School-gate icons: Forget glossy mags, the latest style gurus are mums blogging about what they wear to drop off the children
18:28 EST, 6 May 2012
18:46 EST, 6 May 2012
After housewife Avril Keys has washed, dressed and fed her three children then dropped them off at school and nursery, she uploads a picture of what she wore to take them there.
Photos of her in outfits like a brightly coloured shirt over a pair of skinny trousers and practical flat pumps — always from High Street shops such as Marks & Spencer, H&M and Primark — form the basis of her blog School Gate Style.
Avril rates the clothes on style and quality, and adds links to similar items she feels will work for busy mums on a budget.
Lessons in fashion: Avril with her children Gemma, Katie, and Callum
Then she’ll send out a message to her
hundreds of Facebook and Twitter followers to let them know her latest
look is online. By lunchtime, schoolgatestyle.blogspot.com has had 300
to 500 hits — and gets more later when her American followers log on.
Avril, 38, admits: ‘I’d be a bit disappointed if it was fewer than that.’ Her website, which she started in January and has had a total of 50,000 hits — is one of a new breed of street-style blogs aimed at mothers of all ages looking for fashion inspiration. Since then, a clutch of often self-deprecatingly titled blogs (such as Suburban Style and Does My Bum Look 40 In This?) have sprung up to offer witty, practical advice to a demographic of mums largely overlooked by fashion magazines and high-end brands.
Liz Jones, the Mail’s resident style expert, says: ‘The fashion in most glossy magazines isn’t about serving the reader, it’s about advertising. In return for advertising revenue, a magazine has to feature the advertiser’s designs. And luxury brands spend more than High Street ones.’
New career: Blogger Beth Goodrham
Hence all those unrealistic fashion shoots featuring stick-thin teenage models in 1,000 frocks. The new online fashion gurus — often stay-at-home mothers — draw their inspiration instead from the High Street and friends, blogging their thoughts when the children are at school or in bed. Their blogs feature tops that are on-trend, washable and affordable, heels in which you can push a Bugaboo and jeans that won’t reveal an unbecoming eyeful of underwear when you crawl around the floor at playgroup.
Helen Canning, founder of the
cocomamastyle.com blog, says: ‘Mums still want to be trendy but in a
practical way. If you’re interested in fashion, you’ll find
breastfeeding or pregnancy-wear really frumpy.’
Wilson, who writes thesuburban style.com blog from her home in
Cheltenham when her daughter Matilda, two, is napping, agrees. ‘There’s
definitely a feeling that becoming a parent means you have no sense of
style,’ she says.
‘After I had my
daughter, I found myself buying things I’d never normally wear, such as
Birkenstocks. I was doing a lot of walking with the buggy so needed
comfortable shoes, and I also I wanted to be seen as a mother. Then one
day I looked at myself and thought: “This isn’t me.”
turned to style blogs for advice, but they had no idea of the harsh
economic reality of being a mother at home when you have to pay for
petrol and feed your family. And as I don’t live in London, the shops
weren’t easily accessible, either.’
Lucy started Suburban Style three
months ago, making sure the clothes she recommended were affordable
(usually under 50). ‘If I do feature something expensive, I’ll suggest
cheaper alternatives, too,’ she says. ‘And
I have a “Wednesday wish-list” — my top picks from shops running a
discount code or sale. I try not to make my blog too mumsy, though. I
think you could enjoy it if you weren’t a mum.’
Jones is a fan of the new breed of blogs. ‘The best ones are better at
showing you how to wear clothes than most of the glossy magazines, and
are not patronising like Gok Wan. On the whole, these sites make women
feel better about themselves,’ she says.
THE WORD IS…
A new blog is created every 1.5 seconds — that’s 7.4 million in the past 120 days
Style Guile is one of the earliest of these blogs. It was started two years ago by Beth Goodrham, 41, who lives near Birmingham and is mum to Flo, 13, Freddie, ten, and Matilda, four. Wondering how to walk the delicate tightrope between mumsy and mutton-dressed-as-lamb, she turned to the internet for help. ‘I realised there were loads of younger girls getting masses of coverage by posting pictures of what they were wearing, but very little out there for women of my age,’ she says.
After reading an article in a women’s magazine about blogging, she decided to have a go, using the site Blogger.com to set up her styleguile.blogspot.co.uk. ‘I wasn’t very computer-savvy and I still make mistakes,’ she admits. She posts pictures of her school-run outfits (usually from High Street shops such as Gap, Zara, Hobbs, Cos and Topshop) and gives fashion advice to women like herself. Style Guile gets around 1,000 hits a day, and constant questions from readers about what suits their body shape and where to find wardrobe staples. Initially, she was worried there might be a hostile reaction.
‘Mums still want to be trendy but in a practical way. If you’re interested in fashion, you’ll find breastfeeding or pregnancy-wear really frumpy, says Helen Canning, founder of the cocomamastyle.com blog
‘There is a feeling that women should become invisible after a certain age. I thought people would say: “Who does she think she is?” But most feedback has been really positive. I had an email a month ago from a lady who said she’d learnt more from my blog about dressing to suit her body shape, colour combinations and putting outfits together than from reading magazines for 20 years.’
Avril, who used to work in banking, was also inspired to start her blog when she found herself in a style rut. ‘If you’ve worked in a corporate background then find yourself at home, you have to find a whole new identity and style,’ she says. ‘I’d worn suits every day, and suddenly I was at home with puking children, crawling on the floor and going to playgroup. I didn’t want to lose that sense of style and be just another mum in a tracksuit — but what I had in my wardrobe wasn’t going to work. It was a big leap of faith for me to start putting myself out there as some sort of style guru. I don’t feel I’m a fashion oracle; I’m just a mum who shows what she wears every day.
‘But my mum always made an effort to look good, and that rubbed off. I think I have a reasonable grasp of what to wear and how to get it at a decent price.’
Homespun advice: Lucy Wilson with Matilda
Since leaving her job, cost is paramount. ‘I haven’t got a budget to buy clothes,’ she admits. ‘I’d never spend more than 30 on any item, apart from a coat, a bag or a pair of shoes. I have to fit my clothes in around what I need to buy the kids. I’m a fan of Primark, New Look and H&M, and often look at the clothes in Tesco and Sainsbury’s when I’m in there for the grocery shop. And there’s a really good charity shop near me.’
Avril’s blog is unpretentious (on occasion, her three-year-old twin daughters even take the pictures), but to its fans, that is part of its charm. ‘I’ve been really lucky. I know bloggers who have had nasty feedback but because my audience is the Mumsnet crew, I’m not pushing the boundaries in what I wear,’ she says. ‘It’s so normal-looking that nobody really finds anything to criticise. Someone did once say that it was all skinny jeans and cardigans — well, that’s what women wear, isn’t it?
‘I’m so passionate about doing it that people could tell me they hated it and it would just wash off me. I’ve always been hard on myself at work, I’ve always thought I could have done things better, but I look forward to this every day. I feel very proud of what I’ve done to date.’
So what is it that motivates these women to invade their own privacy and devote unpaid hours to this? Is it attention-seeking, a money-making opportunity or to combat social isolation? Avril, who admits some of her friends have found it hard to comprehend, says: ‘It’s an easy way to share and compare what you bought in the shops — and what woman doesn’t like to do that? I haven’t done it to make money.’
All the same, her blog is now showing signs of morphing into a family-friendly career. She was invited to Belfast Fashion Week in February, and has been approached to write for several publications. She’s also been nominated, with Beth Goodrham, for the BritMums Brilliance in Blogging Awards.
Beth, meanwhile, has turned her back on her high-flying legal career and retrained as a personal stylist as a result of her blog. She’s also been approached by smaller brands such as Hush clothing and Stella & Dot jewellery, asking if she would be interested in their products.
‘They’re starting to come to me slowly,’ she says. ‘I’m a good forum for a lot of brands that are aimed at my demographic — but the smaller ones may not be up-to-speed with working with bloggers.The teachers at school want me to go in and talk to the girls about running a business. And my daughter says: “You’ve got the coolest job in the world.” ’
BEST OF THE OTHER BLOGS
- cocomamastyle.com: Slick, with elegant,
practical clothes for mothers, bumps and babies, plus tips on making the
most of every silhouette.
- doesmybumlook40.blogspot.co.uk: Sophisticated fashion picks from a Home Counties-based personal shopper and mother of three.
- poppys-style.com: Unpretentious Atlanta-based British mum shares photos of her outfits and musings on family, music and running.
- workingcloset.com: A mother of two and amateur stylist offers tips on wearable fashion, make‑up and accessories.
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