5 fashionable Minnesotans reflect on how mom influenced their personal style

Vanessa McDuffie and her mom, Michelle Manning.

Vanessa McDuffie and her mom, Michelle Manning.

What’s your most vivid childhood memory of your mother?

Was it her voice? Her perfume? The way she carried herself? Perhaps she had a few pieces of clothing that made an impression on you, and still give you a pang of nostalgia when you think about them today. Maybe your mom was impeccably dressed every day, and you rebelled by doing exactly the opposite. Or maybe you’ve started channeling her style without even noticing it.

Moms impact our lives in so many ways, personal style included. Whether you share similar tastes or argued over clothing when you were a teenager, you’ve probably learned some important fashion lessons from your mother.

In honor of Mother’s Day, five stylish Twin Cities residents shared the lessons they learned from their fashionable moms, and how those memories and teachings impact their lives — and the things they teach their own children — today.

Vanessa McDuffie

Blogger and educator Vanessa McDuffie can remember the day she realized her mother Michelle Manning was fabulous. “I was yet another tiny little girl who believed my mom was an angel,” she says. “I can never remember what I ate for dinner the night before, but I remember her on one day, 29 years ago.”

McDuffie, who describes her own taste as preppy, bold and colorful, seems to have been inspired by her mother’s aesthetic — especially that particular memory. “My mother’s floor length, teal dress danced behind her as she bathed in sun rays. I rushed her to dance along with her fabric, and in the sun, I could see the dress’s striking, yet simple lines and [a pattern of] dots now synonymous with Keith Haring doodles.”

Clearly, this memory of her mother’s style has stuck with McDuffie, who hosts Twin Cities fashion shows and runs a style blog of her own. “She passed down an attention to detail, a fascination with the bold, and a love for trying something different,” she explains. “That’s who I see today, tomorrow, and forever: effortless love for what makes one happy. That’s who my mom is.”


Stephanie Lake

Fashion runs in Stephanie Lake's genes. “My mother’s style is impeccable, and she is stopped everywhere we go,” says the jewelry designer and author, whose mother, Kay Iverson, was part of the Donaldson’s Department Store family. Iverson’s mother was a dressmaker and event planner, passing her appreciation for style down to her daughter, then to her granddaughter Lake, and on to Lake's three-year-old daughter, Odette.

“I learned from my mother that every sartorial choice should be taken seriously without being serious,” she says. “I live the sartorial high-life, every day. She encouraged that; finding what suits me is an art, and that it should be pursued with distinction.”

As Lake was growing up with her sister, her mother taught them to find joy in getting dressed. “For my mother and her girls, creativity has never veered into costume. We all insist on fine craftsmanship paired with a sense of elegance and ease.”

Even little Odette takes part in the family tradition of high style. She raids frequently raid’s her mother's closet, and has free reign in the design studio. “She watches me work, and is so proud of what she can accomplish and convey through this creative play. This is also our approach to every day dress, now three generations strong.”


Katie Dohman

Former lifestyle editor Katie Dohman learned a very important fashion lesson from her mother, Eileen Derdoski. “Kindness first," she says. "You can't hide rotten behavior under a great outfit.”

Dohman has three children of her own, including a daughter, Ruby, and she’s trying to teach them a similar lesson. “You don't have to be bound by anyone's rules as to how to look. Style is meant to be liberating, not oppressive,” she says. “My middle son is more interested in nail polish than my daughter, and that's okay. And I agree, above all else, that kindness is what makes you beautiful. I am more fiery than my mom, but everything I am is inextricably linked to her somehow.”

Though their design tastes differ, Dohman and her mother generally see eye-to-eye aesthetically. “When it comes to fashion, we often agree on what is stylish, fresh, or adorable -- or boring, pointless, or passé. And I often show up at her house in an outfit or with an accessory that will prompt her to say, ‘Wow, I had something just like that in 1968....’”

“[She taught me] ‘If you got it, flaunt it. And she backed that up with a white hot-pants jumpsuit, platforms, and short shag back in the day, among other fashion adventures,” she recollects. Now, Dohman describes her mom’s style as “tailored, timeless, and impeccably ironed.” 

It must run in the family: both of Dohman’s grandmothers were stylish women. “My mom's mom, Marion Schwartz, was an incredible seamstress. She made most of her own clothes, made some of my mom's things, and certainly made a ton of my sister's and my clothes.”

Even though she didn’t know her great-grandmother, Dohman’s daughter Ruby has been touched by her talents. “Recently Ruby wore a navy sailor coat [my grandmother] made for me. It was an emotional moment. To be able to remember my grandma when she was well, creating these beautiful things with such love and exactitude and sharing that with my own daughter was such a lovely intergenerational gift.”

Todd Fliginger

“My mother was a very classy woman,” says Todd Fliginger, sales staff anchor at Martin Patrick 3 men’s store in the North Loop. When he was growing up in Garrison, North Dakota, his mother Carole dressed he and his brothers “to the nines” in suits, hats, and ties.

That early exposure to the power of a put-together outfit propelled Fliginger to his career in men’s retail.

As a child, he helped his mother get ready. “She was always dressed impeccably every day. I would go through her closet and polish her shoes, and she’d come to me and ask, ‘Can I wear this?’ every day.”

Later, when Fliginger began his retail career at Silverman’s in Grand Forks, he started to shop for his mother, and dressed her in custom-ordered suits. “For Christmas, my gifts to her were always better than my dad’s,” he jokes.

“The first outfit I bought her was a green cashmere suit. I’m not sure she ever wore it because she ‘saved’ it,” he remembers. Eventually his parents divorced, and his mother moved to Fargo, where she worked as an art curator and in the petites section of Herberger’s department store. Thankfully, she had her son to help her out when she embarked on a retail career.

“She’d call me when she went to work [at Herberger’s] and ask, ‘How do I do this?’ She became very good at it.”

Even her shopping habits left an impression on her son. “We were very close. She’d let me buy anything I wanted since I worked [as a child], but I had to make sure there were no price tags on it so my dad wouldn’t see it. I take the price tags off everything now, still.”


Jennifer Smith

For the Galleria’s retail leasing director Jennifer Smith, style was practically required from day one. “My mother was married to a politician; she could never leave house unkempt or with [her hair in a] ponytail. She was stylish from head to toe.”

Though the family didn’t have a ton of money when Jennifer was growing up, her mother exuded an aura of class. “She always dressed lovely,” Jennifer remembers. “My father would shop for her on business trips, and he would surprise her with a special handbag. I have [her] Gucci and Louis Vuitton bags. She would just have one little piece that was special.”

Her mother Ruth, now in her 80s, remains fashionable and chic. “Every time you see her, she is put together. You’re never going to walk into her home and see her sitting around in a robe.”

It’s very clear that Smith’s mother left a lasting impression on her daughter, who works a high-profile job at a beloved upscale retail center.

“She’s been my inspiration. At the end of the day, she instilled in us that first impressions begin with how you present yourself, and the rest is up to you,” she says. “To walk into a room and be put together says a lot about a person. I took that advice -- and I still do.”