“You look like sisters,” has to be the compliment mothers most want to hear when out and about with their grown-up daughters, even if it mortifies their offspring. What could be a better ego massage than someone thinking you were very close in age to a person whose nappy you once changed?
So imagine how fantastic Reese Witherspoon is feeling today as headlines around the world marvel at just how similar she, 47, and her daughter, Ava Phillipe, 24, looked posing side-by-side on the red carpet at the Critics’ Choice Awards on Sunday night.
You can tell by the way the two women were dressed that they weren’t adverse to comparisons being made. Both were wearing strapless black dresses which made them look like they were “twinning” whilst also being different enough to subtly emphasise the mother-daughter dynamic; while Witherspoon looked sophisticated in a floor-length black satin gown with a giant bow detail at the waist, Phillipe opted for a Monique Lhuillier mini embellished with crystals and teamed with sheer tights and stilettos.
It’s interesting, too, to see how each presented the moment on social media. While Witherspoon proudly posted a snap of herself with an arm around her first born with the caption “Had a blast @criticschoice with my girl @avaphillippe”, Phillipe simply added the post to her Instagram Stories, calling it “Critics Choice awards with this beauty” – “this beauty” making the woman who birthed and brought her up sound more like one of her girl gang.
But perhaps this wording reflects the evolving nature of the mother-daughter relationship. “Women are slowly unshackling themselves from ‘age-appropriate’ expectations of dress,” observes writer and stylist Alexandra Fullerton. “How a 40, 50, 60 or 70 year old dresses today is wildly different from how they would have been expected to dress 30 years ago…Our mothers are often our first fashion influences so I think it’s natural that we echo our mother’s style as we age. Often teens and younger women will be experimenting and discovering their own taste but if you have a stylish role model – like Reese – it makes sense to channel her look at a formal event like the Critics’ Choice Awards.”
Witherspoon and Phillipe, whose father is Reese’s first husband, Ryan Phillipe, have form when it comes to flying the flag for being barely discernible as mother and daughter. They’ve made many red carpet appearances together over the years, often dressing in coordinated looks which take the matchy-matchy aesthetic which has become a mummy-toddler cliche and elevate it to a more grown-up realm. Their fallback is often an LBD (at one 2017 awards ceremony they even accessorised with matching black strappy sandals) but short-shorts, mini dresses and opulent fabrics have also featured.
Both women have spoken previously about how they lean on one another for fashion and beauty advice, too. “If I have to do my makeup for a dinner or something, I’ll be like, ‘Ava, can you fix my eyeshadow? I can’t remember what goes in the crease,’ because she has this intense knowledge about how to shade. It’s crazy,” Witherspoon said in 2019. While in 2022 Phillipe told People magazine: “When we’re separated, we’re like, ‘What are you wearing? Oh! That’s weirdly similar.’”
Besides, for many mothers and their daughters, it feels old fashioned to get caught up on generation gaps. When my mum and I were both vying to buy the same pair of Jigsaw trousers recently, I wasn’t put off, just thrilled that I could save my money and borrow them from her instead of shelling out myself.
“For a daughter to be told their mother is stylish – as I often am – is a badge of honour and certainly something to be proud of,” agrees Fullerton. “Women don’t want to be put in boxes determined by a number, which doesn’t let them wear certain things anymore. Plus, having more options to shop from (hello, internet) helps women of any age find their own fashion niche, and not be restricted to the high street as we were in previous decades.”
Fullerton can see a Witherspoon-Phillipe approach emerging with her own daughter. “She’s nine and definitely has her own style, but she loves to go out in matching looks...If I say I’m wearing a dress, she’ll want to wear one too, and as long as they’re not both the same print or pattern, it’s lovely.”