Breton-style tops have long been a staple in my wardrobe. Partly because, in my adolescent Sydney mind, everything French (or broadly continental) was super cool, and partly because a Breton top makes even a truly boring outfit look marginally stylish. Clearly this is the thinking of most people as the Breton shirt (and all its various incarnations) is now utterly ubiquitous; a fact made abundantly clear to me at this morning’s Rainbow Tots session in downtown West Norwood.
Mornings are not the best of times for me. It’s not that I don’t get up early, it’s just that I have an involved process that needs to be adhered to before I can comfortably exit the house. First cup of tea over newspaper, breakfast for the child, second cup of tea accompanied with perhaps breakfast for me, possibly more newspaper reading (although this is intermittent because the child wants to play), coffee, getting the child dressed, more coffee, check emails and then amble my way to the shower, followed by make-up, dressing etc. Don’t be fooled though, it’s a highly productive part of the day and, somewhat paradoxically, I am almost militant in my efforts to preserve this meandering morning routine. Playgroups – generally starting at 10am – therefore require a level of haste in the mornings which I don’t care for. But I do it because it feels like something I should do, despite neither me nor the child particularly wanting to.
Within my chosen playgroup, the standard of dress is generally (and rather annoyingly) pretty high. And being the sort of prone-to-superficiality person than I am, this can affect me quite acutely. Thinking I dressed in a reasonably groovy fashion “for a mum” (a phrase directed at me by non-mothers and one which has been known to get my nose very seriously out of joint), I am frequently put to shame by a sub-cluster of mothers in the group that always look totally cool – a frustratingly perfect mix of high quality casual separates, folky but expensive looking shoes and carefully selected vintage pieces. Their kids are equally cool. And they’re all nice and not in the least bit contrived. I hate them. But am also desperate to pledge membership to their club. Much to my chagrin, I continue to exist on the fringe (although this is more attributable to mine and Astrid’s irregular attendance, than any unwelcomeness on their part).
So off we set this morning and as I strapped Astrid into her buggy I realised our outfits were near identical: navy and white striped tops with jeans. Dammit. Entertaining the thought of running back upstairs and changing, I rapidly concluded that such a move would be self-indulgent and unnecessary. Arriving at playgroup, I immediately spotted at least six other mums wearing striped tops before Marie-Rachel, the playgroup coordinator, jostled up beside me and said in her thick, cheerful French accent “O, Weeeloh, did you mean to dress ze same as Astrid today?” Five minutes later, another mum pointed out that we were dressed the same and “how sweet” that was. Then another.
Meanwhile, I stared on at the groovy mums who had successfully dodged the stripey bullet and managed to have their children emulate a comparative level of style without actually looking the same. I felt flustered, sweaty and propelled by a burning desire to leave the church function room, with all its sticky toys (although that tent fire engine is bitchin), and go to the park instead.
Then, to add to the humiliation, as I leant down to pick up a plastic street sweeper off the floor to hand to the pining Astrid, I realised my thong was hanging out the back of my jeans – a form of underwear I normally give a very wide birth.
So Tuesday mornings are increasingly rife with emotional conflict. On the one hand, I don’t want to go to playgroup because I don’t need any more mirrors held up to me regarding my own paranoia, self-consciousness or the staleness of my wardrobe. On the other hand, it’s good to get out (read: I want to see what the other mum’s are wearing).
All this anxiety, self-doubt and identity crisis? It’s like being back at school again; except no one’s throwing biscuits at my head or trying to steal my shoes.