I stayed in my pyjamas for a week after my first baby was born. As I gingerly tiptoed around him, my body sore and delicate, us both blinking into the bright light of our new life together, getting dressed into real clothes – all tricky buttons and sharp zips – felt impossible. But soon enough, it was time for us to emerge into the world, for me to push him carefully around the block in his brand-new buggy. It was time to get dressed.
No longer pregnant, I wasn’t constrained to the elasticated waistbands of maternity-wear. I should have been able, in theory, to wear anything I wanted. I should have felt liberated to be able to put my old things back on. But nothing felt right. I had a whole new shape, which nothing fitted. Everything felt changed; my body felt strange and alien to me. I opened my wardrobe and stared at the rails: What do I wear, now?
In the weeks that followed, I found myself sinking into a uniform, versions of which were being worn by almost every other mum at the playground. It was jeans, high-waisted to conceal the soft rolls of my stretch-marked stomach. Boots suitable for London puddles, that could be kicked off without taking the sleeping baby out of the sling; a rotating collection of shirts that could be unbuttoned quickly to feed a screaming infant at a bus-stop or park bench. Over this, I would sometimes shrug on an old cardigan that could double as a baby blanket. The only coat that I ever wore was a rain mac. The only bag that I could countenance was a crossbody one that left my arms free to push the buggy. It was what I wore, day after day, as weeks became months and then years; all so practical, so incredibly sensible, and so utterly, soul-destroyingly boring.
Before having children I had loved clothes. Years of working for fashion magazines had given me a wardrobe stuffed with beautiful things picked up in sample sales and vintage fairs. Getting dressed in the morning had been an opportunity for self-expression, for creativity, for playfulness and for fun. I had also loved dressing while pregnant. I had never felt more confident in my skin, more happy with my body, than during pregnancy. I’d worn maternity dungarees over voluminous peasant tops, Indian hippy dresses and vintage smocks belted high; rainbow colours and bold florals, stripes and polka dots; I was huge and round and firm and getting dressed felt fun because I knew I could pull off anything. I felt no shyness or bodyshame; any worries about my tummy or my thighs had been silenced for those precious months of pregnancy. Yes I was big – I was huge – lucky me! I’m having a baby! I can’t remember worrying about how I looked once.
But once I became a mother, a sense of inadequacy about my physical appearance crept in. Now no longer taut or firm, my body felt unwieldy and cumbersome. I would scroll through ASOS late at night, holding my iPad in one hand as I fed my son, sure I could find balm in the form of a new purchase or two. I would buy endless jeans I was sure would be ‘slimming’, skirts and dresses in exhausted delirium, clothes for another person and another life; silvery packages sliding through the letterbox, only to be returned.
And so it would be back to the baggy jeans – the fun, individuality and creativity banished from my wardrobe. Getting dressed became purely about practicality: What was clean? What could I do up? What was on top of the pile? All the joy that clothes can bring, had, it seemed, gone forever.
But last year, a house move gave me the sartorial shake-up I needed. We left our cramped upstairs flat for a house with a garden. I was no longer spending so much of my day pounding pavements to and from the park. I was working from home, so there was no dress code. It suddenly seemed wasteful to have cupboards bursting with things I would never wear, so I filled six huge boxes with stuff for charity. Anything that didn’t make me feel happy to look at it, excited at the idea of wearing it, went. That was almost everything I owned. As I walked out of the Red Cross shop, I felt refreshed. It had been two years since my second baby had been born; any mad ideas that I would ‘snap back’ to a size 10 could be shelved now. This was my body, this was my shape; it was time to embrace it.
In a new house in a new area, starting again, I felt the urge to be more daring. I ransacked local thrift stores for old furniture to fill our new house and that’s where – in the rails of dusty tweed suits – I found, to my surprise, I was getting excited by clothes again. I started buying things for a few pounds, mad things that seemed unwearable. I’d been a lifelong wearer of tastefully muted shades but I found myself craving hot colours. I bought a bright pink skirt, which I wore clashing with a vermilion angora jumper; I traded in my jeans for a pair of acid yellow cords. Getting dressed in the morning no longer felt like a process of critiquing my body and all the clothes I owned. It was about having fun again. I no longer felt like a clone, blending in and feeling invisible. The purpose of the clothes we wear, I realised, as I put on a gingham dress with an electric blue jumper, does not have to be to hide ourselves or disguise things about us we think are imperfect but to be bolder, braver; to celebrate our differences and our uniqueness. After so much time in the fashion wilderness, I had found a way to love clothes again, to dress my body, not with feelings of worry or shame but with confidence, love and gratitude for all that it’s done for me.
INSTAGRAM STYLE INSPIRATION FOR NEW MUMS
Ashley of @milkteeths’ with her super-uplifting, bold and bright feed shows how even jeans and a thrift-store T-shirt can look super cool with the right attitude.
Man Repeller (@manrepeller) is the cult-famous, irreverent feed for serious fashion lovers. A reminder, too, to say to hell with body-shaming and wear what makes you happy.
Stylist Natasha Goldenburg (@ngoldenburg)’s outfits always make you stop and look; this not just another Instagrammer in the same Zara peasant shirt. She does her own thing, with confidence and incredible style.
Australia-based mum of five Courtney Adamo (@courtneyadamo) has the glowing and relaxed new-mum look down pat. Her taste for effortless dressing, breezy dresses, chunky knitwear and flat shoes is easy to copy, and her feed is full of inspiration.