After donning an outfit that was, quite frankly, a gamble, I dropped my daughter off at school and continued on with my daily pilgrimage to the supermarket. En route, I was approached by a local transvestite, asking if I would be interested in buying a copy of her book, the subject of which was (more or less) how our identities are prescribed by external forces. After I declined but wished her the best of luck, she remarked: “When are you going to lose that horrible, sexless outfit and put on a nice dress?”
She hit a nerve. Since being hurtled into the stark, unrelenting realm of the school run, this had become my life: an endless daily cycle of force-feeding my children ludicrously early lunches before nursery starts at midday, pinning them down with my knees in order to dress them while they writhe and scream, making sure everyone shits at home instead of in their pants on the way, Sainsbury’s (gawping at the shelves as I figure out what to cook that evening), home, clean up the morning’s mess, back to school. Over and over again. Somewhere in between, there’s work.
While spluttering away in this quagmire of tantrum-soaked tedium and inexorable rushing, I felt particularly galled when I wound up on a ‘cool’ mothers website, boasting a piece on school run style and how to get it right. It seems avoiding a wardrobe funk is another ‘do to’ to add to my daily shit list.
The transformation of the school gate into the catwalk is nothing new—celebrity mothers of the likes of Katie Holmes, Victoria Beckham and Miranda Kerr have been plaguing us with their apparently effortless yet unaffordable looks for several years now. Until recently though, I hadn’t experienced the trickle down effects. Turning up at the school for the first time in September, I was taken aback by the sea of Isabel Marant, iridescent trainers and Markus Lupfer type sweaters. I felt like I was 11 years old again in PE class; the cool girls with their long blonde hair, gleaming Nike Air Max and shiny, hairless legs (unlike my pasty furry ones—my mother wasn’t much of a believer in hair removal), then me, with my self-cut fringe and my brother’s hand-me-down high tops which were at least two sizes too big. Skip 25 years forward, standing there, waiting for the school reception to buzz all us parents in, the deficiencies in my wardrobe suddenly became very much amplified. It seemed the weird bits lingering in my drawer since university, possibly even high school, and t-shirts stolen from my partner’s wardrobe wouldn’t cut it at the old Paris fashion gate. (Not to mention, where the fuck is everyone getting their money—seriously? Am I the only parent whose children literally eat through the household finances?).
There is a sentence in the opening of Nina Power’s book One Dimensional Woman (Zero Books) that has particular resonance: “That the height of supposed female emancipation coincides so perfectly with consumerism is a miserable index of a politically desolate time.” I’m not suggesting my school experience is an especially competitive one, though the piece that got me riled was arguing exactly that: getting your style ‘right’ was critical in establishing your position with other mothers. But even on my friendly (if not intimidatingly fashion-forward) school run, it is difficult to escape the sense that consumerism, or as Power characterises it, Fem-CapitalÔ, has colonised the final frontier, as it were. No longer the terrain of the drab and beleaguered, the school drop too can be ‘cool’. It used to be vaguely acceptable to be caught wearing a bathrobe whilst dropping the kids off; but unlike mum’s of yore, mummies today are allowed (perhaps even expected) to ‘love their Balenciaga as much as their babies.’
I am as preoccupied with fashion and appearances as much as the next person, but isn’t there an arena were we can just be? Or must we always be selfie-ready, self-promoting, walking CVs for professional and lifestyle perfection? Sometimes I’d like to vomit all over myself and turn up to the school run wearing that—then at least everyone could see that there’s no disconnection between the way I look and the way I feel.
- Willow Oddie