My daughter went to her junior prom last spring. She picked out a lovely black dress and did her hair. And she wore her favorite pair of Vans, too — because that’s who she is. Some of her friends wore heels; others also rocked the sneaker vibe. All of them made the fashion choices that felt right for them at this moment in their lives.
As the mothers were gathered around taking pictures of our daughters — who hated every minute of the photo session — a few of them made comments about how they wished the girls weren’t wearing sneakers, or their hair wasn’t blue, or the dresses weren’t so short.
These girls were so confident, and you could tell they didn’t doubt what they were wearing until they heard comments from their mothers. I could see it bothered them (even though no one changed), and it took me back to my childhood when adults would say things about how kids my age dressed. Boy, did they have opinions back then, too.
I loved hole-y jeans, but I wasn’t allowed to wear them. I wanted to wear my high tops unlaced like all the other kids, and my father refused to let me leave the house. When baggy sweaters became trendy, I wasn’t allowed to wear those either. I heard things from my parents and other adults like, “Kids these days are so sloppy! Everything is baggy and all they want to wear are jeans and T-shirts. They don’t even tuck in their shirts!”
I understand that in my parents' day, they weren’t allowed to wear jeans to school, boys weren’t allowed to have long hair, and their clothes had to be tailored and tucked in. They told me over and over again. As a child, I didn’t care about that. I still don’t. I wanted to fit in, and I hated that my parents would make comments about what I wore. I spent most of my elementary and junior high years changing my clothes as soon as I got to school so I could feel like myself — what I wore created a lot of unnecessary tension between me and my parents. I never want my kids to feel that way; being a teen is figuring out who you are and if you ask me, when parents butt in too much it isn’t helpful. Our kids are not different.
Now I’m the parent who doesn’t particularly understand her kids’ fashion choices. They’d rather wear pajama bottoms, slippers, and a sweatshirt above anything else. They love their socks and Nike slide combination and they hate getting dressed up. Anything other than sweatpants makes them feel confined and not like themselves. I literally can’t remember the last time any of them wore jeans.
The difference is, that instead of arguing or trying to assert my control over them, I just let them dress how they want. I used to try to talk them into wearing jeans if we were going out to dinner or something, but it wasn’t worth the fight. Really, I was trying to get them to change their clothes because I was worried about what other people would think — when all I need to care about is that my kids feel comfortable in their skin.
On Saturday night, I took my family out to eat. As we all sat at our table enjoying our nachos and wings, an older couple came up to us and let my kids know they “forgot to put on clothes,” then went on to tell me their grandkids dress the same way and they can’t stand it. If that’s not judging a book by its cover I don’t know what is. Not exactly the best message to send to our future generation.
What our kids put on their bodies isn’t important. How they treat others, how they deal with stress, and their mental health is. That’s what we should be focused on.
Maybe your kid wears the same hoodie every day and refuses to wear real pants like mine. From what they tell me, that’s the look that’s in right now and what they feel comfortable in. Who am I to argue with that?
Katie Bingham-Smith is a full-time freelance writer living in Maine with her three teens and two ducks. When she’s not writing she’s probably spending too much money online and drinking Coke Zero.