Kindergarten Fashion Show

Oh girls, you are not defined by your clothes!

Really, weíre not sending this message to our girls in any kind of adequate way. By the time my daughter was two she was getting herself dressed and had a very set idea of what she wanted to look like. She wanted to wear her sparkly Wizard of Oz shoes every single day. She was dedicated to never matching. Iím all for independence, so I let her wear whatever she wants as long as itís modest.

By modest, I mean she is not allowed to leave the house looking like a Bratz Doll. No belly shirts and no bum cheeks hanging out of her shorts or skirt. She must wear shorts under her dresses because itís no fun to ďsit like a lady.Ē No bikinis either. Oh, how I wanted to be allowed to wear a bikini and always swore I would never make my daughter wear a one-piece swim suit. The first time we got one handed down I thought, are there any circumstances where I want my daughter wearing a bikini? The answer in my head was a resounding NO and I promptly threw the swim suit away without her knowledge.

By the time she was three she would absolutely freak out if we suggested she wear something she didnít like. It got to such an extreme fight about what she was going to wear on any given day that I took away every single item of clothing she owned for an entire week. Well, except for the ďI hate that shirt, I look like a boyĒ outfit that I just kept washing and making her put back on. Itís actually parenting advice I got from a Madonna interview.

You are not going to behave this way about clothes. You are NOT your clothes. Do you think I love every item of clothing I wear? No, I do not! I wear clothes I hate, because thatís what I have, thatís what people hand down to me and thatís what we can afford to buy! And you ARE going to learn to be grateful for every stitch of clothes you have the privilege of owning, I told her as I packed her entire wardrobe in a black garbage bag and shoved it in my closet.

All week long she went around telling everyone we spoke to, Iím wearing this because Iím being punished. My mom took away all my clothes.
But, I could tell by her tone that she was not complaining as much as she was bragging. It was as if she were very excited to be punished (paid attention to) in such a big way.

September is coming and school is going to start and everyone is going to be bombarded by commercials and sales and tax-free weekends with the big push to buy school clothes. Already last year, in pre-school, my daughter was complaining that her clothes werenít as cute as some of the other girls’, who came to school looking like a fashion show.

My clothes arenít as cute as Caitlin and Abbyís, she would complain.

Thatís not true. Grandma has bought you a lot of very cute matching outfits and those girls wear what their motherís tell them to wear every morning. They match. You have the clothes, but you choose to dress yourself and you never decide to wear the matching outfits together. You could look just like them if you wanted to. Youíre choosing not to. Thatís okay too. You have your own style, I told her. She went to school mismatched again, so apparently it wasnít that important to blend in.

Iím not okay with spending hundreds of dollars on ďschool clothes.Ē Frankly, we have more important needs in our family. I picked up a bunch of new-enough outfits at garage sales and a couple of dresses and three pairs of shoes at garage sales this weekend. I hid them and will pull them out when she starts to see all the advertising telling her sheís not good enough if she doesnít get new clothes.

I spent $12. Iíll probably pick up a few more things at garage sales and the Grandmas might make a few contributions. If I happen to have money burning a hole in my pocket I may take her to Old Navy and allow her to pick one new school outfit with a budget of $20. Just so she wonít feel completely left out of the American Tradition of School Clothes Shopping.

I guess I just donít understand why a whole new wardrobe is an American tradition. Itís not like in my grandmotherís day when she would save her money all year to be able to afford to buy her kids one new pair of shoes for school. Kids get clothes all year long now, donít they? Mine certainly get them for birthdays, Christmas and whenever I happen upon them or when wonderful people hand them down.

Itís June, now is the time to decide how much youíre willing to spend on school clothes. Now is the time to give daughters the message,

You are not your clothes. You are good enough no matter what you wear. We are not going into debt so you can win a popularity contest at school. People will like you because you’re a great person, not because of what you wear.

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#1 Janet on 06.15.07 at 1:28 am

I remember a supervising comment my mother made to me just a few years ago. I was talking to her about my junior/high school days and recounting how stupid it was yet how important it seemed it was to wear the ďrightĒ kind of clothing. I never felt that I could ever really fit it, because my parents couldnít afford the designer jeans.
She said to me, ďyes, I feel really bad about that. I should have spent more money on your clothes. Kids have so many pressures and worries; clothing shouldnít have to be one of them.Ē It was not the comment I was expecting and it really gave me cause to think. Looking back I think my parents did a great job at the balancing act, so I was shocked by what my mom said. Although, it would be nice to look back on my childhood fondly and not be plagued by feelings of embarrassment about how the clothes I wore. But really I think thatís more of a self-esteem issue than one of fashion.
I guess ideally Iíd hope that my children growing up wonít place much emphasis on their clothing because they have confidence in themselves and not just in what they wear.

My recently decided philosophy is this: regardless of how much money is spent or not, children should look clean and presentable. I traveled to Romania a few years back to visit a very poor family Iíd become friends with through a contact made in Germany where I was living at the time. I noticed that many of the items of clothing they were wearing were donations I myself and others had sent. They were obviously not new or top of the line. Yet, they were treated very well, kept clean and pressed if needed and worn with dignity. My friends were shockingly poor, yet youíd never know it by looking at them. I believe itís not really what you wear but how you were it. Confidence comes from within, and I think itís how you wear the article of clothing, not what you wear.

I donít know if Iíll let my children go to school miss matched. Whether or not it bothers them, people will treat them accordingly. I want my children to be respected and treated kindly by others. Not like Oscar the grouch, who wears garbage on his back. He may be a sweetheart inside, but appearances do matter. The saying goes, ďnever judge a book by its coverĒ but it is also said that, ďfirst impressions are lasting.Ē I want to help my children fit in socially without being victim to fashion and debt, and I think it is possible to do both.

#2 So Sioux Me on 06.15.07 at 1:22 pm

Oh yes Janet,

I’m still suffering from the fact that I did not have any Guess Jeans or a Swatch Watch. But, I was in Junior High School when it mattered. They so totally could have afforded to buy me those two things.

It does disturb me that it’s now Kindergarten and Pre-K where these things have taken on such meaning. On a deeper level I believe the clothing issue is where the “mean girl” behavior begins and therefore it’s an important issue.

It’s also my belief is that in Pre-K it had more to do with the mothers of the girls than it did the girls. It was almost as if the mothers sent their daughters off as if they were in a fashion show so as not to be judged or ridiculed by the other mothers. Mean girls grow up and have children and CREATE the kindergarten fashion show.

In the meantime, my daughters Sketchers, while they cost me only $1 at a garage sale, well they are still Sketchers so she can hold her head high. All of her other clothes are more than presentable, they are down right cute.

And I don’t think she exists to be a reflection of me and therefore she doesn’t have to match. She is expressing her self when she dresses and while it may look mis-matched to me or you, it looks fabulous to her.

How would she develop the confidence you talk about if I told her she looked rediculous and wasn’t allowed out of the house when she decided to wear something that didn’t match? I don’t believe she could develop that confidence, I believe that would make her fundamentally insecure about her own style, taste and decisions.

Then how will she stand up to the mean girls in Junior High?


#3 Second Generation Mean Girl — The Girl Revolution on 09.15.09 at 1:13 pm

[...] reader’s (Janet) comment on my column Kindergarten Fashion Show really provided some clarity about who is driving the fashion show in elementary school. Mommy, [...]

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