Not dressed to impress

The thought has crossed my mind, I won't deny that.

On days when my husband travels for work and my chauffeur duties extend to the 6.45am school run, I am tempted to roll out of bed five minutes before it's time to leave, brush my teeth, then hop into the car with my son once he has had his breakfast.

Yes, in my pyjamas. Only they aren't exactly PJs, but my default bedtime attire of a tank top and shorts.

I have yet to yield to my lazy instincts but, oh, I've come so close, so many times.

I am merely dropping him off and the sun is only just creeping up the horizon. I can get away with a ratty tee, fraying shorts and panda eyes under the cover of darkness, I tell myself.


But so far, I have dutifully set the alarm so I have at least half an hour to shower, change and dab on some under-eye concealer.

Change into what, you ask? Why, a tank top and shorts, of course, but a more presentable set minus the holes, tears and old food stains.

I was reminded of my struggle after a recent row in Britain that made the headlines and sparked a nationwide debate.

Ms Kate Chisholm, the principal of a primary school in Darlington, drew the ire of some parents after she wrote to them, asking that they stop doing the school run in their PJs and "take the time to dress appropriately".

She was branded snobbish and meddlesome, among other things, and one mother even withdrew her children from the school in protest.

Ms Chisholm's detractors thought she had no place telling them what to do and insisted it was their right to wear what they wanted. It is tough enough getting their kids ready for school, they huffed. If the children show up in one piece and on time, who cares what their parents wear?

Others argued that kids had the right not to be embarrassed by their parents. And it is for this reason alone that I drag myself out of bed at the crack of dawn to look half-decent.

Teachers and parent volunteers at my son's school serve as traffic wardens during the morning drop-off period. It would be mortifying for us both if one of his teachers or friends' mums whom I didn't know well opened the car door for him and found me in my rumpled state.

But undeniably, my style quotient - never that high to begin with - has plummeted since I quit full-time journalism and began working from home about two years ago.

In the beginning, I still dressed like I had somewhere important to go to and someone important to meet, perhaps out of both habit and denial.

But within a month of assuming my new role as the family chauffeur, I had swopped my fitted capri pants for roomy shorts.

After 11am, the weather is just too darn hot for anything that hits below the knees or clings to the skin if you have to venture out for a spell.

Blouses were soon sidelined, too, for the same reason. Delicate fabrics and sleeves are no friends of the blazing mid-day sun when I'm out just to pick my kids up from school and drive them to and from other activities.

But I strove to maintain some standards by opting for only dressy tank tops and shorts: a bejewelled neckline, say, or shorts with a luxe sheen and side ties.

If the tops were too plain, I had a box full of statement necklaces to play with. I also made it a point not to wear the same accessory twice a week, ditto my clothes and shoes.

I don't know who I thought would be so free as to play fashion Nazi at my son's school, but I find my misplaced zeal and discipline laughable now. That box of bling lies mostly unmolested these days.

I realised how far I'd fallen when a friend asked another if she had ever repeated her school-run outfits, which we've always suspected come from Club 21 and other posh boutiques.

"I don't think I've seen you in the same outfit twice," PC teased the ever well-groomed K as the three of us waited outside the school gate recently.

It was one of those quick light-hearted chats we've been having nearly every day since our boys started Primary 1 two years ago.

I remember looking down at my faded shorts then and thinking, matter-of-factly: "I might have worn this same pair two days ago."

The surprise is not that I am now recycling the same item twice a week, but that I no longer care even if I do.

And while I used to schedule my gym sessions so I could head home for a quick shower and change before school dismissal, I now plan them so I show up just in time for pick-up. In my workout gear, no less.

I have become adept at tweaking and tightening my daily schedule until everything runs like clockwork, with time left for myself.

I no longer have the patience for unnecessary driving, waiting or preening. Sunscreen, concealer and some tinted moisturiser and I'm good to go. Practicality and efficiency rule.

Besides, I told my pals from the school-gate brigade, I know them so well I no longer have to dress to impress.

"Oh yeah," PC replied, affirming my slide in standards. "I remember you always used to wear a nice necklace when the boys were in P1."

These days, my school-run wardrobe is governed largely by the 3Cs - comfort, convenience and colour.

Thigh-grazing shorts and soft sleeveless tees that let me zip about with ease, come rain or shine, have become my uniform.

I once ordered the same pair of chino shorts and cotton jersey muscle tee in at least five colours each from J. Crew online after they ticked all the right boxes.

I might be far from fashionable, but I reckon I'm still at least presentable.

After all, as Ms Chisholm said in her letter to parents: "It is important for us all to set our children a good example about what is appropriate and acceptable in all aspects of life, not only from the point of view of their safety and general well-being, but also as preparation for their own adult life."

For my son's sake, if not my own, I hope I never cross that final line into sloppy auntie-dom: doing the morning school run in my PJs.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 21, 2016, with the headline 'Not dressed to impress'. Print Edition | Subscribe