When I was younger my parents didn’t have a lot of money. I am the youngest of four siblings but I am the youngest by 10 years so by the time I was 5 my brother and sisters had all pretty much left home. As a result, what money they did have, got spent on giving me the best start in life that they could. I went to private school from the age of 2 and although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I certainly see now the benefits that education gave me and am very grateful for it.
Because most of the money went on my education – plus violin lessons, singing lessons, drama lessons, tennis coaching – you name it, I did it – there wasn’t a lot left for anything else. When it came to clothing I mostly wore things that my Mum had made or that were handed down from friends and family. Even back then, and we’re talking 35 or so years ago, image was important especially for girls. I remember several occasions when I was made to feel more than inferior because of the clothes I was wearing – even from as young as 6 years old.
I would always wear my bridesmaid dress, that my Mum made me for my sister’s wedding, to the birthday parties I was invited to and regularly had comments made like “Why are you wearing that again?”. Even at such a young age you can’t help but be affected by what your peers say to you and I remember going home sobbing from one party because I just wanted to fit in. I will never forget the day my Mum decided to treat me to a new party outfit to help me feel the same as everyone else. I got a pair of burgundy velvet knickerbockers and a pink blouse and I felt so special! That was my party outfit for every party from then on until it didn’t fit anymore! I only ever had one pair of shoes – my school shoes, but I was so happy with my new outfit.
I think being at private school definitely made things worse as most families were pretty wealthy and many of my friends had whatever new clothes they ever wanted. When I was around 10 years old a group of us were taken to the West End in London for a girl’s birthday to see a show. Afterwards we were taken for a meal at the Savoy! Can you believe it? A group of 10 year old girls having dinner at the Savoy! We weren’t told that was where we were going but I had worn a pretty dress for the evening anyway so felt I was dressed appropriately. I remember, as we found out where we were going, several girls looked at me and said ‘Oh no Nicola, look what you’re wearing! Don’t you wish you had a change of clothes?’. They didn’t realise how their words would stick with me, but I recall it like it was yesterday and also the sinking feeling I felt when we walked into the hotel and I felt like I wasn’t dressed well enough.
I have so many examples of when things like this happened and as I got older it only seemed to get worse. When I was 14 we had a mufti day at school. I’d had a conversation with some girls from another class the day before about what we would be wearing and I had suggested that I might wear my bright pink ski pants! OK looking back this probably wasn’t a wise move on my part but I was looking forward to wearing what I saw as my best outfit. The girls just burst out laughing. Hurt and upset I decided to wear something else the next day to avoid any undue attention. The worst bit about this story was that in the morning that day, when I was sat chatting to friends in my classroom these girls and some of their friends came to my classroom door asking where I was “Where’s Nicola? Let’s see what she’s wearing?”. I walked over in my more understated black leggings and sweatshirt and they looked almost disappointed. I couldn’t believe that they’d come all the way over to my classroom simply to have a good laugh at my clothes.
Once I got a Saturday job I started buying my own clothes but I was never a great follower of fashion…I just wore what I liked and what I felt comfortable in. I’m still not really too bothered where my clothes come from or how much they cost, as long as I feel good in what I’m wearing and it fits then I’m happy – I do tend to stay fairly understated though, there’s a lot of grey in my wardrobe! However, I made a very conscious decision that when I had children that I would ensure that they were always dressed well. I don’t really buy them designer clothes (they might have had the odd item from an outlet) but they always wear nice clothes that fit well. They don’t tend to wear hand-me-downs but mainly because we don’t tend to receive any. Phoebe occasionally gets shoes handed down from a school friend and I’m more than happy for her to wear them – I’m by no means a snob! Both kids have a lot of clothes and shoes – far more than either of them need – but it means they have a pick of outfits for parties and mufti days and never need to feel that they don’t fit in.
Archie is a typical boy, he cares little about what he wears although is starting to show more interest now he has turned 13. I do, however, recall when he was around 6 years old I laid out his clothes for the day and put out some jogging bottoms for him to wear and he came running to me saying “Seriously?? Jogging bottoms?? I can’t be expected to wear them!!”. He got over it and now rarely wears anything else!
Phoebe however, is a different species altogether. She has taken a great interest in what she wears from a very young age and refused to wear trousers, leggings or jeans at all until she was 5. She took great pleasure in choosing her outfits from when she was around 2 years old and has a particular passion for shoes. At 4 months old she had 19 pairs of tights – I loved her in tights, she looked so cute! I definitely made the most of having a little girl to dress up and it has clearly rubbed off on her. She has always insisted on having her tops tucked in and in her first dance show, at the age of 4, spent most of her dance standing at the side of the stage trying to tuck in her shirt! Since then I have always tied it in a knot at the side!
She is so fashion conscious it has now started to worry me a little. I might have created a monster! I have had to have a number of conversations with her about how not everyone is as lucky as her. A while ago on her school mufti day she pointed out that another girl was wearing the same outfit that they had worn on the last mufti day and when she greeted a friend at a party recently she most definitely looked them up and down – assessing their outfit to see if it was worthy. I was horrified. Have I created one of those girls that I despised so much growing up? Only this week she asked me “Mummy? Why does Peppa Pig only have one dress?” I wasn’t really sure how to respond to that one!
Luckily she is only 6 and so I think there is time to make this right. She is beautiful, gentle, sweet and kind-hearted but I suspect in my quest to ensure she never feels out of place or like she’s not wearing the right clothes I have unintentionally spoilt her and created my own little material girl. We enjoy shopping trips together and I love to treat her to things…it’s hard not to and it’s not something I want to stop. So I guess we have to now make sure we bring her up to respect everyone, no matter what they wear and know that everyone is different and is entitled to wear what the want when they want…just like she does. If I ever catch her laughing at someone because of what they are wearing I’ll dig out that bridesmaid dress and make her wear it to school…she’ll soon learn her lesson!
Until next time…
A Blogging Good Time