Leah McFall: The scoop on wardrobe-gate

I once wore the same thing nine school days in a row. Nobody cared. I may have Rach to thank for that. She's an armed ...
Alistair Hughes/Stuff

I once wore the same thing nine school days in a row. Nobody cared. I may have Rach to thank for that. She's an armed forces officer and collects her kids wearing a beret and fatigues.

OPINION: What a lot of chuffing nonsense, all this twaddle about the school-gate! You must have seen one of these stories; the ones claiming that women dress extra carefully in the mornings to compete with other mothers' outfits as they're dropping off their kids. Not for professional reasons, or in anticipation of exercise, but as a pointed attempt to dominate the group by using fashion.

These articles always come with examples, and the examples always include the following people:

Stella McCartney

Elle Macpherson

Claudia Schiffer

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Their children must all attend the same school, because the accompanying photograph always features: Stella McCartney, wearing Stella McCartney, Elle Macpherson in a cashmere poncho, Claudia Schiffer, with root-energised hair and a Birkin.

I feel the need to deconstruct the phenomenon of school-gate dressing because I, too, dress each morning and I, too, deliver my child to the school gate. I don't dress specifically for the school gate, I have to admit, because school drop-off takes about 90 seconds and nobody in their right mind dresses for 90 seconds of anything (that said, many people undress for 90 seconds of something, but that's an entirely different kind of column for an entirely different kind of magazine).

I can report that at my daughter's school, the drop-off is not a runway. The pick-up is as far from competitive as you can imagine. In fact, for me, school pick-up is like a therapy session. It's like I'm a stray calf, returning to my pod. I might as well hear whale song; it totally chills me out. This is because in our playground, nobody gives a fat rat's what I'm wearing and neither do I.

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I once wore the same thing nine school days in a row. Nobody cared. I may have Rach to thank for this. Rach, not her real name, has rambunctious and friendly boys. She is also a ranked officer in the armed forces and regularly collects the kids wearing a beret and fatigues. For Rach, camouflage is big this season, and will be next season too. I can't tell you how liberating this is for the rest of us.

My kindy run is very similar. Our kindy community is so accepting that I feel under no pressure to dress well, or to remove mascara from the day before. The children don't care; many are in animal onesies. Most of the parents are wearing babies. Some of the parents are wearing breakfast. Who cares?

Incidentally, I think kindy must be one of the most joyful places on Earth. Without exception the children are sweet-faced and delightful. The teachers are entirely focused on everyone's safety and wellbeing. Everybody is always pleased to see you; everybody helps to tidy up.

There are so few places where children are wholeheartedly welcomed like this, that I find it unbearably touching. (I'm often on the brink of tears at kindy but luckily for me, my mascara already ran.)

If there was going to be competitive dressing, you'd think our school would be ideal. After all, it's the kind of suburb where most people have a toy dog and tasselled curtains. But for some reason it hasn't caught on.

This could be because it's Wellington, the town where doing your hair is a waste of time. There are very few glamourati in this town. Our First Lady, Mary English, is a GP. As we speak she's probably wearing latex gloves and unblocking someone's saliva gland. If she doesn't have time for competitive dressing, none of us do.

In fact, Mary English was briefly a locum in my local clinic. When overseas, I can cite her in a truthful example.

"I love New Zealand," I might say. "It's such a village, and you can talk easily to anyone. I, personally, have peed into a cup for the wife of the Prime Minister."

Or maybe it's middle-age. You know, you hit your 40s and you really don't have to try as hard any more.

Once upon a time you were all lipstick and kitten heels. Now you're all eye-cream and Hush Puppies. Kick off your loafers and show the other mums your bunions; watch them relax into relief. You've just released them from the hamster wheel, that endless spin of keeping up appearances. Somebody order a pizza, and let's call the whole thing off.

Can somebody tell Stella? Can somebody tell Elle?

 - Sunday Magazine

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