Ah, fashion. I’m not into catwalks or vintage, but I do like clothes. I never used to be particularly bothered by them, other than that I knew what I liked and that was the soft, button-lacking sort; for most of my life, up until pretty much the arrival of Motherhood, clothes were what you wore to keep the chill off and that was pretty much that.
How things have changed.
It may have something to do with the coming of wages. Wages that weren’t being spent on the doing-up-of houses and can therefore be spent on frivolities rather than practicalities, that is. It may have had something to do with the wanting-what-you-can’t-have-after-your-body-has-been-forever-changed-by-childbearing principle, but, whatever it was, dressing myself has become an increasingly interesting pastime. And not only me. I am the chief wardrobe officer of the family; the lady chamberlain.
It’s a tricky business, it has to be said. Even more tricky than the whole ‘what do you wear if you are a primary teacher?’ debate. You wouldn’t think it, but that one is a Hot Topic. Dress codes have circulated through staff rooms across the nation, to be met with varying amounts of derision and non-compliance. There’s the men who Object To Ties in the strongest possible terms. There’s the teachers (of both genders) who object to Non-Sport’s Attire for their daily lives. Necklines? What are we to do with those? Too low? Too high? What about hemlines? Can the children see too much when I bend over in the Reception classroom? What about the parents? What can they see when they look through the windows?
And what kind of level of formality are we talking about? Many of these dress codes seem to have sprung from the same kind of generic swamp and advise ‘office dress’ but what exactly is that? A suit? Killer heels and matching accessories? And the Poor Men. They have so little choice available to them. The reach of Beau Brummel, the most Charming Man Ever, impeccably dressed for every occasion in black and white, eschewing the flamboyance of his peers, is long. A fancy tie (and possibly fancy pants, but I don’t like to ask) is the best they can hope for.
And the Cropped Trouser Debate is wa-a-ay before you get to the Hair Dye Debate, or, even more hotly contested, the Tattoo Debate. With how you dress yourself, or style your hair or ink your skin an issue of personal expression, it is all too easy for us to declare in our best tones of outrage, ‘Just who is this person who is having such influence on my child?’ Who is the right sort of person to have influence over our young people? Isn’t that to do with who they are, not what they look like?
Personally, as a primary school teacher, I’ve always gone down the fairly traditional route, but aware as I am of a concerted campaign by my female teaching forbears to give me the freedom to dress in ways that allow me not to be killed by my clothes, I’m not giving up my choices or my autonomy for anyone. That said, I want to be approachable to small children, not intimidating. I want to be able to navigate my way through the glue spreaders and paint without having to dance the dance of fear. While men might bemoan their lack of choice in academic dress, I think it’s true to say that, as a man, you can’t go too far wrong with a shirt and tie, not in the eyes of other men, anyway (not in the same way that you can go wrong with the sock-sandal-shorts combo).
When I first went back to work, after I had had my babies and before I rocked up back in the classroom, one of the first things I did was to get myself a new pair of shoes (to go with my new skirt and top). The Husband was heard to mildly ask, ‘And what is wrong with all the other pairs of shoes you have under the bed?’ Oh, how I laughed as I informed him, ‘Ladies Will Know that these shoes have been under the bed for the last ten years. They will not take me seriously.’ Even now, those shoes, the ones I bought to signal my return to public life, if you will, receive admiring comments from my female colleagues. As a woman in a hierarchical workplace, how you dress, from your shoes to your hairstyle, is light walking a metaphorical tightrope. It’s not so much Dress For The Job You Want as Dress So As Not To Piss Off The Boss With Your Better Fashion Sense And More Expensive Clothes Than Her.
Up until that point, the wardrobe decisions were centred around How Do I Dress My Sons in Something Other Than Beige And Navy And My Daughter In Something Other Than Bubblegum Pink and How Do I Dress Sam Such That He Is The Coolest Toddler On The Block? Actually, the toddler thing (once you get past the pink) isn’t too hard. There is an array of gorgeousness for your shopping pleasure, both online and in the shops. There was nothing I liked better, in the early days, than picking out his outfits, matching socks to t-shirts and generally acting as if he was up for a Best Dressed Baby Award and stamping around declaring loudly to anyone who might be in the vicinity that I wasn’t putting my child in an item emblazoned with some sort of sexist conditioning like ‘Don’t Blame Me’ or ‘Daddy’s Little Princess’.
It’s not so easy now, though. Sam seems to have inherited my Dragged Through A Hedge Backwards Gene and, like many individuals with Down’s syndrome, as well as being a slightly different shape arms and legs wise, he struggles with fiddly fastenings. The traditional school uniform would be for him, a nightmare, even though he has a fondness for blazers. I am on a constant hunt for trousers that fit properly (short leg fitting please, thank you Marks and Spencer) or waistbands that allow him to wear trousers that not only give him ease of movement but the dignity of getting them on and off himself (thank you Boden) as well as allowing him trendiness. Soon we shall be investigating adaptive technologies to allow him to wear ordinary shoes.
Ain’t no-one putting my son in a brown cardy. My son ain’t ever wearing no lattice topped slip on shoes.