I’m not sure when I lost my style. Perhaps it was in the blur of 3 a.m. feedings with enormous leaky breasts and a milk-stained bra. Maybe it was when I finally left the house on bleary-eyed walks, desperately pushing a baby to sleep while wearing Lululemon leggings and a t-shirt splotched with baby spew. I knew it for sure earlier this year at daycare drop off when I complimented another mum on her top, and she replied, “Thanks. You always look so—”, she looked me up and down searching for a compliment as I jiggled my youngest in my arms. “…Comfy.”
Comfy? I balked. COMFY?! And the worst part was, she was right. I did look comfy (still wearing the aforementioned Lululemons, a sweatshirt and trainers—my unofficial postpartum uniform). I was comfy. But I was also stuck in a style rut.
A dressing down
Of all the unsolicited advice imparted on me as an expecting mum, no one once told me how much I would change, and how by extension my personal style would need to be adjusted, and at times, heavily compromised. I had thought I was sartorially prepared for being a mum. I had bought the designer baby bag, after all.
But nearly five years and three babies later the truth is I’m still struggling to marry together my BC (before child) style with a realistic day to day wardrobe. Hailing from a seemingly stylish existence in magazines, up until I had my children my work wardrobe was my daily wardrobe. I wore fitted dresses and towering heels. I curled my hair, my lashes. More often than not, I had a red lip. I invested in expensive designer clothes because I wore them day and night.
It was all part and parcel of a job that could see me going to as many as three events in one day. But it was more than that—dressing up made me feel good—it made me feel like myself. I loved compiling outfits and curating what I would wear each day, each week. I got a thrill lying in bed at night and thinking how I would accessorise my outfit for the following day.
Had I gone back into full-time employment, maybe this would have been a different story. But I didn’t. I happily started working from home as a freelance writer between babies.
As a result, my personal approach to dressing that had once been so clearly defined, wavered. It may seem shallow but what I wore was a big part of my identity. Somewhere between the years of pregnancy, breastfeeding and running after tots, I’d lost that piece of myself. And honestly, I missed it.
The transitional phase
I think I know where things went wrong. My clothes don’t fit the way they used to. After losing the initial gained kgs (baby/placenta et al.) a stubborn blob always settled like a deflated balloon around my belly. And no matter how many F45 classes I do, or how well I eat, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere fast. I’m not one of those women whose bodies ‘bounce back’. And I’m certainly not one who loses weight while breastfeeding – if anything my postpartum body tends to go the other way, and it takes me at least nine to 10 months to get back to being what I’d consider a comfortable size for me. When I’d voice my frustrations to friends the usual response was, “You’ve just had a baby—be kind to yourself”. And I wasn’t very kind. My body had grown and nourished a life, three lives now, and how did I respond? By getting angry at it and refusing to purchase any new clothes until I had reached my pre-baby weight. I didn’t want to spend good money on clothes I figured wouldn’t fit me until I was back to my ideal size. But in retrospect this only ended up making me feel worse. And with a wardrobe of dresses frozen in a pre-2016 state, and too-small jeans quietly mocking me, I felt outdated and overwhelmed.
Last month, when my youngest baby turned seven months old, I made an effort to reclaim my inner style—body size be damned. But, it’s different than before. I had to find a new hybrid style: a postpartum capsule wardrobe that was chic yet comfortable. Ever the researcher I did a quick Google search and found a heap of mummy blogs telling me exactly what to do. Don’t wear white, they said. Don’t wear silk. Pick patterns over plain (it hides the spills, you see). It was all very sound advice. But I didn’t want to be that type of mum. I don’t want to sacrifice my style for practicality—I want to find a happy medium. So I started investing in clothing again, a mix of designer and high street, and discarded that mantra etched into my mind to not spend money on clothes during those baby-making years. I swapped my Lululemons for some Maggie Marilyn leggings and teamed them with an oversized blazer. Instead of buying heels that I’d wear once a month for a rare night out, I extended my collection of flats—Veja trainers, Marc Jacobs slides, R.M. Williams boots. I threw away my skinny leg maternity jeans and updated my denim (a size up, mind) with some straight leg Levi’s. It was my blended version of practicality versus style.
There are still days I wear Lululemons and a slouchy jumper—of course there are days when my hair is in an untidy topknot and I pray no one will see me as I nip into the supermarket for milk. But now some days, even if we’re going nowhere, I’ll spend time deciding on an appropriate outfit and even slide on red lipstick. When I did this a couple of Fridays ago my two-year-old grabbed my cheeks between her squishy hands and said “I love your lip, mama,” and honestly, it was the most ‘me’ I’d felt all year. Am I back? I see myself as a work in progress. I consider this my stylish self—version 2.0. Things have changed. I’ve changed. But my passion for fashion and dressing myself remains. Sometimes, I just need to remind myself of that.