These girls have been talking about why when you are clever, you have to be daggy or dorky.
or if you are a parent, you have to devote yourself to running around in track pants and god forbid wear heels on the school run.
So, why is it, when you are being the best version of what you are, that you should you feel embarrassed taking good care of yourself? Why should Style preclude Substance?
As some of you know, I am a dedicated fan of Thriftage, my new word for finding wonderful, sometimes designer, but very individual treats in charity shops. I also do a bit of ebay, and end of season sales shopping, and Outlet stores but only for things that look individual.
I like wearing these outfits to lunch, and dinner with Mr Hammie and the regular Mummies' Nights Out I have with other Special Mummies. When I am complimented, I used to come gushing out with a load of stuff about how it was from a bargain or which charity shop I had found it in. Clearly trying to make the point that it wasn't expensive.
Why? Why couldn't I just accept the compliment and leave 'em wondering. Or say, "Yes, It's Armani".
The first reason, and I absolutely cringe to admit it is that I didn't want people to think I was too well off. It is an instinct, born of a pretty depressing childhood and a mum who didn't look after herself. And as much as I hate that, and kick against it, sometimes the guilt creeps in.
My Nana died earlier this year, and if you read the post "Vale Nana" you can appreciate how hard my Nana worked in post-war rationing Australia, to make sure she, and her two little girls looked good. My Auntie, who wrote the piece went on to do the same for her two kids, my glamorous cousins. And thank god for that for at least there was a flow of sweetly perfumed hand-me-downs* coming from Sydney for me and my big Sis, because we needed it.
You can say we were too broke, and we were a lot of the time, but there was always money for ciggarettes and other things. (I won't go into that)
And as I have since learned as a Mama myself. It is possible to dress kids well, for little money. Iron things, mend things, wash, dry and fold things for goodness sake.
Yes it is different now with the big chain stores, but even in those days you could get good cheap but nice clothing FOR GIRLS, that with a little love and care would look great.
My mum didn't dress herself all that well either, and it seems we were an extension of that, the little "scraggesses" in our boyish clothes. I never felt like anyone was very proud of us.
As you can see I have baggage on this. I don't want to play the victim. But there is always a little voice inside me saying "don't be too good, or you will be punished"; hence, the gushing about charity shops and bargain sales.
Add to this the extra frisson created by special needs parenting. Where your every minute, (and every cent) should be devoted to getting your child's "recovery"
(very big inverted commas there)
And in a country where begrudgery is the national sport; I have come across more than a tinge of judgey wudgey-ness about this in regard to skin care and nice clothes.
I remember telling a story about getting Mr Hammie to bid tactically on Ebay for Eve Lom Cleanser for me (as you do) as he is good at it. I think we were talking about the movie "Green Card" and my "marriage of convenience" (20 years this year) and someone asked if Mr Hammie knew what skin care I used. When I was explaining he bought my skincare and what the Eve Lom cleansing routine was, I heard a little exhalation as someone said:
Hey, the children are still fed, the house doesn't flood or burn down, just because I am doing a bit of lymphatic massage. I do it with the bathroom door open, I can hear all clunks and bangs and yell at people while I do it, and I look and feel better when it's done.
And it is not just other parents that may or may not be judging you. When you have Social Workers involved in your life, you need to fly a fine line between having your shit together, and still qualifying for the help you so badly need, on the worst days.
So it could be tempting to appear in a dressing gown, fag hanging out of your mouth and piles of dirty washing on every surface.
But I find that if I look good, I feel good and explain my case well. My kids needs speak for themselves. Looking a victim and getting bullied serves no good purpose.
Which brings us to the other reason I carry on about bargains.
It Makes Me Feel Clever.
There are no key productivity indicators for parenting. No annual review, no pay rise. No promotions. So as a special needs parent, with no career, you have nothing to "score" yourself on. Yes, people tell you that you are doing a good job. But there are no markers. Competitive high achievers like me need that.
So when I walk out of the U.K. Cancer Shop on the Kings Road with an Armani suit for £90, like this one:
I feel like I have achieved something,
It is Actual Armani, not Emporio and hangs beautifully and looks like it was made for me. And when I wear it to conferences, and start lobbying Ministers and I feel great. Sure, the Minister for Education once told me I looked great in it once. About the nicest thing she ever said about me!
Bitchy Bitchy Confession:
I also feel a bit superior to those people who always buy retail, but badly. ( miaow)
Like they cover themselves in velcro, run into House of Fraser and buy everything that sticks. You meet these Yummy Mummies at charity do's, and the look is always teamed with Tango Tan,€150 highlights and the latest "It" handbag. Which probably cost more than my car.
So yeah, I feel a bit smug in my Johnson's Holiday Sun lotion, Early 90's MaxMara double breasted plaid jacket, A 15 euro Armani skirt and Five buck Bally Boots.
But the truth is that shopping in big shops just does my head in.
Oh, I'm not afraid of the shop girls, I used to be one and I know they put their Karen Millen Slacks on one leg at a time like everyone else. It is the actual clothes I fear.
I don't like racks of identical garments in a choice of sizes, guaranteed to bring out all my size insecurities and body shape issues. When you don't fit into the size you thought you were, and the next one up is too loose in places. And you stand there in your undies looking at 3 different views of how you want to be taller, slimmer, bigger boobed and longer legged.
They should hand out prozac with the little number tag as you go in. Or put a wine bar at the other end as you go out.
In a charity shop if you find an item you like, you try it on.
If it fits, you feel like Cinderella.
If it doesn't, there isn't a choice. So you don't blame yourself.
So, from now on, when I have put together a little outfit from Fashion Finds and Thriftage; and I get a compliment, I am just going to say