No One Invited…Mother.

Over the weekend, I was sifting through a pile of mail and got distracted with a Brooks Brothers catalog (pictured right). Something bothered me, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then I realized, this cover picture had nothing to do with a family, except perhaps a broken one.

There’s no way this woman could be the mother to those children unless she had them when she was 13 or 15, which doesn’t sound like the demographic that shops at Brooks Brothers. It looks like the husband, at least 20 years older, has substituted the nanny or his young secretary for his wife. Maybe it’s a scoop on season five of Mad Men since the previous episodes concluded with Don Draper proposing to his very young and beautiful secretary, who also happens to be great with his kids.

If you look closely, she doesn’t even seem to be wearing awedding band. The ring looks more like an engagement ring.

Yes, the aging process, nature, and just about every aspect of marketing are harder on women than they are on men. But at least show something that could be a real family. I can’t figure out who Brooks Brothers is targeting because women who are the age of the model don’t shop at Brooks. (Brooks might not even carry sizes that small.) If they have money, they shop other high end brands. The women who do shop Brooks tend to be older and/or shopping for their husbands and not for themselves.

Additionally, I know women who have had several children and look amazing. These are women who, if they got together and had some good marketing, could publish a book that would be the next South Beach Diet. They look great and many of us wished we looked as good as they do. If they can package their looks as the benefits of having a large and busy family, all I can say is cha-ching!

But these women also look just a little bit older than the model here. Yes, Brooks, a mom can be older and still be beautiful.

This reminds me a bit of a section from Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities. The protagonist Sherman is at an exclusive Manhattan party:

The women came in two varieties. First, there were women in their late thirties and in their forties and older (women “of a certain age”), all of them skin and bones (starved to near perfection). To compensate for the concupiscence missing from their juiceless ribs and atrophied backsides, they turned to the dress designers. This season no puffs, flounces, pleats, ruffles, bibs, bows, battings, scallops, laces, darts, or shirrs on the bias were too extreme. They were the social X rays, to use the phrase that had bubbled up into Sherman’s own brain. Second, there were the so-called Lemon Tarts. These were women in their twenties or early thirties, mostly blondes (the Lemon in the Tarts), who were the second, third, and fourth wives or live-in girlfriends of men over forty or fifty or sixty (or seventy), the sort of women men refer to, quite without thinking, as girls. This season the Tart was able to flaunt the natural advantages of youth by showing her legs from well above the knee and emphasizing her round bottom (something no X ray had). What was entirely missing from chez Bavardage was that manner of woman who is neither very young nor very old, who has laid in a lining of subcutaneous fat, who glows with plumpness and a rosy face that speaks, without word, of home and hearth and hot food ready at six and stories read aloud at night and conversations while seated on the edge of the bed, just before the Sandman comes. In short, no one ever invited…Mother.

Sure, advertisers and consumers like youth and beauty. But there’s something wrong when beauty doesn’t include women who are old enough to be mothers, especially in a family shoot. Moms can be beautiful. Just ask any child.

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  • Matthew

    Beutiful post Pia.

  • Nancy

    Thank you for such a beautiful reminder that moms are special and loved, no matter they physical appearance.

  • Susan

    I chose not to get a wedding band when I got married – I thought 2 rings was superfluous. I’ve never had anyone question if I was “only engaged”. A ring is a ring is a ring. The symbolism is for the pledge of unending fidelity. I don’t need two symbols. I think it’s going a bit far to read into what her ring looks like…


  • V

    I once ran into an interesting reversal on the usual divorcee paradigm. When I went to meet the parents of a beau,

    I met both his mother, first. She was age appropriate, aged strikingly well, kept her figure, but, none the less reminded me so much of Joan Rivers. Then I met his father, with his second “wife?” who was plump, the same age as the father, from a poorer family background, not aging quite as well, but a warm and generous hostess. The atmosphere made me wonder if somehow the second iteration wasn’t the true marriage. I’m not even remotely suggesting that divorce is a good thing… but it is a quandary.

    About the image itself: I have to admit that this is not an especially charitable interpretation, but… is it possible that the target demographic has shifted to girlfriend/mistress shopping for married/divorcee male?

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  • David J. White

    The same thing is often seen on TV sit-com families. When the Cosby Show started in the mid-80s (hard to believe it was that long ago!), Phylicia Rashad, the actress who played the mother, was at least a decade too young to be the mother of the children depicted in the show, especially since it was made clear in the storyline that her character had gone to college and started a career before having her first child.

  • Steve T.

    I’m very sorry to say that this is a case of “turnabout is fair play.” Father has missing from advertisements for years. There’s a driving need to propagandize divorce in this culture. Hitherto it’s been an exquisitely coiffed Mother and two perfect children in a immaculate, designer-decorated home, without a trace of any pesky male interference. Now the hucksters of the Culture of Death are pitching the gleaming lie that ensnares men: the trophy wife. Both messages are the same–divorce makes everything better.

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  • Betsy

    Great article. Love the ending especially.

  • Bob

    Much ado about nothing.

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  • Titus

    I think this piece turns more on the puzzling marketing priorities of Brooks Brothers in the last few years than it does on a nefarious (whether intentionally or subconsciously) anti-family undertaking.

    Brooks has traditionally made and marketed grown-up clothes to grown-up audiences: older men, older women, and younger people of both sexes who need to look serious and professional rather than trendy or up-to-date. Their advertising reflected this emphasis as recently as a few years ago. That male model has been in the catalogues for some time, and there was a good-looking but older woman who played his wife in many shots.

    Over the last two years, Brooks must have brought in new design teams, because they’ve marginalized a lot of mainstays and introduced tons of fashion-forward pieces. The catalogues are now full of this girl and her college buddies wearing odd clothes. They must feel they’ve been losing market share among younger demographics; too bad their solution is to alienate their solid base of customers. (See also Ann Taylor, which did the exact same thing, but even more radically, about two years ago as well.)

    I think the photograph is the result of confused marketing as much as, or more so than, confused ideas about family.

  • Cordelia

    Pia, I think it is fair to see the family pictured above as not your typical family, looking like upper middle class or the kind of family that wants to look nice. However, it can happen that a younger woman in her early twenties marries a man ten to fifteen years older than her (Wasn’t Russell Kirk’s wife in her twenties and when they married?) have what could be fraternal twins now that are nine years old and stop there because they can’t have more kids. Oh, and such a family could perceivably be neither poor nor rich, yet have good taste and a formal attitude towards dress, and also prefer to have only one wedding ring. Have I said anything so far that makes this sort of family guilty of being bad in some way?

    You are, however, more familiar with the Brooks Brothers catalog than I am so you might be spot on. The front cover above most certainly could depict a young fiancée of an older divorcé with two children be they twins or not. Hey, that’s becoming more common in a world where 50% or more of marriages end in divorce and those people need to buy clothes. ;)