On Dressing for Colder Climes
When it was still summer, and the notion of damp, chilly mornings at the playground was but a distant one, I popped into the children’s clothes shop near us for a quick flick through the sales racks. In the back of my mind was the need to get die Lüdde a jacket for autumn (as opposed to the waterproof playground pants for Autumn and the water and snowproof suit for winter) and I thought I’d see what was out there. I ended up saying to the sales assistant, ‘look, I don’t come from Germany, I am not good with knowing which jackets fit which seasons for myself, let alone for my daughter. Is this an autumn jacket?’ It was a lined, ‘soft shell’ number (total buzz word in children’s apparel) with a tag boasting insane stats like ‘impenetrable for upto 300L water, wind proof for screaming gales, child could roll around in ice and still be warm as toast’. The sales assistant told me it was the ideal autumn and early spring jacket. I bought it, and silently wondered what the tags on a winter jacket boast of; ‘child can be submerged in arctic water for 24 hours at a time and not feel a thing.’
A week or so later, I strolled past another sales rack of children’s clothing and noted a pair of waterproof playground overalls (which are essentially plastic overalls that you put on over their clothes. Waterproof booties optional, yet enjoyed by many parents.) marked down by 50%. Considering these bad boys were also fleece-lined, and all-weatherproof and claimed to be suitable for ungodly winter temps, and per chance matched the soft shell jacket I had just bought, I thought, well this would make a tidy little weatherproof suit for autumn. So, for those still following, now we have the perfect suit for gravely cold temperatures – aka deemed suitable for autumn – and it has been 19 degrees and sunny every afternoon since September 23rd, which means die Lüdde has worn her fleece-lined, weatherproof playground overalls approximately once. In attempting to be clever and think ahead, I was outsmarted by the weather.
No matter, I hear seasoned German parents say, go to Tchibo and get a lightweight pair of rain pants for the playground. Aldi has them too. (I also hear seasoned German parents say, ‘no matter, 19 degrees and sunny are ideal conditions for fleece and soft shell, go for it.’) But at about this point, I begin getting both belligerent and delirious – how many weather items must children own? Must die Lüdde have a wardrobe of rain pants, arranged on a sliding weather scale? I still haven’t bought her snowsuit for the winter, or her snow boots, although she owns gumboots and can’t even bloody walk. And even though I think the fleece-lined weatherproof overalls would be totally warm enough, I don’t want to be snowsuit shamed by other parents. And even if she does use the already-bought overalls for winter, she needs a winter jacket, because her soft shell was sold as an autumn/spring jacket. So, no, I do not want to buy yet another pair of flipping waterproof overalls, which she will have grown out of by next season anyway. Consequently, on these completely pleasant autumn afternoons at the playground, die Lüdde has been getting around in pairs of old, thick jeans which she dirties up nicely, while I wait for a drop in temperature, so I can wrestle her into her weatherproof overalls and matching jacket, and finally feel smug about the whole situation and having my child in icicle-proof soft shell.
Perhaps you can see, I am not good with all-weather clothes. I am not familiar with them, I didn’t grow up with four different options for rain pants in my wardrobe, and the one time we ever went skiing as a family, and my father skiied into a fence, we borrowed snow suits. My mother had to send us to pre-school with a hat and some sunscreen. At school, the golden rule was ‘no hat, no play’. If you forgot your hat, you spent recess and lunch indoors, watching everyone else shrieking with joy as they ran around the asphalt. Wet weather considerations were a raincoat, which alwas grew mould in a drawer somewhere, an optional hat cover to protect our straw boaters, and an umbrella. So I find myself on a steep learning curve here, as die Lüdde grows and the weather cools, and children start appearing in entire suits made of impenetrable soft shell. I am well out of my comfort zone, reliant on slyly observing dress codes at the playground, and hoping sales assistants will take pity on my wide-eyed ‘I’m not from here’ schtick and be honest with me.
It must also be said, I am not good with cooler fashions for myself. While many, if not most Germans look good in autumn and winter, with their cute stockings and jaunty jackets and seemingly effortless layering, and oversized pashminas and draping knits, I feel like a huge, stompy buffalo, huffing about in ill-fitting clothes, eternally on the hunt for the perfect legging/boot/tunic/knit/jacket combination that allows me, too, to swan about looking chic and autumnal, instead of vast and lumpy and mildly sweaty. I yearn to gad about in a slouchy roll-neck knit dress, with cute stockings and ankle boots, but roll-necks itch, knit dresses stick to bottoms and ride up, and stockings fall down (and I haven’t been able to wear the things post high school because I hated wearing them as part of our winter uniform with a thousand, burning, individual passions). Jeans, on my hip-less body, slide off and I stop every twenty metres to pull the damn things up, over the muffin top, in the hope the muffin top holds the pants in place, and I am concerned rolling the jean leg up to sit atop my ankle boot, as is the fashion, would make my legs look like little sausages. So leggings, I wear a lot of leggings. But for leggings, one must always ensure the top you have paired them with, covers the crotch. So all tee shirts must be long, and then covered with something warmer, and then perhaps something warmer again, in case, and then all of that gets stuffed into a coat or jacket that is ideally also long enough to cover your bottom, in case the crotch-covering tee shirt rides up as you walk, and the leggings aren’t offering enough protection.
ALL OF IT, every single layer of it, makes me want to weep for the sweet, sweet ease of a summer dress and thongs.