by Sallie Lloyd-Jones

I’m not coming out with you

Looking at me I doubt if anyone would think that clothes are important to me. I am not fashionable, stylish or smart, and I spend little money on clothes. My priority is comfort, but I also love the clothes I wear , or I wouldn’t be wearing them. I have cared passionately about what I wear for as long as I can remember. I can only have been three when I had a pink and brown tweed coat with a matching bonnet . Both coat and bonnet were trimmed with brown velvet and I’m sure it was a very expensive outfit. I absolutely hated it.

Then there were the daily temper tantrums about little floral frocks that I hated with equal passion. Followed by years at different schools where I was the only one who didn’t possess the correct uniform, because I wouldn’t be staying long. Finally five years of the uniform of my boarding school, designed, I think to be both as unattractive as possible, and to accommodate any sort of figure from small, thin and undeveloped to tubby and busty. Thus the summer dresses had a yoke with the front gathered into it, so that it was either stretched over a big bust, or hung down below the waist on the small and flat-chested.

When I left at fifteen I had few clothes other than uniform, but started work at Peter Jones, and at last earned my own money with which to buy my own choices. I made a lot of my clothes myself, and they were brightly coloured, with not a flower in sight. I favoured huge buttons and bought purple tights. This is when my mother started saying to me ‘darling, I’m not coming out with you if you’re going to wear that.’

I swore I would never say that to my children, nor would I force them into clothes they hated, or refuse to let them wear something they really wanted to wear. Thus I quickly gave up the struggle to dissuade my elder daughter, Kally, from wearing a beloved red faux fur coat in mid-summer, whatever the health visitor thought of me, and had to go to the supermarket trailing younger daughter, Leonie, who was unsuitably wearing a skirt that consisted of twenty chiffon scarves with the top corners tucked into a belt.

I got a row from Leonie’s teacher when I allowed her to go to primary school wearing, in the rain, a pair of orange sneakers with ‘stop’ and ‘go’ on the toes. I had suggested wellingtons, but was defeated, and the teacher informed me that she had already queried the lack of them, and told me that Leonie had said they were too small. (She had a pair of dry shoes in a shoe-bag to change into, but had forgotten about that).I asked Leonie if her boots were, indeed too small. She agreed that they weren’t, but that she had told the teacher they hurt her. Did they hurt her? Yes. Where? Round the waist was the reply. I gave up entirely at that point.

At age twelve each child was given a dress allowance, and told to use it carefully. If you spend it all on skirts or shirts and have no shoes, I told them, then you will go to school barefoot. It worked well. The only rows were about wearing school uniform. Kally, it seemed was the only child in her class made to wear uniform. I met up with the other mothers whose children were in Kally’s class. Funnily enough, each one had a child who was the only one in her class who had to wear uniform.

Time goes by, the children leave home, coming back for visits, Christmas, birthdays and bonfires on the beach at Guy Fawkes.

And they start saying ‘Oh, Mum, I’m not coming out with you if you’re going to wear that.’