Esther Walker: How I learnt to dress my post baby figure

Esther Walker
Esther with Kitty and Sam

As a result of not being in especially good shape before having children (I was thin but untoned, like a bag of bones), after two children my bosom is no longer pneumatic – worse, I suddenly have ‘long’ cleavage, which I didn’t want to show off.

Having never had especially terrific legs, I have got a varicose vein on my left one, and I cannot wear anything even vaguely tight around my stomach or I feel like I am being strangled.

So what could I wear? Something high-necked that went down to mid-calf (where the varicose vein stops)? Lovely.

Suddenly cheap clothes just didn’t work. My shape was all wrong. Cheap clothes are cut well for young, thin people with boingy boobs. Expensive clothes are cut for women who have uncontrollable tummies but toned arms from pushing buggies around.

Cheap clothes are cut well for young, thin people with boingy boobs. Expensive clothes are cut for women who have uncontrollable tummies but toned arms from pushing buggies around.

Sure, vests and leggings and crappy sweatshirts from cut-price high street chains – that’s all fine. But knitwear, tailoring, dresses, skirts – it suddenly all looks awful if it’s cheap. The collection of mulchy things from H&M and (horror!) Primark cluttering up my drawers made me feel depressed.

They all smelled of armpits and skin. So once Sam was approaching a year and the fog had started to lift slightly (though by no means completely), I chucked it all out and looked with some fright into my pretty much empty wardrobe.

I had no basics, no classics. I didn’t have a little black dress, or a navy wool sweater, or a good pair of white jeans, or black trousers, or a solid pair of black courts or any jackets or blazers. I was a textbook panic shopper – I would go shopping because I never seemed to have anything to wear.

Then I’d come home with a jazzy green cocktail dress and three new white stretchy vests, some ‘no VPL knickers’ – and wonder why I still had nothing to wear.

The not-having-anything-to-wear feeling was compounded by the not having any fucking time to rifle through drawers, trying to make colours ‘go’ together, trying to make shapes work.

Once Sam was born I banned myself from going into H&M and swore to wear only black at night and gym kit during the day.

Gym kit during the day was, even if I say so myself, totally inspired. It is easy to pull on, it is stretchy and comfortable round the postpartum area, and crucially, it is a ‘look’, while being completely appropriate attire for bumming around with small children, running up and down stairs, being smeared with food and effluvia, bending, lifting, reaching, grabbing, gripping, wiping, dashing … it was sort of a workout!

And everyone you see thinks you are a very sorted, organised person who is just off to the gym or just back from the gym. When in fact I have not been inside a gym since 2003.

Wearing only black at night was another stroke of genius. I had stopped wearing black, despite it being the best, most useful colour there is to wear – day or night – because (and this is the absolute pathetic truth) I read somewhere that Anna Wintour never wears black and doesn’t like black. Despises people who wear black!

Ha! The editor of Vogue, the actual editor of American Vogue, doesn’t wear black – because she doesn’t have to, because she has access to all the clothes in the entire world – so I thought that this also applied to time-poor, cash-poor me.

When I eventually grasped this, it was such a relief. The rules that apply to the most fashion-acute women in the world do not, in fact, apply to me, too. I could relax, I could go easy on myself. I could wear a lot of black.

And everyone else does, too! Whenever I went to smart dinner parties all the women there were head-to-toe in black, leather leggings, chiffon shirts, complicated shoes: black, black, black, black!

Once I started to forgive myself for not being Anna Wintour and allowed myself to wear smart but loose and comfy gym kit during the day (rather than struggling into jeans and a breton top and feeling not only constricted but also a bit samey and dowdy) and wear only black at night, I also began to think that the next step might be to allow myself to build up a wardrobe of non-cheap classic ‘pieces’.

I ‘invested’ in nicer coat-hangers rather than the clattery collection of plastic Topshop jobbies and wire dry cleaning freebies I had. I had fewer clothes, but – perversely – I had things to wear.

This sort of self-love has always been anathema to me, and if you are like that, motherhood can crush you like a tin can.

If you have never been used to any sort of regular personal grooming or self-maintenance other than the occasional home pedicure, because you are bored, you can look like Stig of the Dump very fast.

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