The Vagenda

Fuck “School Run Style”

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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


10 thoughts on “Fuck “School Run Style”

  1. And the point is, it’s still mostly women’s job to take the children to school. Or does the school run style also apply to fathers?

  2. I live in a very cliquey town (the “yummy mummies” – or Buggy Brigade as I have termed them – actually ignore me outright at toddler gym class) and I don’t really want to be part of that. I will give even less of a fuck about what they think of my style when we are at the school gates.

  3. I live down the road from a government school in a posh suburb in Australia, and it seems there that parents not only have to dress a certain way but also have to have the trendy car. At the moment it seems to be a black or silver SUV by either Audi, BMW or Mercedes. Around school pick up time they all line up and you can’t spot the difference between them all.

  4. It’s a real shame you felt the need to name-drop designers and labels. I feel you are feeding in to the paranoia by doing this and not actually taking a good look around the playground to notice how many parents are just going about their daily lives without these worries. The myth pedalled in our city comes straight for the pages of our very own Bath Life magazine – if we’ve got our priorities right, who’s got time to care.

  5. My mum has this problem at my younger brother’s school. We have a muddy countryside car and they all seem to have enormous black shiny things with personalised plates, and they wear black designer sports gear and bleach their hair blonde. Mum calls them ‘blingers’ – there’s even one woman who’s had various cosmetic surgeries known to the rest as ‘Fake Fiona’! And the ‘cool’ mums literally won’t stand near/talk to the others!

  6. Don’t let their low self esteem affect you or worse affect yours. In my experience people overly preoccupied with possessions are usually the ones with the lowest self esteems. I have a “yummy mummy” in my circle of friend but I don’t see her that often. Not because of her perfect kitchen in her perfect house in the right zip code or her perfect children and her perfect husband makes feel lesser about myself but because her insecurity about herself and unhappy feelings about her husband are exhausting to be around.

    I used to feel terrible about myself and would hate those “perfect” creatures for their effortless glide through life until I got severely sick with depression – then none of those things seemed to be all that important. Funny how not being able to put on clothes kind of puts everything in perspective. Slowly I got better but my epiphany stayed at the forefront of my mind. I no longer get panicky if we’re having company and the vacuum hasn’t left its spot in a couple of days and clothes gets washed when they fail the snif test or have visible dirt showing because it doesn’t matter.
    Your friends are not there to check in you’re really the goddess of clean. And are they not the ones that matter? If you look presentable and don’t smell: who’s gonna know? – unless you have some weird preoccupation with sniffing your friends or their houses but hey well to each their own. I know it’s easy for me to discard the importance of couture since I personally don’t really care about clothes. I wear them to not get cold or offend others in public and if it was up to me I would wear a uniform – I kind of do since most of my clothes are made from black or navy jersey or denim. It makes it less effort to pick out in the morning and I’m just lazy that way.
    You see it doesn’t matter. None of these things matters and if you have doubts try and ask yourself that exact question: Does it matter? And if the answer is yes – try asking why it does and the answer have better not be: Because! that’s an answer reserved for children that ask too many questions.

  7. I agree so much- just fuck too much effort in general life- I say do what the hell you like. Although it is interesting that my mum had an opposite experience to you, when she dropped me off looking glam people would talk about that. She became know as ‘the one with the lipstick’ because she was the only mum to wear make up on the school run. Not that my mum gave a shit, but it is interesting that women never seem to be able to get it right…

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