08 April, 2014 / General
Here’s some shocking news. After having babies, women tend to alter the way they dress. According to the Daily Mail’s ‘report’ last week, we lose all interest in fashion until our children reach the age of three years and nine months. Only then do we start to take a pride in our appearance again. That’s almost four years in the saggy-arsed leggings, massive gravy-stained Garfield T-shirt wilderness. What are we thinking?
The figures are shocking. 21% of new mothers ditch short skirts, while 17% swap skinny jeans for something altogether more forgiving and comfortable. Talk about letting the side down! More alarming still, 40% of us lower our heel height by a whole two inches after producing a sprog. ‘Slummy mummies,’ the headline chastises. I’m still reeling in horror on learning that 16% of new mothers abandon their crop tops.
Reading this propels me right back to those baby and toddler years (my eldest – twin boys – are now 17). By far my happiest memories involve being with my gang of new mum friends, in Victoria Park in East London. That’s my friend Fliss, above, with my son Dex. We bonded over picnics and long walks with our buggies, delighting in that, ‘Thank God I’ve met someone like me!’ realisation that hits us when we find kindred spirits in between all that bib laundering.
Long, sunny afternoons were filled with giggled confessions over the outrageous parenting shortcuts we took. We made each other laugh on those days when a nappy had exploded, or a toddler had disgraced himself by kicking over a display in a supermarket – those small disasters which seem altogether less awful when you have someone to share them with.
These women were brilliant fun and saved my sanity when I feared I was losing the plot. I don’t remember ever looking around and thinking, ‘Haven’t they let themselves go?’ They wore T-shirts, strappy tops, jeans and combats (which were a thing at the time, and ideal for early parenting: roomy, cool – in the temperature sense – and virtually indestructible). Perhaps surprisingly, considering the sleep deprivation we were enduring, everyone looked healthy and glowy due to being outdoors with active children in all but the worst weather.
For the first time in my life I had toned arms from pushing the twin buggy for miles every day. The group’s hairstyle of choice was generally longish, and hastily pulled up – which happens to be pretty flattering – or an impish crop. The Daily Mail laments that 18% of new mothers have their hair cut into a more ‘practical’ style – but since when did practical mean unlovely?
In fact, motherhood doesn’t necessitate the wearing of horrible T-shirts that you wouldn’t have slept in previously. Sure, comfort takes over; no one has time to ‘plan’ outfits, and easy, washable fabrics are the order of the day. But no one I knew went to the shops in their dressing gown with sick down the front, or gave up on hair and teeth brushing. Personally, I had a ‘put your lipstick on’ rule, which wasn’t always achievable, but was at least something to aim for. And when my shins started to resemble those of a bear, more suited to roaming about in an Alaskan forest than a terraced house in Bethnal Green, then I’d get my razor out.
None of us had much cash at the time. We bought our kids’ clothes from a little second-hand shop called Chocolate Crocodile in Hackney, and headed to the charity shops of Roman Road for ourselves. Cheap cotton dresses were grabbed in the market. No one worried about grass or ice cream stains, and our footwear (flat, obviously) enabled us to sprint across the park and rescue an escaping child whenever required. My new friends fell into an uncontrived way of dressing which looked all the fresher and lovelier for being thrown together at 6.15 am amidst babies braying for attention. If we cared about our appearance it was to reassure ourselves that we were in control(ish), and managing fine, rather than about keeping up with trends. We weren’t ‘slummy’, but comfy and happy and enjoying a time which flashes by in a blink.
Interestingly, no one seems to have researched the percentage of men who swap their skinny jeans and snug T-shirts for more forgiving attire when Junior comes along. But that’s fine, right? Because they’re dads.