Pret-a-Reporter

How Hollywood's Private School Moms Follow the Drop-off Dress Code

Illustrations by Amanda Lanzone

At L.A. institutions favored by the industry, the "mom-iform" for sporting events and parent nights has its own set of (unspoken) rules — and reveals plenty about a campus' true culture.

Fall is nearly here, and school is in full swing. For new enrollees at L.A. private schools, that means anxious weeks of sussing out the scene and angling to fit in — not just for students but moms, too. As with any tribe, the mom crew at an L.A. private school has its own set of unspoken signposts, especially dress. Call it the "mom-iform" — an unofficial dress code that can tell you as much about a school's real ethos as any official mission statement or tour.

"One mom came back from an open house at Buckley and said, 'I like the school, but honestly, I don't own a pair of stilettos,' " says Sandy Eiges, who advises parents as the L.A. School Scout. Fellow school consultant Christina Simon, co-author of Beyond the Brochure: An Insider's Guide to Private Elementary Schools in Los Angeles, admits, "I totally fell victim to it — including a Stella McCartney bag I bought when my kids were at The Willows."

THE SCENE

Each campus has its own "look." More conservative schools like Harvard-Westlake, Marlborough, John Thomas Dye and Buckley attract buttoned-up moms toting $2,500 Chanel bags and wearing $750 Hermes "H" belts with Gucci Princetown slides that start at $650. At the progressive outposts like Crossroads and The Willows, the fashion is decidedly less logo-centric. Think of drop-off as an Isabel Marant runway show. One wild card? Mirman School for Highly Gifted Children in Bel Air, where the power-mom look is work-issued wear: "They're all doctors and come to school in scrubs," says one Mirman parent.

At The Oaks, a liberal school in Hollywood, cool moms opt for deconstructed "architectural but still shapeless" labels like COS, Black Crane and Rachel Comey, with Repetto shoes and bags by A.P.C. ($450) and Chloe (starting at $1,650). Downplaying wealth is key. "Everything is a high price point with low style and no logos. What you're wearing could be Gap, but it's probably Isabel Marant," says costume designer Julia Caston (Bad Moms). At North Hollywood's Oakwood, the look is similarly understated, with moms showing up in Ulla Johnson drawstring pants with casually structural Nili Lotan tops ($295). "No one is going for gold here," says Naomi Scott, a producer of Fun Mom Dinner. "Women are almost apologetic when they're dressed up, and say 'I have a meeting' because they want to qualify it."

THE CLOTHES

No matter how insouciant the style, the clothes are expensive. At Laurence, where mothers are literally rockers, "you strive to look like you don't have money," says one parent of the scruffy look, which includes shredded, tie-dyed dresses by Raquel Allegra. "But everyone is wearing those MadeWorn rock 'n' roll T-shirts that sell for $200 at Jill Roberts."

Overall, the L.A. aesthetic for women (non-moms included) is an effortless, tousled look — kind of like you got dressed and did your hair in the passenger seat of a convertible. When it comes to makeup, apply artfully to look fresh-faced. Obvious foundation or triple coats of mascara imply that you spent more than four minutes in front of the mirror; a red lip draws double takes. Except, of course, when it's on Gwen Stefani. "You always see her with her hair perfect and that bright red lipstick," says one of her fellow school moms. "Even when she's out on the field."

Generally, though, celebrities get a pass from the fashion police: At The Center for Early Education, where working moms stand out for their corporate clothes, the biggest star has been spotted in denim cutoffs and a T-shirt. "One mom thought she was a teenager from behind. Then she turned around, and it was Beyonce," says a parent who swears that the scene is hardly a catwalk. "Not everyone here is a celebrity or rich."

In many cases, moms are the designers themselves, and their wares become school must-haves. Jewelry designers Jeet Sohal of Bare Collection, known for the wildly popular diamond constellation pendant ($675 to $8,125), and Marni Finkel of Wilkens Studio have kids at St. James and The Oaks, respectively. Clare Vivier of the chic, mom staple Clare V. foldover clutch ($235 and up) is a mom at the public L.A. County High School for the Arts. But Natalie Martin — the designer behind the cascading boho caftan ($218) so ubiquitous on the private school circuit that kids confuse other women for their moms and tug at sleeves — sends her children to public school. 

THE PRESSURE

School consultants often hear moms overcome with anxiety to fit in from day one. Says Simon: “I often hear, ‘I don’t want to go to a school where everyone carries a Birkin.’” (Wait until that mom spots the carelessly strewn Birkins — that cost $10,000 on the lowest end — filled with leaking yogurts and crumbled graham crackers on park playdates.) Her suggestion for anyone deciding between schools? "It's most important that it mesh with your values. If you're seeing status symbols — bags or shoes or even cars — that you can't get your head around, it's not the right school for you. Look at another one to find your people."

A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

comments powered by Disqus