and drive to switch my career focus and start again. Since I can’t do that, I’m sharing her fashion wisdom with you instead, and hope that she can feel my enormous gratitude on her big fluffy cloud in the sky. 

I’m taking you back to 1984 after we just moved to Cape Town, and I was fourteen years old. We were new to the country, learning our way around, and I was an impressionable teen who loved fashion. I wore a school uniform, which made wearing regular clothes all the more important and a rare event. What you wore and where you bought your clothes did not go unnoticed, especially as the new kid at school. I felt I had a lot to prove, and being perceived as having good fashion sense was important to me. 

On a beautifully sunny and warm Cape Town day during school vacation, I went grocery shopping with my Mum at a mini mall where there were a few fashion stores. Mum asked if I wanted to browse the stores after the groceries were done, to which I enthusiastically said yes please. Our first stop was a shop called Scotts. Initially I refused to enter and Mum asked why? I replied that my new friends told me that Scotts was uncool and old-fashioned. Cheap and nasty. I wanted to shop at the hip stores like Foschini, Truworths, Edgars, Smiley Blue, and LA Clothing, because then I’d look and feel fabulous too. 

At first Mama looked at me with a puzzled expression, and then she laughed gently. She said: “It’s not about where you shop, and how much money you spend — but about what you find and how you wear it. Let’s just have a quick look.”

So we went into Scotts, but my heart wasn’t in it. I adored my Mum, but my friends obviously knew better than she did about where to shop in this new city. At least, that’s what I thought. It wasn’t long before I spotted an amazing pair of high-waisted baggy white pants with light blue insets on the sale rack. Mum took the pants, gave them a once over with her discerning eye, approved, and told me to try them on. They were absolutely perfect.

Mum helped me match the pants with a cropped light blue and white striped top, and oversized white jacket with gigantic collar, the same light blue insets, and shoulder pads. I LOVED this look and forgot I was in the oh-so-forbidden Scotts. After we got the clothes, we went next door to get white perforated flat oxfords and white clip-on plastic earrings that put the finishing touch on the outfit. I was thrilled and very excited about this look.

I wore this outfit over and over, with great confidence and happiness. It garnered many a compliment from the very same friends who were dead set against shopping at Scotts. A few friends asked me where I got the outfit, and I said, Scotts! They gasped and didn’t believe me, and some tuned up their noses. That was fine because I felt like a million bucks. As Mum so rightly told me back then, it doesn’t matter where you buy your clothes. It’s about how well you assess the quality, colour, silhouette and fit, how well you put together the look, and how confident you are wearing it. Lesson learned at age 14 and I’ve been grateful ever since.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of my magical Scotts outfit. Instead I’m sharing a pic of Mum and infant me back when I was born in Hong Kong in 1970. My mum was glam, graceful, classic and polished despite the setting, task or activity. Crying babies, a postpartum body, a husband who worked long hours, and no sleep wasn’t going to prevent her from wearing earrings, make-up, styling her hair, and sporting elegant sleepwear.

Mama, it’s been 18 years since your passing, and words can’t express how much I love and miss you. You will forever be my stylish role model because you always knew best. In addition to your fabulous style sense, you had inner strength, a fiery persona, unconditional love for your family, immense love for animals, fearless courage, and sheer grit.

We at YLF wish you, your Mums, including Mums who are no longer with us, a happy and peaceful Mother’s Day.