Parenting: Do Clothes Make the Kid?

August 19, 2010

So, how much control should kids have when it comes to picking out their clothes? With the new school year starting and the airwaves filled with commercials for the latest back-to-school fashions ("Jeggings" anyone?), this becomes a big issue. And there's more to it than just style and fashion. Because how we look and how we feel about how we look are big parts of our self-esteem.

It's because clothes affect how kids feel and act that Philadelphia schools, and many other schools in our area, now require uniforms. But even if your child's wearing khakis and a blue polo every day, you're probably not immune from clothing issues. Did the khakis and polo come from American Eagle or Hollister? Or did they come from Walmart or Target? Believe me, the kids know, even if it all looks the same to us parents. When I was growing up, the "cool" girls had jeans from Sasson or Calvin Klein. Mine came from a discount store. It was something my Mom and I argued about. Her point (which I understand now) was that it shouldn't matter whose name is written on your back pocket. My point was that maybe it shouldn't matter, but it did - especially to one of the tallest girls in 6th grade who wore glasses and had frizzy hair (that would've been me, of course). I did eventually get a pair of Sasson jeans (they must've been on clearance) and I remember feeling great (or at least a lot less awkward than usual) when I had them on.

So, how can parents teach kids that it's what's inside that's important, when we all know that looking good does make you feel better and more self-confident? And what if your definition of what looks good and your child's definition are radically different?

For little kids, a lot of bloggers suggest picking out two outfits and letting your child pick the one he or she will wear that day. For older kids (especially when that desire for brand names kicks in), I think it's a good idea to set a reasonable clothing allowance. The National Retail Federation says the average family will spend more than $600 on back-to-school shopping this year. How much your kids can spend is up to you. But it's a great time to teach them about budgeting. And if they want something they can't afford, offer them the opportunity to earn money to pay for the coveted item. You can also let kids check out resale and consignment shops. Often they can find their favorite brands of "gently used" clothing for a lot less than new retail. And when you see how many items are in resale shops, with their original tags still on them, you get an idea of how much unnecessary buying people really do.

The other big issue is when your kids want to wear clothes that you don't approve of - maybe an outfit's too skimpy or too Goth-looking. Fortunately, the Buckman Boys are pretty preppy when it comes to style, but I know lots of other parents who fight these kinds of battles. The question is, "Are those battles worth fighting?" Kids change their looks a lot. If you can stand your child's all-black wardrobe for a few months, you may find that he or she will get tired of it. I draw the line at piercings and tattoos, but unless it's a major event (family wedding, etc) and the kids aren't violating a school dress code, I think you should let older kids make their own clothing choices and "express themselves." I try to remember how good I felt in those Sasson jeans. It's tough enough figuring out who you are as you're growing up. I'm not saying clothes "make the man" - but I figure if a certain outfit gives a kid a little confidence boost and it's decent and not too expensive, you should let them wear it. And even in schools that don't require uniforms, I've found most of the time, kids end up looking a lot like their friends.

Here are some other bloggers thoughts on kids' clothes and self-esteem:

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