Emma Bartley used to think she was pretty cool. Then she swapped music festivals for muslins...
Since ELLE magazine described Kate Middleton as “a badass” for showing her face and her baby girl to the world’s media within one day of giving birth, I’ve been wondering, can you still be cool once you’re a mother?
I mean, I get what the fashion mag was saying: there is something very cool about having a baby and getting on with it. I basically think all mums are badasses. But clearly, the Duchess isn’t cool. Hip. Trendy. Whatever the kids call it nowadays. Is any new mum? Or is coolness is one of those things that slips out of you when you have a baby, a kind of spiritual afterbirth?
I suppose it would help to define what we mean by “cool”. In Britain, the cool system is a bit like the class system; we all sort of know who goes where but we can’t necessarily define why. Looking more closely, I think there are three kinds of people:
1. People who are born cool.
2. People who try really bloody hard to be cool.
3. People who just don’t give a shit.
Of famous British mothers, I would say that Kate Moss is a 1, while Victoria Beckham is a 2. I love VB’s designs and she’s clearly a TOTAL badass, but somehow she is a 2. Kate Middleton is a 3 - her job is to be appropriate, not cool. Sienna? 1. Gwyneth? 2. Adele? 3. You can play the game with Americans, too: Beyonce’s a 1. Kim Kardashian is a 2. Angelina Jolie is a 3.
Me, I decided long ago that I wasn’t a 1, so I had to be a 3. Thus far it’s never held me back: I’ve worked on a couple of cool magazines in the past, but somehow (probably because I was only there to check the cool people’s spelling) it didn’t seem to matter.
Now, though, in my first job since becoming a mum, I’m working for a very cool company and have this paranoia that my twentysomething hipster coworkers think I’m a total loser. At least, it is noticeable when they’re all heading out to the hot new bar and I’m sprinting off to the childminder’s. I’m old, and fat, and suddenly a little bit awkward.
Wondering if it’s too late to become a 2, I ask some cool mum friends how they do it. One fashion editor mum - a 1 if ever I saw one - agrees that there’s a certain expectation of frumpiness for mothers, and she does her best to confound it. “I’ve got one of those McDonald’s bags [I think she means Chanel or Moschino] and I carry it to the school gates as a sort of f*** you to what I’m meant to look like.”
My friend Emily consulted a book by the founder of Mothers Meeting - a very cool networking group for mums in London - but found it a bit too self-conscious, like being trapped in between an issue of Vice magazine and a meeting with the Shoreditch WI. “There were some realistic and nice bits, but some were just ridiculous to me in that they had again managed to make motherhood seem like something it was not - cool.”
I know what she means. Motherhood - a state of being where you have to carry huge amounts of stuff everywhere, and typically fall asleep at 10.30pm - can be pretty uncool. But that doesn't mean it has to swallow your identity, says Leah Kim, who as yoga brand ambassador for Nike is cool enough to have been featured on Get the Gloss . “I definitely don’t FEEL cool in most mommy moments, but it’s more about the greater picture of who I am, and still caring about what I cared about before I became a mom," she says. "I refused to buy into certain supposed mom-necessities, ie, diaper bag - I love using a Celine bag to hold baby things in it. Or wearing the hot trainers of the moment, even with my comfy clothes.”
I like this idea - that although the world sees you in the early years solely as A Mother, you can hold back the tide if you remember that you’re still A Person. I too felt getting a “proper” nappy bag was a bridge too far (we use a white laser-cut iPad case). And I’ve been lucky with some of the baby-friendly trends since I had my daughter: flat shoes (perfect for pram-pushing!), jumpsuits (a 2-second outfit in the morning!), leather skirts (wipe clean!), pyjama trousers (going back to bed at naptime!), sports luxe (aka joggers!).
Susannah Taylor, Get the Gloss's editor (and cool mum extraordinaire) thinks I'm a bit too hung up on the fashion aspect of this, however. "It's totally possible to be cool as a mum!" she says. "I know a lot of cool mums who are super-chilled and laidback. Look at mums like Rosemary Ferguson, Laura Bailey, Gwen Stefani or Gisele. It's not about the clothes you wear - it's about being yourself and not really caring what other people think."
Of course, if you want to be a style icon, being rich and beautiful helps. But for the rest of us, there's a certain coolness to thinking, "f*** it" and going to the park.