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How to Dress for the School Run - and the Paparazzi

By Maggie Alderson - 29th June 2011

What? It’s that time already? How did that happen…?

I can’t be the only mother to have this daily reaction when the clock has somehow come round to school pick up time, in what seems like about ten minutes since I dropped her off there.

It doesn’t leave much time to plan an outfit. More likely, a lightening check that there are no food stains too visible to the casual glance, before racing to the door.

But every school has at least one mother for whom the school run seems to be a kind of personal fashion parade. Spray on jeans, sky high heels, a year round tan and sleek long hair, seem to be the default look. Casual chic with perfect grooming.

She always makes you feel like a slob (and my daughter is always asking me if I could please dress like the one at her school…), but imagine if that mother were Elle MacPherson?

That’s the daily lot of mothers at the prep school in London’s fashionable Notting Hill which Elle’s kids attend. Adding to the daily gauntlet, other parents include Claudia Schiffer, Stella McCartney and Trinny Woodall. Not much pressure, there then.

The best accessory I can think of for that ordeal would be Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility, but those mothers have to do it under full fire of eyes from all the other celebri-mums – and the paparazzi, who are on a daily vigil outside the school.

They know what they’re doing. The market for those school run pics is massive, as mere mortals – like me – love to perve at what the glamour-mammas are getting about in doing something we all do in real life, five days a week. It’s much more interesting than seeing what they wear on a red carpet.

Elle came in for some stick a few weeks ago (and I confess I was one of the nasty journos holding that stick…) for wearing towering Louboutin heels for the drop off, so torturous she was papped shortly after taking them off and rubbing her sore tootsies.

But to be fair to her there is a reason she always looks so amazing for that most mundane chore. Well, two reasons. First, she looks amazing. Secondly – her image is her business. It’s her name on those undies, so we better want to buy into a piece of her style action.

And I do! I do! Spend a little while time Googling the words ‘Elle MacPherson school images’ and you will be mightily rewarded. I finished my session doing that last night in a state of full-on girl crush. The look in the snow in the leather pants practically had me swooning.

But will I be wearing it? Hardly. But perving through those pics, inspiration for how to look great at the school gate came from a more unlikely source: Claudia Schiffer.

In a simple trench and jeans, with a great bag and sunnies, she gives an object lesson in how to look school run chic in a completely relaxed way.

She looked great, but she doesn’t look like she’s trying. Double win and all the more impressive as she doesn’t have a track record as one of the more instinctively stylish celebs.

She’s not a Kate, or a Sienna, with a natural born instinct how to throw together an outfit that’s original and inspirational. In all truth, Claudia generally tends to get by on the strength of having one of the world’s more perfect bodies – even after three children.

But that’s not the deal with this look. Of course, it’s always a sartorial advantage to have the physique of a semi-retired supermodel (rice sacks would look good, food wrap a daywear option…), but any of us could wear that combo with pride. Really.

The foundation of the outfit is that most classic item of outerwear, the trench coat, currently riding high as both timeless and totally on trend, something that really doesn’t happen very often.

And please note, Claudia’s belt was tied, not buckled. That detail is crucial to the throwaway chic of a trench. A buckled trench coat is pure American businessman.

The picture was taken on one of those warmish wet days, so familiar to the Aussie reader, where an open shoe is the best recourse and Claudia chose a pair in the same neutral palette as the coat and bag, but this outfit would look just as good for a cooler day with boots. It would even work with full-on wellies, on a seriously wet day.

Of course, as well as the supermodel genetic advantage going on here, there is the noble ancestry of the individual items. I’m pretty sure the coat was an actual Burberry and the gorgeous suede bag was definitely Ferragamo, but the added glory of this outfit is that one just like it could be put together so easily anywhere down the fashion price scale.

So we can all afford a version of it – and it would look good on everybody. And you could throw it on in a big panic over whatever tat you happened to be wearing. It’s a veritable fashion miracle. Could it be improved?

A bright vintage silk scarf, Hermès or other, knotted at the neck and well tucked in would be a nice touch, and a bit of a comfort if it’s windy. And personally, I always wear the collar of a trench coat flipped up, more keenly to seek that elusive Parisienne insouciance.

But while Elle and Trinny – it’s worth checking her pics out too – score the highest for school gate glamour, Ms Schiffer has set a standard we can all aspire to with her rational German practical chic.

Is that the time? How did that happen? Aaaaagh! Where’s my trench coat..?

Maggie Alderson writes a column  - The Rules which appears in the S section of the Sun Herald and Section M, in the Sunday Age. See Maggie's profile here.

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