“Every woman becomes like their mother,” Oscar Wilde once quipped. “That’s their tragedy.” For some women, “tragedy” strikes early in the form of mommy-and-me outfits, those often creepy-cute clothing clones that tend to leave at least one party looking age-inappropriate. In recent years, celebrity offspring like Blue Ivy Carter and North West have taken “twinning” with their famous moms to stratospheric levels of Instagram likes and paparazzi attention. But mother-daughter dressing has been cycling in and out of fashion for more than a hundred years, reflecting changing attitudes about motherhood and femininity.
The matchy-matchy look flourishes in “time periods when there is more cultural emphasis on the family and the mother-daughter relationship,” said the fashion historian Jennifer Farley Gordon, who researches children’s clothing. In practice, the matching style can also signal affluence: a mother with leisure time to sew—or money to shop for—mirror-image outfits, and who is more likely to be a stay-at-home mom. Part of the idea, also, is that there’s not much point in being one half of a matching set if you’re not spending significant amounts of time together in public.
While sisters (of all ages) have been wearing the same clothes for centuries, mother-daughter dressing didn’t catch on until the early 1900s. The couturière Jeanne Lanvin launched the trend after giving birth to her only child, Marguerite, in 1897, at the then-advaced age of 30. Spotting a gap in the market, she debuted a high-end children’s line in 1908, using the same luxurious textiles and avant-garde styles that characterized her womenswear, albeit simplified for younger tastes and bodies. Marguerite served as her model and mini-me; the inseparable pair were often spotted parading around Paris in coordinating couture outfits. A 1907 photo of the two of them in costume for a masquerade ball—complete with matching pointy hats—inspired the house’s stylized, Paul Iribe–designed logo, which is still used on its labels. Years later, Marguerite would confess that she found the attention embarrassing, saying: “As soon as I was dressed up all I wanted to do was hide.”