[Week 16 of 52 Weeks to a Better Relationship With Your Child]
Don’t cinch me in
My college-age daughters (33 and 36 years younger than me) frequently borrow my clothes. They often wear the clothes that I have purchased for them as gifts and receive lots of compliments. It’s not that I am a fashion pro, by any means. However, I am not afraid to be creative or take fashion risks. I have learned that appearing confident is at least half the battle. I have tried to pass this on to my children.
This doesn’t mean I don’t care what other people think. I can be insecure, but I have gotten fairly good at suppressing those concerns in favor of other priorities, including fun and comfort. I have examined the culture of clothing and worked on finding a balance between not totally shocking people, but not trying to fit in a mold that doesn’t fit me and is always changing.
You want to wear what!?
Passing on this same perspective to my children has resulted in less conflict between us about how they choose to dress. They know that I am concerned about three things:
- Are they going to be safe in the weather?
- Are they considering the reactions they may get?
- What is their attitude about how they are dressing?
How much a parent might interfere based on these criteria will obviously depend on how old the child is. The younger a child is, the less aware he is aware of potential consequences. Weather or environmental considerations can be pretty serious.
Concerns about reactions will vary with the context. For instance, I really don’t care what people think about what we wear to Walmart, but if we are going to someone’s home I would recommend we consider their preferences.
And while I often feel no need to adhere to other people’s (wide variety of) ideas about the morality of certain dress codes, neither am I going to dress with the main goal of bothering someone.
Understanding sources of conflict about clothing
I think that a lot of tension between children and parents regarding clothing occurs because of the factors below. Some are the prerogative of the parents due to finances or work load. Some are blown out of proportion, often due to peer pressure on both sides.
- household/room orderliness
- differences in body type
- personal assumptions
- tendency to generational and cultural superiority
- conflating style with morality
- the instability of culture
Washing, repairing, and household order has a lot to do with property rights, so I think my article suggesting some Guidelines for Children’s Property Rights in the Home lays a good foundation for this.
The other factors have more to do with personal perspective. If these are humbly considered by the parent, most fashion conflict can be avoided. There will be little or no simmering stress or people feeling harassed or judged.
Differences in body type
Ready-made clothing and patterns are both a blessing and a curse. It makes clothing relatively inexpensive, but the clothing industry has to find averages that can fit enough people. They also have to make clothing people will buy, not just what they will look good in. This means that at any given point in history, the popular fashion will look good on some people and less than flattering on others.
Young people react in different ways to this. Some try to force their way into fashions that highlight all the wrong things. Others create their own fashions, for better or worse. A few try to make clothing choices that seem to deny physical reality.
What a parent needs to do is guide or provide resources that help a child learn how to look their best, while at the same time accepting the child’s own choices. With a smile and a hug.
People are generally too quick to assume why other people are acting a certain way. Parents can also be guilty of this. If you are really concerned about a certain outfit, it is usually best to inquire in a non-confrontational way. You might learn they have a good reason. You might also find out important information for helping them make a better decision.
Tendency to generational and cultural superiority
SO many people assume their generation or culture has discovered the most morally or intellectually superior way of doing things. It is hard for them to admit that so much about culture is neutral. The driving factors in the culture of clothing at a given place and time are
- what can be afforded,
- what works well in the environment, and
- what is marketed well.
Clothes that make reasonable sense in one climate might have great disadvantage in another. Or clothes that can be tolerated in one environment are obviously ridiculous in another. Sometimes there are cultural fashion trends that are harmful, but no one wants to admit it, such as corsets or high heels.
Conflating style with morality
No one can seem to agree on what amount of skin coverage or tightness, etc, is moral. Especially for women’s clothing. While I don’t begrudge someone their own levels of comfort (usually based more on experience than they know), I am impatient with people making rules for everyone else. We all should learn to deal with our own preferences without confusing it with moral standards. I wrote specifically about modesty in Why I Don’t Care What You Wear or Why the Modesty Movement Might Be Immodest.
If parents can come to grips with the moral neutrality of style, their children will probably absorb that. The children will then be more likely to make reasonable fashion decisions, because they are making choices based on fun and utility rather than rebellion and angst.
The instability of culture
I read recently that the first American English dictionary was written in an attempt to stop the change of language. Well, that didn’t go so well. Clothing is the same way. We can watch a movie and know without a doubt that it is not set in our culture even if the sound is turned off. The clothes tell the story.
We need to be careful not to confuse the immutable inner virtues of the heart with very mutable (I looked it up, it’s a word) whims of fashion. Clothes make the man is a very limited statement. It was probably coined by a politician. We all know well-dressed scoundrels who prove the point that beauty is only skin deep.
How to be a fashion hero
We can make the most use of things or concepts when we understand the limits of their application. Standards of dress can be useful, but we should understand that they have little or nothing to do with the heart and mind. If you want to be a fashion hero with your child, teach him or her how to have fun with it, how to use it to advantage, and how to be humble about it all.