Laughing at my choice of dress… but I dress for myself, not to please others

Walking into the playground of my daughter’s school last week, where the parents of the younger children pick up each other at the end of the day, I had an encounter that echoed a familiar experience for me, and that I will never find disconcerting.

potting another mom I know, I approached to say hello when she shouted “Look at you!” literally pointing and laughing. ‘Look at your outfit!’

This mom is a lovely person and our girls are good friends, so I kept walking towards her, laughing at her reaction even as I tried to figure out what it meant.

‘Oh, I know,’ I said rolling my eyes when I literally had no idea what I was supposed to roll my eyes at. You know when you try to participate in a joke even if you don’t understand?

She continued; “No, but look at yourself! I mean, your whole outfit! I did as she asked and looked at me.

To my relief, I hadn’t accidentally come to school dressed as a chicken or a Christmas elf. I wasn’t any clearer as to what I was supposed to be laughing at, though.

Was it the denim cuts that admittedly aren’t part of moms regular uniform, but are so comfortable for riding around town that I practically live in them? She sees me in it all the time.

Was it the cycling cap covering my unwashed hair? Or the yellow socks that keep my feet warm under leather ankle boots? The double denim perhaps of my oversized jacket?

I appreciate that I’m not painting a picture of a carefully constructed and stylish outfit here, but that’s the school run. I have stuff I’m late for. I gave up trying to figure out the fall, suspecting it was me anyway, and changed the subject to some mundane weather rubbish.

Making fun of what I’m wearing isn’t an entirely new experience, but it’s something I struggle to understand, or even really care about. I used to be so desperate to please others all the time that when the penny finally dropped I was never going to make others happy no matter how I lived my own life all bets were on open. I really stopped worrying about what other people thought or thought except my loved ones. It’s a much easier way to be.

This protective pad is useful in my work, especially when what I’m wearing gets regular reviews online. I was recently asked in an interview if I’m proud to dress differently on TV and I was a little surprised. I don’t try to dress differently, I try to dress like me. And I do this, deliberately, for a number of reasons.

When I had my first child seven years ago, I suffered from postnatal depression and anxiety, which were inextricably linked to the most existential of identity crises. Who was I? What was I?

For all my years of life up to that point, I had been a driven, determined, fun-loving, party-loving person, and now I had trouble even leaving the house. I felt compelled to wear sensible and practical clothes, to better mother.

To make matters worse, I couldn’t breastfeed successfully, so all those maternity tops with their strategically placed flaps of adjustable fabric only taunted me further. I felt little more than the sum of my bodily functions, which weren’t even working that well.

Part of the reason I dress to express my personality now is like a signpost for other women who are going through something similar; to emphasize that it is a phase, something to go through rather than a final destination.

There is an identity of your own to claim at the end of it all, if you wish.

The other reason I dress on TV is because I want other women like me to know that they too can find their footing in sports. While men are allowed to dive in and out of sports fandom as they wish or World Cups, women are considered “in” the sport or not.

And generally, if you are interested in fashion, politics, philosophy, design or frankly anything that is not sports, we see that this is not your thing. I want to show women that there is a place for us in this world too, and that everything doesn’t have to be so serious.

That’s why I’ll continue to be okay if people make fun of my clothes, whether it’s on the playground or on social media. A little or a lot of thought may have gone into it, but the motivation is always the same; live exactly the way I want and have a little fun along the way.

Follow Orla on social media @SportsOrla

About Robert James

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