After a Fashion.I let my kids dress themselves - and it shows. By Amy Spurway for's "Bad Parent" column.

I let my kids dress themselves – and it shows. by Amy Spurway

May 26, 2009


This all started because I was doing things by the book. Doing what all the “experts” told me I should do. It was supposed to build my kids’ confidence, their independence, and their decision-making skills. But lately, it’s been making us look like a pack of lunatics. I let my children dress themselves. And it shows.

At first it was cute. When my twin daughters were three, I didn’t flinch at the thought of prancing down the street with one child clad in rainbow tights, a fuchsia tutu, a floppy blue sun hat, and yellow rubber boots. It was the perfect compliment to her sister’s look: orange shorts layered over purple floral pants, multi-colored striped shirt beneath a shiny cartoon-cat patterned vest, and a red fleece Elmer Fudd-ish hat perched on her head. Like the cherry on top of a very nutty sundae. People on the street would smile, chuckle, and comment as our cute, kaleidoscopic spectacle paraded by. To be honest, I kinda got off on the attention. I was proud of my little girls for picking out those outlandish get-ups all by themselves, so I did nothing to discourage it. I may have even made suggestions from time to time. Hey, you know what would go great with that tiger costume and those ballet slippers? The red Elmer Fudd hat!

But now, my daughters are almost six. They go to a nice little public school in a nice little neighbourhood in our nice little city. And they stick out like a pair of kooky, sparkly, technicolor thumbs. Which has me seriously questioning my decision to give them free rein in their closets, and worrying that their clothing choices reflect badly on me. Now, as I dart down the street with my colorfully clashtastic kids looking like a posse of insane clowns, I worry what other mothers think. I worry that they are judging me, whispering that only an LSD-dropping social maladjust would allow her children to go out in public dressed like that. But I am not an LSD-dropping social maladjust. Haven’t been for quite some time. In fact, I spent the last six years cultivating the attitude that I was a far better parent than those whose murmurs I’m now suddenly paranoid about: those who forbade the public wearing of tutus with rubber boots. Those who confined their kids’ clothes to classic shades of tasteful, sophisticated and dull. Those whose children’s outfits failed to inspire seizures in epileptic bystanders. I didn’t shackle my children with the notion that clothing had to match. I didn’t push my kids to blend in with the sheepish crowd. I was too busy teaching them to be creative and carefree. To be individuals. And I was pretty damn smug about it.

See, I’m no clothes horse. I’m more like a clothes donkey. And ever since the thorough heckling I endured for the trendy red crushed velvet corset/coffin-lining/pirate shirt hybrid I wore in grade ten, I’ve avoided taking risks with my wardrobe. My outfit options fall into three categories: black hanging-around-the-house clothes, black going-out-in-public clothes, and crazy-things-I-bought-on-impulse-but-don’t-have-the-guts-to-actually-wear clothes. But I always wanted to be the girl who could pull off the plaid-mini-skirt-over- ripped-jeans look. Maybe with a purple cashmere sweater, a stripey knit scarf, peacock feather earrings, and a blue fedora. So, maybe by letting my kids continue to dress like the rainbow riot squad, I’ve been doing a little vicarious living. And maybe it’s time I stopped. Maybe I should put the tutus and wacky hats back in the dress-up trunk where they belong. Maybe I should sit my girls down and explain the importance of not wearing multi-colored horizontal and vertical stripes with polka-dots and jumbo floral prints. Maybe I should make some room in their closets for shades of tasteful, sophisticated – and yes, even dull – before my unsuspecting daughters and their fashion non-sense become targets of other kids’ cruelty and insecurity. But it might be too late for all that, as is evident by the conversations that ensue when I try to stage my little interventions.

I let my kids dress themselves – and it shows. by Amy Spurway

May 26, 2009

Me: Here sweetheart, why don’t you try this sweater. It’s nice and soft and . . .

Neen: It’s brown.

Me: Yeah. Isn’t it pretty?

Neen: Brown is not in the rainbow.

Me: That’s okay. You can just try it . . .

Neen: No I can’t. Rainbows don’t wear brown.

Me: Okay. But it’s not like you have to wear every color of the rainbow all at once, right?

Neen: Yes I do. How can people know I’m a rainbow if I don’t wear all the colors?

Then she rolls her eyes at me like I’m crazy, and asks me where her red hat is. And instead of seizing this teachable moment to impress upon my daughter the value of dressing like a rational little human being, I’m the one who learns a lesson: you just can’t argue with a rainbow. So I try her twin sister. She’s a little less abstract. Less likely to turn this into a debate. Less prone to envisioning herself as an awe-inspiring, sky-spanning natural phenomenon.

Me: Hey, let’s just put these jeans on so we can-

Roo: No.

Me: But it’s time for school, so let’s just take off the tutu and put on some-

Roo: NO!

The tutu it is, then. Me: But hon, tutus are for dress up, so it’s time to take the tutu off-


The tutu it is, then.

As it turns out, the “expert” advice was right on the money. Letting my kids pick their own clothes has given them control over their identities, and their choices are expressions of their budding personalities. They are boisterous, wacky, unpredictable, and colorful. The seeds of independence have been planted, and my daughters’ decision-making skills have flourished. They’ve drunk from the cup of freedom, the chalice of choice, and decided that it would make a great hat. Who am I to take that away from them because of my own ego?

Short of pinning them down and dressing them myself every day, or gutting their closets and replacing their wardrobes with nice neutral mix-and-match collections, there’s not much I can do. And I suppose there are worse things than going to school dressed like a rainbow, or a rubber-booted ballerina. Like going to school nudie. But while I’m busy rationalizing my defeat, and rehearsing the humiliated smile I’ll need to flash at other mothers to convince them I am not a bad parent, my husband plays the glad game. “Maybe it’s for the best,” he says. “You know, like in nature. How bright colors warn other animals to stay away.” Because nothing screams, “Don’t mess with me! I’m dangerous and/or crazy!” like wearing an electric blue faux fur vest and pink leg warmers. Or maybe, like in nature, the vibrancy of my kids’ clothes and personalities will attract others of their own colorful kind.

Article Posted 7 years Ago
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