What happens when kids decide what to wear
I like to think that my daughter’s stylish peak occurred sometime between birth and Kindergarten. It’s no coincidence that during this time period I had total control of her clothing. After that, I was fired as her stylist and became the fashion police.
When she was a baby, I had fun dressing her up. I bought her cute onesies and baby tights with tutus built-in. I dressed her in mini jean jackets over summer dresses with tiny leather sandals to match. I drew the line at those large headbands people put on their babies to identify them as girls, but I wasn’t above other fashion trends. In those early years, she was more stylish than me. I was living in sweats with greasy hair due to lack of sleep and abysmal self care.
Eventually my daughter started to have opinions about how she was dressed. Initially she objected to certain fabrics. Denim was “too tight” despite how adorable she looked in skinny jeans. She shunned practical, comfortable cotton for the stifling, unbreathable rayon of the dress-up clothes.
And while she was rejecting her sophisticated wardrobe—curated by me—her own personal style started to emerge: Tacky Tourist meets Chrissy from Three’s Company. She was drawn to patterns, bold colours, layers and accessories. There was never a time when she looked at herself in the mirror and asked, “Is this too much?”
Her personal hygiene also deteriorated. Brushing her fine hair became a painful exercise. One day I said she needed to brush her hair because it looked messy and she replied, “Mom, messy is just me.” Her entire look had gone from polished to hot mess.
My stylish best friend has a daughter a year older than mine. I loved getting her hand-me-downs knowing that I would be passing this fabulously dressed duo’s wonderful sense of style on to my own daughter. But when my daughter put on the same clothes, they looked all wrong. She layered patterns over patterns over patterns. Her peculiar take on fashion was undeniable.
I discussed my bewilderment with friends one day when they pointed out that as the only one purchasing clothes for my daughter, I was her only access to clothing. They suggested I stop taking her shopping and toss out whatever I didn’t like. So I covertly weeded out the neon and bedazzled items from her closet. I bought only basics—no more patterns, faux fur or sequins. It didn’t work. My daughter found a work-around: shopping in the costume play bin and even items from her brother’s closet to accessorize her bland wardrobe.
I realized that refining my daughter’s taste was hopeless. I decided to take my friend’s advice and create a clear boundary: kids get creative control over their clothing and parents get to decide what’s appropriate. I silently nodded when my daughter asked if I liked what she was wearing (neon shorts over jeans). But when she asked if I would buy her fishnet stockings, I did a mental scan of my jurisdiction and responded with a hard “no.”
This division of control should have made the clothing struggles easier, but it didn’t feel that way. The real issue began to emerge: I had an opinion of what I thought looked best and I wanted her to wear that. My daughter also had an opinion and she wanted to wear that. She was dressing age appropriate, it was just quirky.
While I bemoaned my daughter’s style, I also admired her whimsy and confidence. One morning after she assembled yet another puzzling outfit, I watched her admire herself in the mirror. It was the same look I had seen on my step-mother’s face a few years earlier when we were getting ready together in her bathroom. After my step-mom put the final touches on her makeup she stepped back from the mirror and said, “Wow, I am gorgeous.”
Time stood still for me in that moment. I was a teenager again, hustling to feel pretty and accepted. Just like my birth mother, I was beautiful but struggled to know my worth. I wished that both my birth mother and I had loved ourselves as boldly and confidently as my step-mother loved herself.
Now, as my daughter admired herself in the mirror that morning, I recognized that same confidence. Her style was not polished or trendy, but I could see that her capacity for self-love and self-acceptance was greater than I had ever known. And while being able to properly mix colours and patterns is a valuable skill to learn, the more important lessons were ones that I didn’t need to teach. They were already inside of my daughter: Be yourself. Love who you are. Wear what makes you feel good. Don’t care what other people think.
Most days now, when my daughter appears in front of me ready for school and ask how she looks, I ask her what she thinks. She doesn’t need me policing her style. Looking and feeling good for her means using fashion for personal expression and creativity. In that sense, she may be more refined than me.