“Out and about” is a lot like travelling, and it thus occupies about as much of my imagination as travelling does. Out and about is something that mostly happens in public-transportation-dominant cities, where, once you leave your house, you are liable to be running around for awhile without the luxury of having a car, which is like a mobile home base, and which makes it really easy to make short trips here and there and home again. When out and about, you must, like a camel, carry your necessities in cleverly-designed receptacles about your body, and you must be ready for any number of annoying eventualities – abrupt weather changes, long waits, blisters, etc. Also, as you are riding on trains and walking on the sidewalk in the company of the general public (as opposed to ducking in and out of your car), you want to look as little like you just rolled out of bed as possible, especially in a place like New York, where “the general public” is liable to include people like Amber Valletta, Patrick Stewart, or this person*.
Just as I think a lot about things being good for travelling, I also think a lot about things being good for out and about. Some main out and about concerns are as follows:
1. Depending on what I am doing, and how long I will be doing it, my bag must be large enough to carry any number of the following: a bottle of water, a book or magazine, a light sweater and maybe sunscreen in the summer, hand cream, lip balm, maybe some mints, maybe a snack, blotting papers or powder, a pen, tissues or a handkerchief, wallet, cell phone, and keys. But bags can’t be so large that they get in the way. Straps must be the exact correct length – too-short straps don’t go over the shoulder, but too-long straps drag on the back and bang on the leg. Small purses and clutches are for insane (or at least insanely organized) people and the suburbs.
2. Outfits must translate easily in several situations. For example, let’s just say you are working in the morning, and then going to the record store in Williamsburg with your husband and baby in the afternoon. You will feel like a damn fool in the latter situation if you are wearing something only appropriate for the former situation. (I forgot about that one yesterday and had to traipse around Williamsburg looking like a middle-manager/soccer-mom wearing a white T-shirt, black work trousers, black pumps, pearls, and the baby. Not that I advocate the Williamsburg look, indeed I think the Williamsburg look is generally vile, but a pair of jeans would have done me a world of good.)
3. Shoes must be walkable but also attractive, even if attractive in the dowdy-chic vein, which is one that I mine shamelessly. They must suit the weather: in the winter, for example, a thin sole is certain death, while in the summer, a thick strap or lots of coverage could give you a rash. Also, if the forecast suggests rain, shoes must hold up to it. (As a side note, I am totally mystified that people think that ballet flats are always good for travelling. Ballet flats are indeed lovely and versatile, but absolutely useless if it is cold, almost useless if it is raining, and too sweaty in the heat.)
Having a baby has introduced additional out and about anxieties, as follows:
4. Baby carriers and nursing tops must be worn in the exact correct combinations such that I will be able to nurse the baby without taking anything off. For example (1), sweaters/jackets are to be worn over, not under, the carrier. For example (2), a Boob nursing shirt and a wraparound carrier could be trouble, as the wrap keeps the baby really close to you and the Boob shirt requires a bit of space to be adjusted correctly.
5. If the day’s destination(s) might allow for pottying the baby, baby’s undergarments must be potty-ready. A regular prefold-with-wrap situation is difficult, because one would have to lay baby down to remove the situation, then take baby to the potty, then lay baby down again to replace the situation. This is a pain in the butt, especially in a public bathroom where the changing table is outside of the stall, and especially if the diaper is dry and doesn’t need to be changed. Better is a cloth diaper folded into a pull-up cover and maybe held up with a diaper scrunchie. Still a little awkward, especially if the baby is little and has little wiggly legs, but better. On the other hand, a pull-up style is really bad if the baby has a big poop, so if you are going out and about before the baby has had his big poop of the day, probably better to just go back the prefold-with-wrap situation.
6. In addition to the considerations listed in item #1, bags must also allow for the out and about diapering kit, general random baby things such as toys and washcloths, and nursing pads.
The truth is, of course, that my punctilious obedience to these anxieties often results in my being bizarrely over-prepared and overloaded for any given situation, cutting envious, half-hateful glances at light-and-chic characters like this person*. But really, look again. What if she goes to the coffee shop and the AC is really strong? What if she sweats her sunscreen off? What if she has to wait a long time for the train? What if the train’s not running and she has to walk cross-town? What if her baby gets hungry? Obviously, she should have prepared more carefully for being out and about.
* These pictures are from The Sartorialist. I hope I do not get sued for using them?