This is a piece I wrote during our “trial run” when my daughters and I spent four months living in my parents’ village in England in 2008:
Several years ago, on the soccer fields of Boston, Massachusetts, the other mothers started showing up wearing cropped pants. At their helm was a woman who had a prominent position at a major fashion retailer, TJ (in the UK, TK) MAXX. Soon, all the soccer moms were wearing cropped pants.
I refused to join the cropped pants movement, despite my affection for its leader and my profound appreciation for the fact that she is only with us today because, six years earlier, she extended her maternity leave at the last minute, thereby missing her flight for a business trip to California on a plane that was flown into the World Trade Center.
I have never much cared about following fashion trends—or any other trends, for that matter. As an editor and a writer, I don’t have the income to spend on high fashion. Or so I tell myself. But if I’m being honest, as an English child in America, an American in England, I have never felt I truly fit in anywhere, sartorially or otherwise. I’m too reserved for America, too blunt and emotional for England. I’ve learned to wear this business of not fitting in, of bucking the trends, as a badge of honor.
Two months ago, I left Boston to spend the spring and summer in my parents’ village in Derbyshire’s Peak District. This trip to England is a trial run; I’m seriously thinking about uprooting my family from Boston and moving us back here, at least long enough to give my children a sense of what it’s like to live in England.
I brought with me several pairs of sturdy, sensible khakis from L.L. Bean, purveyor of useful clothes for generations of New Englanders, and two pairs of Levis, a brand to which I became devoted before “designer” jeans burst upon the scene. A friend offered to loan me several pairs of cropped pants, but I laughingly turned her down. What, me in cropped pants? Surely, you jest!
From my extensive experience as a fashionista (ha!), I knew cropped pants to be a grievous error. I have vivid memories from my childhood of my mother mopping the kitchen linoleum wearing ancient pedal pushers, and they didn’t look any better then than they do now.
Cropped pants embody the worst of fashion. Unlike trousers, they fail to provide warmth and shelter to the entire leg, not to mention help cover up the fact that you have neglected to shave your legs. Nor do they provide the advantages of shorts in supplying coolness and encasing the worst of your (read: my) physical shortfalls: namely, hips and thighs.
To add insult to injury, cropped pants and their incarnations, Capri’s, pedal pushers, and clam diggers, are often bizarrely festooned with ties at hip and midcalf, oddly placed buckles and snaps, and pouchy pockets—all things that more properly belong on a frilly nightgown or a backpack used for ascending K2. Needless to say, I have eschewed cropped pants, not to mention derided, reviled, and scorned them to anyone in the immediate vicinity. And don’t get me started on the subject of unbelievably tight tops that reveal acres and acres of cleavage.
As soon as we arrived in Derbyshire, I put my two daughters, ages five and thirteen, in local primary and secondary schools. For the most part, the transition to their new schools went well. Their most pressing problem was: what to wear?
Katie, my thirteen-year-old, brought over from Boston her skin-tight designer jeans and “strappy tops” that I forbade her to wear to school but which somehow managed to make their way there, smuggled in a backpack or secreted under layers of clothing.
The first thing she did upon arriving here was to buy a silver purse that looked like something meant to frighten birds off the pea row. Then, on a shopping trip to Chesterfield with one of my cousins, she purchased five tops and three pairs of trousers from Primark. Sartorially speaking, she now fits in very well with the girls in her new school, and has successfully managed to ignore my muttered comments about child labor and sweatshops.
My five-year-old, Meg, who has saved me thousands of dollars by uncomplainingly wearing every stitch of clothing I saved from Katie’s tenure, happily donned the red-and-white-checked uniform of her school that I bought, two for 7 pounds, from the Woolies in Matlock. The head teacher kindly kitted her out with a cardigan, cap, and sweatshirt with the school crest. Meg positively beamed when her teacher said on her first day of wearing the school uniform, “Now you look like everyone else!”
Thanks to the uniform, my life as Meg’s mother/laundress is greatly simplified as long as I religiously rotate and wash them. For Katie, I regularly “misplace” the most revealing outfits and otherwise let her get on with it, silver purse and all.
On Meg’s first day at her new school, I checked out what the other mums were wearing. It was, of course, the dreaded cropped pants.
On the schoolyard of this little village school in the Peak District, I suddenly wondered about my obstinacy. Now that cropped pants have reached deep into the heart of England, I was forced to ask myself why I have always refused to follow fashion trends, to do what others routinely do in order to fit in.
Earlier this week, I took my aunt Nora into Derby for her medical treatment, and had a little time on my hands. I went to M & S, housed in a state-of-the-art, American-style mall, to buy something. On the way back, I passed a women’s clothing store displaying loads and loads of the despised cropped pants.
I thought about sticking to my fashion guns, and then I thought that maybe, for once in my life, as my daughters have so readily done, I might try fitting in.
Reader, I bought them.