For my sins, I went to Primark this week. I usually try to avoid the high street for ethical reasons, but occasionally I have to buy the bairn some socks. He has a penchant for shedding them all over north London, and he finds shoes highly offensive, and it has been costing me a fortune. As I navigated the sea of pink and sparkle that is the girls’ section, I found myself looking at rack after rack of blue and grey boys’ trousers and wondering yet again why so many clothes for little boys are just so bloody boring.
When garments aren’t plain or muted, they are covered in trucks, robots or dinosaurs. I’m fine with dinosaurs (how can you not be?) but I refuse to buy him anything with trucks on it, or worse, diggers. I don’t even really understand what heavy plant machinery has to do with children, who are quite rightly forbidden from its operation. Also off the table are the ubiquitous beefeaters (the boy is part-Welsh and the only approved monarch under our roof was murdered by the English in 1282); most slogans on account of them being naff and/or nonsensical; superheroes; the police; farmyard animals with the exception of sheep; and the Gruffalo, who, let’s be honest, is no oil painting.
Now, before you start furiously composing an email to me with a subject line containing the words “tofu-eating wokerati”, this isn’t just about gender politics, although that is an aspect of it. It’s also personal taste. I have always loved and had strong opinions about clothes, and dressing up should be fun, especially for children and especially for boys. I can’t help feeling that they get a raw deal when compared with little girls. So much more imagination seems to go into clothing design for the latter, notwithstanding the tyranny of pink, weirdly sexy cuts and “be kind” slogans.
I’d have known where I was, clothes-wise, with a girl, what with me being one. Of course, you can dress your child in a completely gender-neutral way. I found out my son was a son when I met him for the first time and my husband said, his voice catching, “It’s our boy.” I’d had my suspicions before that, after my husband thought he saw “something” on the 20-week scan, although he said: “It could have been a leg, I didn’t know what I was looking at.” As such, my son’s first clothes were gender-neutral hand-me-downs from his little friend Zayley.
I do quite like pretty dresses and would undoubtedly have put a daughter in them. My own mother used to make a lot of my clothes and seemed to enjoy dressing me up like a small Edwardian, with lovely floral dresses and lace petticoats, accessorised with lace-up boots or a straw hat. I’m progressive and a feminist, but I wasn’t about to put my son in bloomers. So what to do?
My French aunt set the tone with some beautiful, vibrant gifts from Petit Bateau. I was once sacked from a nannying job for not ironing some Petit Bateau polo necks on the correct setting, but I seem to have finally processed that trauma. Hand-me-downs from his cousin were also fabulous. I decided to do some research. I looked on Instagram. I looked at the other babies at the stay-and-play and asked their parents where they got their stuff. I looked at what the children of celebrities wore, at one point falling into a Prince George rabbit hole before exiting largely unconvinced but nonetheless having bought a sailor suit. I Googled fun children’s clothing brands and found that lack of imagination on the mainstream British high street is cast into even sharper relief when you look at the wonderful kids’ clothes that continental and small sustainable brands are producing. But these clothes are often more expensive, which is how I discovered Vinted.
What would parents do without Vinted, where for a couple of quid you can pick up an almost-new Mini Boden jumper, a pair of Frugi parsnip pants, or a Bobo Choses bodysuit (I am obsessed with Bobo Choses, whose arty, brightly coloured clothes are just so joyful) that would normally cost £45? It has completely transformed the way parents shop, enabling us to buy directly from other parents in an affordable, ethical way. Its algorithm has given me so many ideas and has helped me find new clothing companies. As my son drifts off to sleep, I sit next to his crib scrolling and liking and making offers, dreaming up new outfit ideas for him. It makes me happy to kit him out and see him looking so sweet. I never thought I’d have so much fun dressing a boy.
I think my son looks great and so, it seems, do other people. It makes them smile and he gets a lot of compliments. His leopard-print tracksuit bottoms might raise eyebrows in some parts of the world, but not where I live. Here, people love a baby boy in a rainbow-coloured, hand-knitted cardigan, or a dungaree-and-top combination in clashing prints. I always try to make him look fun and joyful, but never ridiculous. He is occasionally mistaken for a girl, but mostly by people who think you have to put a bow on a baby girl’s head so everyone can tell her sex. Mostly, people ask who he’s wearing, like he’s on the red carpet at the Met Gala. I have a list of favourite brands ready in response.
No doubt there are readers who will think it shallow that I’ve devoted so much time to my son’s wardrobe. But I suspect they would be less judgmental if I did the same for a daughter. I hope that, in reading this, other parents will feel inspired and convinced that boys’ clothes needn’t be boring. After all, we only have a very short window in which to dress them before they are able to choose themselves. And if there comes a point where he decides he wants a T-shirt with the Gruffalo driving a digger on it, well, so be it.
The humidifier. Since last winter’s awful bout of bronchiolitis, which saw my son hospitalised several times, every virus has gone straight to his chest. With eucalyptus oil, the humidifier was able to calm his cough enough for him to get to sleep and – miracles of miracles – he slept through the night.
I love reading to my son, and he loves the sound of rhymes, but I’m annoyed by how many children’s books contain lines that simply don’t scan. Call me a pedant, but it should be a condition of publication that the book is read aloud first and any clunky, crammed-in extra syllables are revised.