THERE IS the story about the man who went home to visit his mother for Mother's Day and wore one of the two ties his mother had given him for his birthday. "What's the matter?" she asked as he took off his coat. "You didn't like the other tie?"
Nothing inspires a polished-up wardrobe more than a trip home to visit mom.
Except maybe a visit from mom. For many, it's a time when shoe heels get replaced, hems get fixed, shirts ironed, even fingernails painted. And some very favorable clothes get pushed to the back of the closet.
"Very often we don't wear the same clothes we wear with our own friends," says Nancy Friday, author of "My Mother, Myself." "When I see my mother (in western New York) and I'm wearing my usual clothes she will say, 'But we don't dress that way here.' And I say, 'Well, I don't live here.'
"Kids don't see parents as sexual, and parents resist seeing their children as sexual even though they intellectually have read Freud. So we all play the game, when we go home, of not taking our grown-up, sexual clothes with us," says Friday, who admits she's guaranteed criticism if she wears something sheer or bare when she visits her mother. "To do so would shatter the bond, would break the mummy/child relationship."
Friday suggests not switching dress to please mom. "If mom treats you like 15 because you act like 15 when you go home, a way to change that is to be in your own garments."
If she doesn't like it, says Friday, tell her in the nicest way that this is how you dress. A friend told Friday that she couldn't give her mother Friday's book because "It woiuld kill her," the friend said. "Listen to your own words. The clothes you wear, the things you say, the books you read surely won't 'kill' her."
Wearing something flagrantly objectionable to your mother just to bet a reaction is "adolescent non-rebellion" says Friday.
To many, on the other hand, what is worn for a visit with mom is simply not an issue.So here is a range of views from those who dress with angst before visiting mom. And those who hardly give it a thought.
Zsa Zsa Gabor was choosing a coat to throw on as she went to pick up her mother, Jolie Gabor. "My mother is not a mother, she's a glamour queen. She's the most elegant woman in the world and she's just had her face lifted for the third time and 10 women called her plastic surgeon for the same thing the next day."
The problem was whether to wear her Fendi purple fur or her Russian lynx. Never mind it was 90 degrees out, maybe the limoiusine would be air conditioned.
"My mother is the only one who makes me feel self-conscious. She always knows what to wear. If I show up for lunch in a simple black (dress) she is in shocking pink. She makes me feel like a poor refugee. She has inborn chic."
But apparently not inborn kindness. "She always asks me why I cannot be as slim as a model. She is. When I call her long distance she doesn't say, 'How are you?' but 'How much do you weight?'"
Zsa Zsa Gabor says she prods her daughter, Francesca Hilton, to dress "appropriately for herself and her mother." She recently called her daughter and told her what to bring for a party they would be at together at Regine's."Bring the white fox -- a gift I gave her for her birthday. Don't forget the navy chiffon by Ruben Parnes -- I just paid $700 for her birthday present," reveals Zsa Zsa. "She has to dress that way or my mother will eat my heart out," she says.
"My mother cares desparately how I look," says Peggy Cooper, commissioner of arts and humanities in D.C. "If I'm in a masochistic mood I wear jeans. If I am in a self-protective mood I wear formal."
"My mother (Miss Lillian) lives on a lake and when I am with her it is a most casual time," says evangelist Ruth Carter Stapleton, sister of President Carter. Stapleton says she wears jeans often on the ranch in North Carolina, but when she goes to town, it is never in blue jeans but informal dresses. "But with my mother it is blue jeans, sport shirts and tennis shoes to go fishing and sit by the lake."
"The motivation for dress when visiting my mother is to support the image most gratifying to her," says Robert L. Green, menswear authority and writer. "My mother sees me as a cross between a U.S. Supreme Court judge and a major actor on the level of Laurence Olivier, so I find some way to support that image -- my darkest suit with the most conservative stripe, gray satin tie, white shirt, small but important cufflinks, a never-before-used linen hankie in my jacket pocket, high shine on black shoes and, God Knows, check the heels.
"She has a discerning eye for hose and feels that her future is secure if I wear black silk hose," Green said.
"It certainly would be disturbing for her to open the door and discover the face of her child wearing some other mother's child's clothes."
"Presentable. I always try to look presentable," says Maria Shriver when she speaks of how she dresses to be with her grandmother, Rose Kennedy, or mother, Eunice Shriver. "Mothers on the whole earth like their daughters to look nice so I try to put on something nice," says Maria Shriver. Adds Eunice Shriver,"My mother is color conscious and up to date on style. She'll let you know if the color you are wearing is not the new color of the season. So if I've bought something new I'm sure to wear it when I see her. It is a kind of communication. It gives her a chance to see what is new aside from what she has seen in magazines."
"I really concentrate on spending as much time as possible with her, rather than on what I wear to be with her," adds Maria.
Ralph Lauren stashes away his own designer jeans, his own western shirts, even his cowboy hat -- but not always his boots -- when his mother and father come to visit or he visits them. "I think they like to see me look nice and neat," says the whoppingly successful designer who opts for "a nice blue shirt and a nice tweed jacket" for such occasions. "They like to see me look well and happy and how I dress is part of it.
"I should be sophisticated and not change my clothes, but my wife and I both make an effort for my parents," says Lauren. Later he adds, "I guess I expect the same things from my kids."
"My mother never spent a great deal of money or time on clothes but always looked marvelous," says Val Cook, fashion director of Saks-Jandel. "I always felt inadequate because she did everything so well -- entertained well, dressed well. I always worried before I saw her that I was not going to be able to please her. In fact, my husband says I was impossible to live with three days before she came to visit, worrying that everything -- my hair, my clothes, my house -- would meet her approval," she says.
"It took me longer to grow up becauseof the intimidation. I was always trying to appeal to someone who I considered so perfect -- though she never considered herself perfect," says Cook. "Somewhere along the way I was convinced by others that I arrived and was okay. And in my early 30s she gave up the reins and loved, all of a sudden, not having to concentrate on my problems. I became the mother and she became the daughter in our relationship in terms of the superficial things such as clothes, decorating advice, food and the like."
"When you go to your parents it is for yourself, not because of what you look like," insists Johann Cruyff, million dollar soccer star for the Washington Diplomats. Cruyhuff's clothes are never jeans, in fact are often the designer labels of his soccer playing pals, Jean Cacherel and Daniel Hechter.
"I remember once taking home a favorite pair of jeans," says Effi Barry. "My mother saw them as old and unusable and threw them away. It was a traumatic shock."
But usually Barry's mother approves of what she wears -- much of it she has made for her daughter. "She appreciates my appreciating her talents. And it encourages her to make even more things for me."
When she's at her mother's house, Effi Barry often "winds up wearing one of her bathrobes. It brings me just that much closer to her which she appreciates and so do I."
"My mother always asks me where I got my dress, who did my hair, my nails, where I got just that color shoes. That's the way in which she notices what I'm wearing," says television news anchor person Pia Lindstrom about her mother, Ingrid Bergman. "There is never a consideration that I would change for anything or anyone. People should wear what they feel makes them look their best. And what they feel is appropriate, says Lindstrom who sticks to Annemarie Gardin for dresses, Yves St. Tropez for suits and Hanae Mori for evening clothes. f"I never notice if something is formal or not, and never ask whether long or short (dress) is expected. I just go any way I want to."
Henny Youngman, king of the onelineers, says he never dressed up particularly for his mother. "I only owned two suits. So I'd wear the one that wasn't in mothballs." In Chicago this week, where he was being fitted for some new suits by Norbert Leopold, a custom tailor retired except for his work for Youngman, says the comedien sticks to strictly conservative, mostly gray styles.
"I've never changed my look (for my mother)," says hair stylist Roi Barnard of Charles I. "My style is flamboyant and when I go home I go home just that way, and my mother loves it."
Au contraire, his mother dresses up for his visit home. "My brother says she spends a couple of days getting her act together before I arrive," says Roi. He often brings her a "flamboyant dressing gown, the kind you can't find and don't have much occasion to wear on the Outer Banks where she lives."
Then they both dress up. "We go to Harry's for sea food. You don't have to dress to go there and she never does unless I'm with her. And we have a wonderful time."
Brigg Owens, former Redskin, now assistant to the director of the NFL Players Association, says he does nothing different for visits home in California. "I visit my mother to relax. I'm at home. I'm not a guest," says Owens, who is currently studying for law school exams. "I leave my Britches suit at home and might bring alone one sport jacket."
He adds. "She knew me when I was wettin' my pants, so she'll take me any way."