My Teenage Daughter Borrows My Clothes

Daughter hugging her mom

Some mornings my 16-year-old daughter emerges from my not-so-tidy closet with one of my shirts or sweaters. She holds up a navy fitted tee or a heathered beige hoodie in front of the oval-shaped bathroom mirror, where she sizes up whether it passes muster as a potential frontrunner for that day’s school outfit.

I try to stand at a distance, but can’t help but watch her assess her options, as she tilts her head from one side to the other—her hair still up in the messy ponytail she had slept in the night before—as if she’s carefully thinking through her decision.

At times she walks out, chooses one of her own things; but on other days, she goes for one of my favorites—a soft black cardigan—and asks, “Can I borrow this today?” five words which seem to make my day, and at 6:50 a.m.—the idea that my clothes are good enough for my teen to wear—that’s a good place to start.

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Emily’s not a fashionista. She has never worn much makeup and often opts for an oversized sweatshirt and leggings. But some days she takes more time, carefully deciding between the green or blue v-neck tee, or tall black boots vs. charcoal Converse sneakers.

But it’s on those particular mornings when it’s my closet she chooses to weave in and out of that I find myself quite elated, like it’s an endorsement that maybe her mom is kind of cool. Something about her pulling out the black and white stripped shirt I had worn the week before or an olive sweater I had forgotten I owned, reminds me not just of a shared sense of style but of our closeness, that even in these adolescent years, we are still connected. That our relationship is more than just me driving her to and from swim practice and her presence at the dinner table for family taco night.

Growing up, I never once borrowed an item of my mother’s clothes. Her pristine closet, with blouses lined up, every button precise, every wrinkle perfectly ironed. Her sweaters and shirts neatly stacked, as if a Talbots employee had come in every day, several times a day to fold and refold each article of clothing. With her shoes and slippers meticulously in a line and her belts neatly hung, the smell of her lavender scented sashays lingered sweetly in the air. She has always had good style, my mom. And we pretty much wore the same size. It never would have occurred to me though to borrow her clothes. Maybe I didn’t look in her closet enough. Maybe I should have spent more time sorting through her shelves and her hanging shirts, pushing over the navy velour robe she sometimes wore while making our bologna and swiss cheese sandwiches. Or maybe I just didn’t want to.

When I think of my mother’s closet, I didn’t know then what it meant to borrow or not borrow her clothes. The constant “who am I?” question lingering in my teenage years. But now that my daughter sometimes chooses to wear some of mine, I realize it’s not just that my mother and I had a different sense of style, we had a different type of relationship. Perhaps it’s today’s generation with this mother-daughter closeness; because this level of intimacy I have with Emily I didn’t have with my mother growing up.

Relationships now are often defined by a sense of immediacy, an instinctive moment in time; Emily and I “check in” and often stay connected throughout the day: Please bring a suit and towel to the pool; will pick you up in 15; got an 89 on Chem test!!! And when she tries on and borrows my clothes before school, it’s something even more personal—like she’s not just giving me a stylistic thumbs up with multiple smiley face emojis. Rather, it’s more like a validating exclamation point, as if she’s taking a sliver of my identity, all without a tinge of self-consciousness.

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I remember when I held Emily’s little hand as we walked through the Nordstrom’s kids department at the Westchester Mall, her lopsided pigtails swaying from side to side. In an oversized corner dressing room I sat her on my lap as I helped put one leg and then the other into a pair of bright red leggings. “Hands up, cutie,” I said before slipping on the white long sleeve tee speckled with tiny strawberries. Holding hands, we faced the full-length mirror together to assess whether we liked the outfit. Today the decision is hers rather than ours. But, on the days when the white long sleeve tee she chooses comes from my closet, it’s as if, like years ago, I’m a part of her decision making process.

When my daughter walks out of the house in the morning wearing one of my sweaters, it represents to me more than just, “I like borrowing your stuff.” Rather, it subtly says, “I am connected to you, I am in your care” as if by wearing an item of my clothing, she somehow knows she is in my protection. And I feel it too, when I drive her to the high school and she gets out of the car and walks toward the front doors. Most days she doesn’t turn around to wave good-bye. And that’s ok. My teenage daughter has chosen to borrow my clothes. Maybe that makes me feel sort of hip. Maybe it’s like a rubber stamp on my style choices. Or maybe it’s just for that particular day, by wearing my shirt or sweater or jacket, she feels me wrapped around her.

About the writer

Randi lives in Connecticut with her husband, her two teens and her door-scratching, counter-jumping, never-wanting-to-be-alone dog  Tobey. She is an Editor at Brain, Child Magazine and oversees Brain, Child's blog, Brain, Mother. Her essays have appeared in Brain, Child, Your Teen, NY Metro Parents, Mamalode, among others.


kykysmommy09 2 years ago

I used to “steal” my mom’s shirts when I was in high school. She didn’t mind as long as they didn’t get lost in my “black hole” (aka my room LOL).

Tegan Hunter 2 years ago

Sorry…. I think you mean 'sachets' of lavender. 😉

Lisa 2 years ago

you have beautifully captured an experience I’ve been having with my daughter . . . she wears something from my closet and I puff out my chest feeling proud that I’ve been deemed cool enough to offer something to her strong sense of style, and then she tells me how much better the item looks on her than on me, and it’s this sort of running joke between us that I act like she always “stealing” my stuff and she’s always reminding me how much cooler she is than me . . .all the while I love the whole thing. Your words have helped me understand the experience and I will enjoy this new image of her letting me be wrapped around her. And what about when she wears my shoes – the roots and the wings! thank you!

Tracey Ennett Lynn 2 years ago

I always borrowed my mom's clothes in high school…yes, almost 20 years ago. That is the type of relationship we have always had. I could probably go raid her closet now, if I wanted to :)

Nancy Davis Kho 2 years ago

Just lovely, and captures my feelings exactly. I have an almost-13 year old who would wear nothing BUT my clothes if I’d let her, which is kind of a pain, and a 15 year old who mostly doesn’t touch my closet with a ten foot pole. But on those rare occasions when the 15 year old compliments something I’ve bought with a “Oh, Mom, I am totally borrowing that,” it definitely puts a spring in my step…

Amy 2 years ago

Thank you for this. I would borrow my mom’s clothing because she had some great tops and she trusted me with them. My 11 yr old comes to my closet and likes to borrow,sometimes acquire my things. It’s ok but never thought of the sentiment that it is a statement of our relationship. So thank you for opening my eyes to how in a good place we are. Though sometimes I really think she borrows because most of my clothing comes from work. I work part time at JCrew. LOL

Christina 2 years ago

My daughter is only 8 years old – the baby with three older brothers. I watch how she walks through my closet as I, myself, am searching for something to wear. I am secretly tickled when she takes my shoes off a shelf and tries them on. Just last week, we were waiting outside for her school bus. It was a cold morning, so I took my scarf off and wrapped it around her. When the bus came, I asked if she wanted me to take it back and she said no, that she wanted to keep it. I knew at that moment, it wasn’t about keeping warm at school but keeping something of mine close to her. I love the connection this simple gesture of “borrowing” can bring. I just hope I can remember all this – and your story – all those days I trip over my own shoes on her bedroom floor.

Liz Jenkins 2 years ago

My daughter has recently become the same height, weight and size as me, including shoes. I loved this post for the sentiments but realize that I am not that mom who wants her daughter wearing her clothes…yet. My daughter is just turning 12 and hasn’t learned how to care for her own clothes, much less mine. At first I was happy to let her browse my closet but after a pair of shoes came back stained and flattened out, a puffy vest with a furry collar got washed and dried totally destroying the furry collar, and a sweater had sharpie on the sleeve, I told her to stay out of my closet til she could care for my things properly. Her own coat lives on the floor of her room, and she gets dressed from random piles so one day, if this changes, maybe I’ll try again. I would love to share this with her but I don’t know if my own sanity can withstand the destruction of my wardrobe!

    Randi Olin 2 years ago

    Liz, thank you for sharing these thoughts. For a while my daughter didn’t care for the things she borrowed as I would have liked but over time, perhaps due to maturity and the passage of time, she has really come to appreciate that I let her borrow some of my most favorite things. Now she hangs everything back up in my closet and folds and puts things away. It wasn’t always like that. It gets better over time:) Good luck!

Melissa Weinberger 2 years ago

Thank you so much for sharing :) I have a teen and pre-teen daughter and this touched me deeply. Merry Christmas!!

    Randi Olin 2 years ago

    Happy Holidays Melissa. And enjoy those tweens/teens of yours!

Christine 2 years ago

So sweet!

    Randi Olin 2 years ago

    Thank you Christine!

Jennifer Hall 2 years ago

Oh I love this! As a new mom to a teen and trying to adjust to the changes in my little girl, this gives me hope that we might be able to remain close on some level through these years that are feeling a little scary to me right now.

    Randi Olin 2 years ago

    Those little glimmers of hope along the way help us get through the teen years. Good luck with your teenager:) Thanks Jennifer!

grownandflown 2 years ago

My daughter sometimes shops in my closet, too, and I feel flattered on those days she chooses a sweater of mine or asks to borrow boots. I can completely relate to all you have so beautifully written about the closeness you feel to your daughter and how sharing clothes represents your connection. Next fall, when my daughter goes away to college, I secretly hope she will ask to take along one or two things of mine….I, too, would love to think that my (symbolic) arms are wrapped around her when she is miles away. Lovely, lovely post.

    Randi Olin 2 years ago

    Thank you! I hadn’t really thought about her going off to college in a year and a half, and how I will feel if (and when) she slips a few of my things into her bags. The idea that she will take a piece of me with her is a lovely image. And I will welcome it:)

Kate Wilson 2 years ago

When I was in high school, my Mom would have thought I was nuts to borrow any of her clothes because she was 30 years older than me, and we wore completely different styles. But, that was in the olden days, when it was not a goal to be the "cool" Mom.

    Randi Olin 2 years ago

    When my daughter borrows my clothes it makes me feel like we have a stronger connection. The added bonus is that it also makes me feel kind of cool. I didn’t borrow my mother’s clothes when I was in high school either. Now, thinking back, I’m wondering if I missed anything good in that meticulously neat closet of hers. Thanks for your comment.

Shelley 2 years ago

It is great that you let and welcome the borrowing. I used to and still invade my Mom’s closet. I only wish my foot was smaller so that I could wear her shoes:)

    Randi Olin 2 years ago

    Thank you Shelley! My daughter used to borrow my shoes but her feet are bigger than mine and she would stretch them out. So, now it’s just shirts, sweaters, jackets, etc.

Sarah 2 years ago

Thanks for putting a different perspective on this! I get upset when my 16 yo borrows my stuff. I think I do b/c she doesn’t ask so that is part of the problem and then a lot of times she will stain something or I will never get it back. My husband tries to tell me to be flattered by it as well but I feel it is lack of respect mainly b/c she doesn’t ask. We’ve talked about it and she is getting better at that. And I am also realizing that it is just clothes, no big deal.

    Randi Olin 2 years ago

    Thanks, Sarah. Good point – not everything comes back the way it went out. A spot or a missing button here or there, etc. But I still like it when my daughter borrows my stuff:)

julie 2 years ago

Missing my daughter in college will definitely trump missing a shirt now and then.

    Randi Olin 2 years ago

    That’s so nice – having your daughter take a shirt of yours to college. What a lovely gesture. Thanks for commenting on my piece!

Jessica 2 years ago

I love this! I am so grateful to have the same kind of connection with my 16-year-old daughter. From what she tells me, not all of her friends have such cool moms. 😉

    Randi Olin 2 years ago

    Thanks for your comment and for identifying with the piece. There are certainly many teenage “moments” but it’s nice having this connection with our daughters.

Diana.P 2 years ago

Ooh goodness…I am going through this at home. Our Ryan is 14 and when she dives into my closet I stand back and awe how her thought process develops. “My little girl IS growing up”, is all I can help think. I enjoyed your article and reminded me how fleeting are these moments. {tear}

    Randi Olin 2 years ago

    Thank you Diana. They are growing up right before our eyes!

Athena 2 years ago

That’s a really sweet senitiment. I wish my mother felt the way you do. When I used to try to borrow her clothes she just got angry about how she couldn’t have anything of her own.

    Randi Olin 2 years ago

    Thanks Athena. Sometimes I’m not thrilled when I see my favorite sweater in a ball in the corner of her room:)

      R. 11 months ago

      Did you speak to her about returning the borrowed item in good condition? Your daughter seems a mature young lady. My daughter is just now starting to ask for my items and I do lend them to her. However, a white shirt came back to me with makeup stains on it. Of course, I gently advised to return items in the same if not better condition, but what to do when it happens repeatedly? Sometimes, I feel she takes advantage of me without really intending to but the awful sentiment is there on my part. I like your view and personally I never felt I could borrow my mother’s clothing because, well, it was all Talbots and Ann Taylor and I was all The Limited and Express. lol Aaaahhhh…lovely memories.


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