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Why Moms Can’t Stop Buying Clothes for Their Millennial Sons

If you’re curious about why a guy dresses the way he does, you might start by asking his mom. In a survey of 1,000 millennial men conducted by the new men’s fashion brand TAYLRD, 40 percent said their mother had bought them clothes in the past six months. The menswear line is hoping to take some of the pressure off these mothers with crisp, stylish pants and shirts that dudes don’t have to think too hard about — but will men ever be free of moms’ particular tastes?

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In many cases, it seems they don’t have a choice: Some moms get a sense of what their sons like to wear and just run wild with it. “My mom called me up and said Levis was having a 75 percent off sale on the cut of jeans I like (511s), so she bought me two pairs,” says Andrew Couts, politics editor at The Daily Dot. “When I opened the box, I found out the reason the jeans were 75 percent off is that they were the 3M reflective jeans that shine bright white when light hits them. One of the pairs was dark brown.” Speaking to a data point from the TAYLRD poll that shows 1 in 4 millennial men caring most about how clothes accentuate their butt — always with the ass, this generation — Couts adds: “Turns out, my butt looks great illuminated like a bicycle reflector.”

Then there are the moms who buy their sons’ clothes prescriptively, trying to influence the overall wardrobe. “The word ‘let’ is sort of not accurate,” says poet Chuck Young when asked whether he lets his mom shop for him.

“She still buys clothes for the son she thinks I am or would like me to be? So they’re like shirts a successful 36-year-old man would wear on the golf course.”

This is closer to my own experience: Every time a birthday or Christmas rolls around, I tell my mom to simplify things and get me a gift card to some chain clothing store or other; she usually does, but she never fails to surprise me with a few striped Gap shirts that I hang up in my closet, sometimes still in their plastic packaging, and subsequently feel guilty about never wearing. In Young’s case, there was a clear progression from passively accepting the style his mom pushed on him to outperforming her suggested ensembles.

“I used to [wear what she bought for me], no questions asked,” Young says. “But then there was that time I said: ‘No, these are clothes for the adult son that you want, not the one that you have.’” That was around the time Young decided to dramatically shift from a “Castaway style” of tattered clothing to threads that were “nice as shit… suits and stuff.” His preferred scheme is to “create a look and then call it the ‘after’ and then think about the ‘before’ to give the ‘after’ the most oomph… so that when I cleaned myself up and went full tilt, people’d shit.”

In a way, then, his mom won the war to refine Young’s appearance — but instead of dressing to the type she imagined, he had his own idea of upscale. As a result, this makeover brought an unintended side effect: His mom has now upped the ante.

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“She seems to dig stuff from Marc Anthony’s clothing line? And I can get down with that.”

Young also has no problem gently letting his mother know when she’s missed the mark while affirming that he appreciates her determined efforts: “Hey, thank you so much, but these aren’t me and I care about what that means now, so you can take these back to Macy’s or wherever the fuck.”

Others aren’t so lucky, facing an eternal war of fashion attrition — waged against Mom and Dad alike. “Both my parents hate the way I dress,” says MEL’s own Andrew Fiouzi, who currently wears ragged shirts and black jeans every day. “My dad would prefer I dress like someone out of a Ralph Lauren hunting magazine. And my mom just wants me to look more couth.” She’s the one buying him clothes, of course, typically pants in brighter colors. He’d rather stick with a muted palette then get all tropical. “I don’t ever really want to stand out anywhere I go,” he says. “There’s also a cultural angle to it. I’m Persian. Because of that, my parents seem to scrutinize my ripped clothing more than other ‘white’ parents might — but that’s just a guess.”

Moreover, not all moms are invested in making their sons look mature. Dylan Pierson is also attempting to escape his mother’s preferred aesthetic — and it’s not the sort you’d expect. Until about two years ago, Pierson says, he never bought his own clothing. Then he realized that “90 percent” of his wardrobe was “basketball shorts and graphic tees.”

“I decided to take some steps to improve my fashion sensibility,” Pierson says, “but my mom still buys me things from the clearance rack at Marshalls out of habit, I guess. The things she buys me are basically the sort of clothing you imagine a cool fifth-grader might wear, like long-sleeved T-shirts with built-in hoods or hoodies with a skull or two on them.” Like me, Pierson isn’t quite sure how to signal to his mom that she’s not nailing the desired vibe.

“I’m trying to let her down easy — that I don’t want to wear those things anymore. But she doesn’t seem to have taken the hints just yet, so for now I have a drawer that’s full of ugly clothes. I might try to smuggle them out of the house without my mom noticing and get them to a Goodwill.” Presumably for some lucky fifth-grader.

Even when moms aren’t instinctually purchasing entire outfits for their sons, they’re picking up the slack on basic necessities. “I get a package from my mom about once every five months with a pair of socks with dinosaurs or other creatures on them,” says Zach Safford, a manager at a growth strategy firm. “I wear these whenever I give a presentation.”

Prescott Perez-Fox, founder of a consulting community called the Busy Creator, says: “I will always take socks when they are given to me.”

I can expect a new pair of boxers to wear to bed on Christmas Eve, despite buying plenty for myself throughout the year, and I’m not alone: It appears that moms tend to buy sons their underwear until a wife takes over. Women who do underwear duty for both a husband and a boy may seek advice from other moms about why their child doesn’t like wearing briefs anymore. And about two-thirds of British men rely on their mom or a romantic partner to keep them from going commando. That could be, as Jerry Seinfeld once pointed out, because men tend to wear boxers until they fully disintegrate.

For the men who do eventually seize control of their style, it can be a true awakening. Where girls are pressured early on to develop an awareness of what they’re wearing, a lot of dudes cruise through life unconcerned with fashion as long as they’re not plain naked — until they realize what they’re missing. “I’ve been an athlete all my life,” says Lars Ojukwu, a marketing manager at Navitas USA, “and as I was going through growth spurts and puberty throughout high school, more often than not, I was rocking loose pants and jeans.” These were hand-me-downs from older siblings that didn’t fit right because he was “literally the runt of the family,” and he didn’t really care either way.

Then, as Ojukwu developed an interest in how how he dressed, he began experimenting with different clothing styles, but could never do skinny jeans because his thighs were too big. After a woman complimented his butt, however, he started seeking pants that accented that booty without cutting off circulation to his legs. “It wasn’t until I started finding athlete-geared clothing that I really started to specifically search for pants for my butt,” he says. “Bonobos was my favorite for a while.”

As his thighs slimmed a bit from playing sports, he had more success with “regular” pants that showed off his ass. “Now I won’t touch a pair of pants unless I can see that curvature defined back there,” he says.

Personally, I’m most comfortable in flip-flops, cutoffs, and a trashy tank top — the sort of beach-bum garb that many Californians, both native and transplanted, gravitate toward. Yet because I know I’m letting my mom down by shunning garments with collars, or any kind that are traditionally ironed (yeah, I’m from the East Coast), I was perfectly happy to let TAYLRD spiff me up for a recent night out. I went with their salmon chino shorts — love the lining pattern on these — and their blue flamingo short-sleeve button-down, a print that would look equally at home in a tiki bar or at a yacht party. In this case, it was karaoke with friends, and although nobody commented on the new look except for my girlfriend (she enjoyed how short the shorts were), I think that may be sort of the point: Instead of sticking out by dressing for an afternoon drinking keg beer from red Solo cups on a front lawn, I fit in with age-appropriate gear that hinted I had spent more than four seconds getting ready to hit the town. Now, if I could’ve just figured out whether to tuck my shirt in or not…

Anyway, this is for you, Mom — and all the other moms out there still clothing their millennial sons. Consider taking a break, or focusing on your own sartorial reinvention, As usual, baby boomers wag a finger at us for coasting on parental charity while sneaking us gifts with the other hand, bolstering a shame cycle of dependence. I think we’ll be just fine on our own, following a period of adjustment. After all, it’s not like dads are out there buying professional blazers and lingerie for their daughters. Right? (You know what, if that’s a thing, don’t tell me.) Just buy your own clothes, everybody.