Fashion Rules: Moms, Daughters, and the Appropriate Clothing Conundrum

by C. Imani Williams

New mothers often spend countless hours shopping for and outfitting children. Online, at the mall, in specialty shops—we get it in. We love shopping for our little girls, and dressing them in cute combinations. This works well until said little girl decides to take over as fashionista. Kids have no problem telling you what they like. This can happen as early as two or three years of age. By kindergarten you will know how much of a challenge you are up for. Moms can make the process easier and encourage self-expression by allowing creative freedom, with rules in place. It can cut down on wasting time as you prepare to get out the front door in the morning.

Designating clothes for school and others for play, and talking about appropriateness with older kids may help ease the process. When I see a little one with a costume on and it isn't near Halloween, or a kid in shorts and Hippo rain boots, when the weather is clear and sunny, I know the little girl has won the fashion battle for the day.

In most cases, all goes well until kindergarten, when peer pressure and the urge to fit in collide. Navigating this new territory can be hard for mothers aiming to stay in charge of wardrobe selections. We want our daughters to enjoy creative expression, while remaining okay with their choices.

The real clash comes during the ‘tween years, when most kids are susceptible to the media blasting messages about the latest must-have items. Music videos and reality shows showcase talent wearing outfits with the most sparkle and bling. Skirt and dress lengths can make you blush. (Have they not heard of slips and proper undergarments?) For moms not interested in allowing pop culture to dress their kids, staying consistent with rules is important.
At 12 years old, I wanted to wear black. My mother believed that black was a mature color and I was not allowed the cute two piece black pantsuit that did indeed make me look more grown-up than most seventh graders. I pleaded to no avail. The other issue was my love of platform shoes. I would have to purchase them myself because she refused. Her only reasoning—not that she owed me one—was that they were ugly.

When my children were 11 and 13, I stopped buying matching outfits. They were over it. I enjoyed a long run with dressing them alike and I reluctantly let it go. Although it was tough to realize they were growing up, I knew I could trust them to still look age-appropriate and presentable. We didn't have the battles that I see on television today, where nine-year-olds are obsessed with dressing in clothing that should be reserved for adults. Thank, goodness.

One way to avoid misunderstandings about what is acceptable in your house is to have open communication. If you have a rule against belly tops and low cut sweaters, make that clear. Girls swap clothes for quick upgrades. It is kind of innate. So is the ability to put extra clothing in backpacks that are changed into at a friend's house, or in the bathroom at school. But if the rules are clear, your princess can't say she didn't know.

As a parent you probably don't have time to play with kids attempting to dress older, but we've all been there. In high school, I ordered a sweatsuit from a magazine ad. The sweatshirt read: “I look good in my...,” on the back of the pants was “Underalls” in bright red. I thought it was cute. School security? Not so much. I was allowed to pass through security with the understanding that I would change immediately. I had an extra pair of jeans in my locker, and luckily, my mother was not called.

She had no idea I had left the house in sweats that attracted attention straight to my rear end.

Along with clothing choices, there will be conversations about make-up, hairstyles, piercings, and tattoos. My mother did not believe in piercings and I was not allowed to get my ears pierced until ninth grade. I was the last girl in my homeroom to wear pierced hoops. I was told that when I had children, I could decide when to pierce their ears, just as my mother had decided for me. (I had theirs pierced at five months.) Lipstick wasn't going down either. I had to make-do with tinted lip gloss. (Thanks, Bonnie Bell.) When I sought permission to streak my hair at the start of tenth grade, surprisingly, my mother agreed. Daddy vetoed it. I was not allowed to play them against one another. (Doesn't mean I didn't try!)

While encouraging self-expression and individuality is important, a child’s ability to make decisions around these topics is a privilege and not an automatic right. At least that is how it went down while I was growing up. I passed along some of my mother’s rite of passage privileges to my children—although they were slightly changed to reflect my own beliefs on parenting.

Kids should be encouraged to make fashion choices that are age-appropriate. That's my bottom line as an adult who has worked with both youth whose clothing choices were monitored and those who had no limitations. While your children may become frustrated with you, they must also abide by and respect your rules. (That is, until they are independent adults who pay for their own clothes.) Conundrum solved.

Photo: Shutterstock

C. Imani Williams, is a freelance writer and human justice activist. She holds an MFA in Creative Non-Fiction writing from Antioch University in Los Angeles and a Masters in Guidance and Counseling from Eastern Michigan University. Her work has been published in Between the Lines, Tucson Weekly, The Michigan Citizen, Harlem Times and with various pop culture, health, and news blogs and magazines.

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