Why don't vicars' wives wear leopardskin, Mum Would you dare let your little girl give you a makeover Vicar's wife Anna did… with heavenly results
23:43 GMT, 24 April 2012
Daughters are pre-programmed to find their mothers an embarrassment. Aware of this, I have tried to forestall my nine-year-old by avoiding fulsome farewells at the school gates and swapping Dolly Parton for One Direction when the car windows are down.
But I had not predicted that Johnnie Boden, that bastion of middle-class wardrobes, would betray me.
Over the past two years, my husband’s job as an Anglican priest has moved us from Oxford to Malvern to Enfield in North London. In Oxford, the mothers at my children’s prep school spent winter in Boden Wear and summer in White Stuff. In Malvern, we wore stout boots and corduroy.
Church mouse to cool kitty: Vicar's wife Anna Tims in her usual charity shop tunic and sensible tunic (right) and (left) in her new outfit of leopard-print leggings and stiletto boots chosen by her daughter Eleanor, who wanted a trendier mum
But in Enfield Most of the mothers at our local primary school are at least ten years younger than I am.
Juicy Couture tracksuits, Ugg boots and the odd splash of leopard-print are popular garb at the school gates. And, faced with such competition, my wardrobe of tweed and boiled wool is ruining my daughter Eleanor’s playground cred.
Last month, she drew a picture of her ideal mother. I had expected a beaming, wool-clad figure who looked suitably like me.
Instead, she sketched a long-haired temptress with leggings tucked into tasselled stiletto boots, a tunic emblazoned with love hearts, varnished talons, thickly daubed eyelashes and a mouth that could only have been conjured by a surgeon’s scalpel.
She labelled it, optimistically ‘My Mummy’ and there was a pause as we both surveyed it, lying there on my woolly lap.
Stylish new look: Anna's fuchsia dress and nude heels
That weekend, I returned my birthday bobble-knit jumper to Next and exchanged it for a pair of skinny jeans. I tucked them into my Hobbs’ boots, donned my gardening Barbour, which is now apparently urban ‘cool’, and appeared hopefully at afternoon pick-up.
Sadly, I was still inadequate. Eleanor would not be able to hold her head high until I acquired a Velour tracksuit, a set of silver jewellery, full make-up and edgy boots. A list of targets was placed on my in-tray and if I achieved them, she said, she would buy me fancy soap.
I like fancy soap and I’m anxious to help my children find a sense of belonging in their new environment. And so I consulted some of the trendier mothers. ‘Is there,’ I asked 29-year-old Tracey Sargent, ‘anything about me that’s cool’
‘Certainly not!’ she said gravely, surveying my bargain tunic from Help The Aged. ‘Then is there any hope for me’ Only, it seemed, if I divided my spare time between the nail bar, the tanning shop and Primark.
Tracey suggested that I started with hair highlights to brighten my face. ‘And a bit of fake tan will do nicely,’ she said. ‘Sun Shimmer Bronzer is every girl’s best friend!’
I would require eyebrow threading, false eyelashes, acrylic nail extensions — ‘I get my nails done every two weeks’ — and, for summer, floral jumpsuits and diamante flip flops. ‘Your clothes need to be brighter and tighter.’
To lift the whole look, a maximising bra would be essential. ‘Feel me!’ invited Tracey, indicating her enviable bosom. ‘It’s all padding!’
Finally, I would have to swap my brick-like mobile for a Blackberry and carry it in my hand at all times.
The trendy mums, excited at the prospect of conjuring new life out of the vicar’s wife, devised a plan and the evening before my transformation, Facebook was abuzz with cosmetic strategies for salvaging my face. Since my own wardrobe was irredeemable, the call went out for suitable clothing and carrier bags were surreptitiously thrust at me at morning drop-off.
I shaved my two chin bristles in preparation and one afternoon, when I’d baked the cakes for the parish refreshments and set the church tea urn simmering, I folded away my pinny and got ready to be cool.
The process involved a rucksack full of cosmetics and 50 minutes of hard graft. Mandi flourished an arsenal of tools with which she curled my hair, outlined my eyes, blackened my lashes and powdered my face. Rachel concealed the compost rims in my fingernails with an elegant lilac lacquer and lent me some Jimmy Choo sunglasses.
My corduroy smock was discarded in the church store room and replaced by a pair of skin-tight leopard-print leggings and I jingled with silver jewellery pinched from Eleanor’s dressing-up box.
To-do list: Nine-year-old Eleanor felt compelled to set Mum's agenda after Anna was continually being out-fashioned at the school gates
There were difficulties. I had forgotten to shave my armpits, so Tracey’s sleeveless top of transparent white lace had to be abandoned in favour of a tracksuit top by Juicy Couture. Her knee boots were two sizes too big, so I retained my hiking socks as wadding and, as I cannot stand upright in stilettos, someone lent me a pram with a baby in it and I clutched it like a Zimmer as I teetered up the road to school.
Outside the classroom I stood trendily as my daughter had once taught me — right hip cocked and a car key dangling from my forefinger, only I hadn’t brought the car so I borrowed the keys to the church vestry.
The mothers declared me a sensation. They admired the legs I’ve always kept so well shrouded, my sculpted hair and my bust, supplied at some cost by M&S’s brassiere technology.
And my daughter She emerged from the school and brushed straight past me. ‘Where,’ she asked my neighbour, ‘is my mum’
'The mothers declared me a sensation. They
admired the legs I’ve always kept so well shrouded, my sculpted hair
and my bust, supplied at some cost by M&S’s brassiere technology'
I’d hoped that the sight of me would sober her. That she would beg for the return of her familiar woolly mummy. And indeed, when a mishap with a stiletto identified me, she was horrified. But only briefly. Buoyed by the admiration of my entourage, she tried on the Juicy Couture top and the stilettos and protested when I reclaimed my baggy smock.
My worry was the Vicar. He took fright over the diagonal seams on one of my M&S skirts, so I was not sure that he would have the stamina for leopard-print.
He, too, brushed past unseeingly when he arrived for the church tea and his spectacles lurched with shock when he finally clocked me. But he was as thrilled as the churchwarden and the verger, who were gazing transfixed at my contours.
That night I pored with secret glee over the photos of my revamped look. In his study, with equal glee, the Vicar was doing the same.
But the following morning I returned the borrowed finery without regret.
However, after my hour of glory, I am more mindful of shifting fashions. On a shopping trip later that week, I snapped up a knee-length fuchsia dress that would have felt too daring before my experiment, but now seems demure. The colour is far more flattering on my skin tone than the muted browns and greens I had been wearing, and I wore it to a dinner party teamed with a pair of nude heels and felt very glamorous.
I have made several style resolutions going forward — from agreeing to grow my hair so that Eleanor can practise French plaits, to replacing my split Wilkinsons wellies with a pair of Hunters so that she can boast that her mother wears designer labels, and allowing her to assemble outfits for me — albeit from the safe scope of my wardrobe.
There was disappointment at school when I turned up this week in my usual cords, but my standing is enhanced both there and at church by my leopard-print adventure.
I was pointing this out to Eleanor when I remembered the fancy soap. I reminded her that I achieved her targets all in one go and that she owed me. ‘That was just the once,’ she replied with kindly patience. ‘I meant you have to do it every day!’