She’s in fashion

An unexpected bonus of following all these mum fashion blogs is that I’ve suspected for a while that this spring and summer, fashion loves me. Since skinny jeans took over, I’ve had a nagging suspicion that designers hate women. They came in just after the glorious summer of boho: floaty skirts, necklaces, flowers. I thought this happened just a few years ago…turns out that the year Sienna Miller dictated the high street was actually 2005. It’s been 11 years since I felt this happy by the shops. 11 years. Fuck, I’m old. I think everybody stops ageing at some point in their head. For me, it was that summer. I’d just moved to London. I was working in Covent Garden at a start-up before start ups became a thing. I had a new, lovely boyfriend, and a fabulous sister staying with me. The sun shone and shone, as we drank and danced and fought and grew up; I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy, or lived as hard. Thank you Sienna.
But this year, there are some good signs. It turns out that we’re all going to be dressing like it’s the 90s. I bought dungarees on Saturday! Dungarees!!! And I have two pinafore dresses! And I’m eyeing up some off-the-shoulder tops. Most flattering thing ever for small-busted girls worried about the mumtum – you cannot have flab on your shoulders. Sexy without worrying about toning or support wear. White trainers and denim shirts. Mum jeans – I’m a mum! I can totally wear these! I’m going to re-watch Friends, and dress like Rachael. 
Best summer ever. I cleared out my wardrobe (the Life-Changing Magic of tidying up has kind of been changing our house this year) so I have space. 
So thank you, gods of fashion. I know in the winter we will be punished with something even worse than bodycon dresses. But for a few months, I’m going to lunge in my dungarees and feel a bit more like I belong. 
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I have never been one of those people who “got it” when it comes to fashion. Or anything else about trends really. When conversation turns to music, or clothes, or celebrities, I’m the one in the corner laughing a second too late, blindly echoing what somebody else has said, praying nobody asks me for an opinion. I’m sure I’m not alone in this; I think it’s probably an element of “imposter syndrome”. I also know it isn’t important in the big scheme of things (I understand global poverty and the trends in climate change research instead – officially more important), but it makes feeling like I fit in anywhere that bit more difficult.

 I may not be naturally cool, but what I can do is follow instructions. And research. I really am the fucking queen of research – we have amazing holidays, all down to me and Mr Google. There’s a lot of criticism of the Internet; but for the socially just slightly awkward, it beats desperately stealing your friends Smash Hits, reading it from cover to cover, and hoping for a conversation about Kriss Kross’s view on backward clothes.

So now I read magazines, and I follow fashion blogs. Not scary ones; almost all mum ones. And I just buy anything reasonably priced and not ridiculous that they recommend. It takes out the stress of decision making. And the best ones are enthusiastic, and make me feel like clothes could be fun again, after the frumpiness of pregnancy and breastfeeding and maternity leave financial restrictions. The Spike, the follow on from the life-saving Recipe Rifle. Dresslikeamum (makes me want to lunge in all photos! Why is that so entertaining?!) The Frugality, which despite being all fashion-week focused is surprisingly accessible.

This is all at odds with the recent articles about micro-decisions. The most successful people are starting to talk about wearing the same thing every day. They will have to make so many decisions during the day, that removing that first choice actually does make a difference. Some days I think I’d love to embrace this; days when nothing matches, when the little man is crying and the train won’t wait. But I’m not that important yet. And my workwear at least still feels a bit like war-paint. Heels and a blazer: my head is just a little higher in that big scary meeting. It does separate the women out from the men; for the time being, I’m ok with that. If I become important enough to change my mind, then I’m sure I can do enough research to pick the perfect outfit. But not quite yet.

It’s all about the money

When the bigger man and I first got together, I’d just started an exciting graduate job in the big city. He was a sales rep in the north, doing a relatively low paid job because he wanted a job that involved a lot of driving and gave him a company car. Oh, and kept him close to his university girlfriend (of whom we should not speak). 

He followed me to the big city, and his salary crept towards mine. I bombed out of consulting into contracting, and once again was earning double what he did. I spent two years fighting my way out, while he quietly watched what I did, and decided he could do it better (and happier). He was right: I took a pay cut into public service, while he sold his soul to the city. We couldn’t be happier with our choices: our money is shared, our principles are shared. He likes that I do something worthwhile; I like living somewhere nice and buying shoes with his money. 
Then the little man came along. And I went back to work. And bloody hell, this income disparity matters again. I manage a large team; I run boards; I advise our most senior management. He sits in a corner doing impressive things with databases. If we had to decide who goes to work tomorrow and who stays at home with a sick child, I should always be the one in the office. But we need him to work to pay the heating bills. In some ways it’s a burden on him: he can’t be sick, can’t meltdown and abandon everything in the knowledge that I’ll pick up the pieces. If i wanted to quit work, we’d have to make some different life decisions. If he quit, every single aspect of our life would be turned upside down.
We got here consciously. I decided to earn less; I was in a male dominated industry, but I chose to leave. I would have been successful if I’d stayed. I wouldn’t instinctively think of this as a feminist issue. Except that we aren’t alone in this decision making. Our friendship group is made primarily of intelligent, driven and focussed women, with slightly lazier, or slightly less committed other halves. And yet, in almost all cases, the men earn more. 
I don’t know how we got here in the 10 years (ish) since we graduated. Five years it wasn’t the case for any of us. All the stories are different: restless men who bounce around jobs until they land in an astonishingly well paid one. Or slow and steady promotions. None of them point to simple discrimination. But they all end up in the same position: the burden of earning naturally falls on the man, so the burden of childcare falls onto the woman. 
If not discrimination then, what is it? I don’t think I made any of my choices because I’m a woman. I don’t think my friends did either. But I can’t think of any overpaid industries that are female dominated. The saying goes that you can’t be what you can’t see; maybe it should be that you don’t want to be what you cannot see. It’s well know that we underpay traditionally female roles; cleaners versus binmen for example. 
I don’t want to change my choices. The big man would love me to join him in his overpaid and underworked life. I would love to want to join him; but I can still remember how my soul ached every time somebody got hysterical about the speed of their server. There are days when I feel the doors that closed from these choices, the practical compromise that a lower salary brings. Today I left the big man looking after a poorly little man. I need to make today count; if he doesn’t make a miraculous recovery, the rest of the week he’s mine. That means working in evenings and nap times and falling ever further behind. The sun came out at the weekend. Please let this endless winter end soon.