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Our Family Rules for Getting Dressed

When Zinashi came to our family at the age of three, she hadn’t had her own clothing before. We showed up in Ethiopia with a suitcase full of things just for her, and she was thrilled, to say the least. I remember how wide her eyes got when I told her that all the clothes in the suitcase were hers. She chose a hat to wear straightaway. It was the first indication of a preference, though for the first six months we were together, I chose what she wore each day. I don’t think it occurred to her that she could have a say in it, and I didn’t tell her right away. However, it didn’t take long for her to figure out that she might get to choose what she could put on.

Unfortunately, when she first started choosing, what she wanted to wear was often not weather appropriate. Or appropriate for where we we were going. Or appropriate, you know, at all. So I continued to guide her choices, allowing her one day a week that we weren’t going anywhere that she could wear absolutely anything she pleased.

As she got older, she started to better understand how weather dictates one’s fashion choices and that there are some parts of the body that should be covered up if we are venturing outside the house. She started to understand that different occasions require different outfits, and her choices got better and better. Now she chooses her own ensembles nearly every day, but we do still have some rules. They’re all fairly simple, and most of the time, she doesn’t protest when I remind her of one of them.

  1. I choose what goes in her drawers and closet, and she chooses how to put it all together. I know that many kids get to choose their own clothes in the store, but we don’t do that. If Zinashi sees something she likes when we are out together, I might buy it for her, but the final say is always up to me. I want to put things in her wardrobe that will mostly go together, that will give her a good amount of variety, and that fit our budget. When I choose things, I take Zinashi’s taste into account, and she has never rejected something I brought home or ordered for her. Someday she will get to choose more of what goes into her wardrobe, but for now she still needs guidance, or we’d end up with a closet full of gold sparkles and lime green puppy shirts.
  2. The outfit must be weather appropriate. Sometimes we’ll disagree about how warm she needs to be, and there are two things I do about this. If I am short on patience, I’ll throw a sweater into my bag, knowing that she’ll want it later. If I feel like I can put up with a lot of whining in order for her to learn a lesson, I let her go out in what she’s wearing and end up cold. When I choose the second option, for the next five times at least, she’ll heed my advice when I tell her she needs a sweater.
  3. The outfit must be appropriate for the situation. This covers everything from making sure that her ballet ensemble has all the components her teacher requires, to making sure that she can do what she needs to do in the outfit, to observing what kind of social rules govern a certain situation. On Sundays, she almost always asks for me to lay out what she should wear to church. I’m not sure why this situation is baffling above all others, as we aren’t puritanical by any means, but I’m happy to help her.
  4. If I say that it’s a time I need to choose for her, then it’s a time I need to choose for her. Yes, sometimes I pull rank and put my foot down. It doesn’t happen often, but from time to time there will be an occasion for which I know she will want to wear something that just won’t do, and so I simply tell her ahead of time that I will be choosing her outfit for whatever activity or event we are attending. I have rarely been met with resistance if I just give her the heads up ahead of time.

Beyond that, it is up to her what to wear. Sometimes she will wear parts of a costume with an outfit, and she gets a lot of compliments. Sometimes she puts together prints that don’t exactly go together, but she is so confident in her choices that she somehow pulls it off. Sometimes she puts together an outfit that I hadn’t thought of, and it’s better than anything I would have picked. I love choosing her clothes, but I also love watching her own unique style emerge, and I can’t wait to see what she’ll choose to put in her closet once she’s ready for that step. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be awesome.

Do you keep your family festively stylish during the holidays? We’re giving away three $50 Target giftcards to brighten the season! To enter for a chance to win, simply comment on this post with a personal tip on how you dress your children conveniently — and with style — during the holidays!

A big thanks to Target for sponsoring this campaign. Click here to see more of the discussion.

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