I went to my open air resistance class this morning, rugged up against a rather chilly early winter's morning here in Oz. I had my full length black leggings on, topped with a short sleeved hot pink top, a pale blue sweatshirt and a lilac zip up fleece. It was so chilly that even in the most hectic part of the workout I only ditched the fleece. In short, I looked rather a dag, as we say over here. (Think 'slob'.)
After the class I was faced with a dilemma. I had to go to the bank and supermarket. Should I go home and change first?
Huh, you're thinking. What a snob. Just go as you are, girl, who will notice or care?
Well, I notice and I care. There is active wear and active wear. Do the full Lorna Jane or Sweaty Betty, all nicely coordinated, and you can probably get away with it. Thin, fit middle-class women do. They strut around the shopping centre with great hair, sweetly scented (you can tell they haven't been to the gym first and probably won't go ... they just dress like that) and nary a roll of fat is visible on their leggings. In winter they wear sleeveless puffa tops over their technical merino long sleeves. They have several pairs of trainers which coordinate with the accent colours in their outfits.
Active wear favours the slim. I've seen some pretty horrifying sights in leggings and skimpy gym wear and fear I'm more like them than the sleek women I see around shops in our area (which is middle-class and quite decent on the socio-economic scale). I do wear leggings, quite often in fact, but plain, non-gym ones teamed with tunic tops that cover my backside and let the best of my legs be on show. And I pair them with ballet flats or boots, not trainers. I don't own a sleeveless puffa jacket as it would make me look like an elephant.
So I felt rather ashamed of myself when I decided to hit the shops on my way home after all, bum looking big with the fleece barely covering half of it. No makeup, not even lip gloss. Hair that looked a fright after an hour's workout in a breeze.
There's a bit of me that's French. Not just in attitude, but genetically too.
You see, French women don't wear active wear outside of the gym. If they go to a gym, that is - more likely they'll go to a yoga class. I have been fortunate enough to visit France three times in the last six years and the only Parisienne I saw in a full active wear outfit was carrying a yoga mat. She had reason to be dressed as she was. Even in rural France and French towns, nobody wore active wear on the street. I felt at home. It was easy to spot the tourists - they spoke English and wore active wear.
It's a tongue in cheek observation from several authors that a French woman will put on her lipstick to check her letterbox - a) because she has standards, b) she never knows who she may meet there and importantly, c) she doesn't want to cause offence to anyone who sets eyes on her; the French do not like to be perceived as badly turned out.
Even working from home, as I do, I aim to dress nicely. That nicely may only be jeans and a top, but I'll have decent shoes on (no ugg boots in winter or rubber flip flops in summer). When I go to the shops I will put on lipstick at least, maybe a little bit of eye makeup if I feel I look washed out. My jacket will coordinate with what I'm wearing and I may even put a scarf on. Because why not. I like to feel nice and not slobby.
I can't rock the active wear look - I'm overweight but not obese, but I have curves that become bulges in active wear clothing and it ain't a pretty sight - so I choose the French option instead.
C'est la vie pour moi. Et vous?