updated 9 Nov 2011, 18:35
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Tue, Sep 06, 2011
The New Paper
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OMG Mum, why are you in that dress?
by Sylvia Toh Paik Choo

You are 16, your mum is in her 40s, and she has bought a tank top from H&M and wants to know what you think.

You react: "Ewww, ma, you're way too old for H&M. Please don't let my friends see you in that!"

In a recent survey on consumer behaviour, Temple University Fox School of Business (Philadelphia) found that parents are increasingly mimicking their kids.

Mothers, in particular, are "desperate to stay young, follow their daughters' leads on everything, from make-up to hairstyles".

The study, of 350 mothers and daughters, aged 44 and 16, concluded that today's adolescents powerfully impact the older generation.

The older gen then takes the short cut by copying the younger.

Can this be good news? For retailers perhaps; for teenage girls, a death knell over their territory. Those days of teenage girls raiding their mums' closets for something to wear are so over. The daughter now is less likely to see her mother as role model.

The researchers suggest "if a mother is young-at-heart and views her daughter as a style expert, she will copy her shopping habits".

Take Carole Middleton, mother of Kate (who married UK's Prince William) and Pippa. Enviably slim at 56, she dresses like her girls' sisters - from behind. Slinky skirts, skinny tights, biker boots. Memo to ma: You may feel like a teen, but try not to look like one. Dressing too young can make one look older.

"Post babyboomer, my generation can still remember what it was like to be young," said Dr Caroline Low-Heah, 45. "Our parents were the older, mature, dignified folks. They were not your pals and buddies."

She is in age management medicine, and has a daughter Lizzie, 17, who hopes to study medicine after her IB (International Baccalaureate).

Dr Low-Heah added: "Today, society is ageless, hence the (age) gap becomes blurred.

"It's like role reversal, the 20/40 effect (40s dress like 20s)."

She chuckled at the thought of their sharing clothes (same size). "My daughter hates my clothes, she would never wear them.

"And I would certainly not be caught in hers."

Of late, Lizzie is her mum's "personal shopper" and she never minces words on her mother's choices. Mum: "Oh she'll tell me it 'makes you look fat', and 'short', or 'you look like a dork'."

Mother is a safe dresser "because all I know is to pick the pinafore", whereas daughter goes, "yuck, that is so like my school uniform", and chooses something her mum would never have selected, but ultimately works like a dream.

Said Temple University's Dr Ayalla Ruvio: "Our culture emphasises being young and so we see this reverse socialisation, mothers who are 44 and feel 33.

"They are compelled to project that through consumption behaviour."

So what's wrong with a good-looking mum competing with her daughter in the style stakes in today's youth-orientated society?

Nothing, if you know where to draw the line, said Mrs Serene Liok, 63, who runs Avana, the boutique named for her daughters Amanda, Vanessa, Natasha.

She has always discouraged her customers from dressing their age: "It's true, I dress younger than my years, but of course not to the point of being ridiculous.

"You can stay trendy with the times, the mother-daughter gap has narrowed, from the time of my parents."

Amanda, youngest at 27, chipped in: "The mum should want her daughter to stand out, but not to compete."

Mrs Liok, confident as she is in her dressing, does sometimes seek her daughters' advice, as in "is this too young for me?"

Mrs Dana Cheong, 40s, fund-raiser, said: "When I was younger, I dressed older. It was the trend then, jackets and stuff.

"Today the lifestyle is about being fitter and healthier and staying young longer, so blame it on the trends."

Her daughter Beatrice, 18, nays mother-daughter copycat dressing: "I'm grungy, I like a bit of mess."

Last word to Mrs Linda Quek, 60s, who was in banking and finance: "Of course not, I would never dress like my daughter, Liz, and she would never want to wear anything of mine.

"We both have our individual styles."

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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