I’m not a “stylish” woman. And even though I know a few of you are snickering, I’m not a “slob” either. I just don’t have the time and energy to think about a lot of fashion rules. My major accomplishment most mornings is picking out something that is clean, ironed, and suitable for the weather. I iron because most of my clothing is cotton or a cotton blend. I hate the feel of synthetics, don’t like static cling, and don’t like anything that can’t be washed. I don’t wear anything expensive because: 1. I’m frugal. 2. I teach an age group that is close to the ground and always dirty, sticky, sweaty, or all three.
I do have a sense of what is stylish and/or tasteful. After all, I worked at Macy’s for five years. Not only did I dress up and wear makeup, but I went to classes and paid attention. I learned “a dozen ways to tie a scarf”, “how to accessorize your evening dress”, and “how to shop for a cruise”. I helped customers select everything from underwear to table ware. I can do it, I just don’t want to anymore.
I suppose my years at Macy’s also helped form my dislike for most “label addicts”. I understand that some people are brand loyal because of fit or price or a dozen other reasons. I have preferences just like anyone else. You can’t get to be as old as I am without having some preferences. However, there are preferences and then there are bold, in-your-face, LOOK WHAT I’M WEARING statements made by people who make sure you understand exactly whose label they are wearing, and how much it cost and/or how difficult it was to find. What I dislike are people who not only need a label to make themselves feel worthwhile, but need a label to make themselves feel superior to everyone else. And everything in our culture today encourages that addiction, feeds that addiction. It’s not enough that adults are compelled to be stylish consumers, we have to foist our addiction upon unsuspecting children.
You can’t tell me that any child has a natural “sense of style”. Children want to be comfortable. Period. Anything beyond that is learned. It’s learned from parents, advertisements, peers, television, rock stars, you name it. Individual style develops from that environmental foundation. Children seek clothing that makes them feel good, physically and emotionally.. They like certain colors and textures. They like the way some clothing feels or shines. But if anything about a piece of clothing makes them feel unloved or disapproved of by the significant adults in their life it becomes unattractive to them.(Until they are teens and then the disapproval of adults becomes their primary goal. It’s a reverse psychology thing, trust me.) To a young child the way a significant adult feels about their style takes precedence over their own feelings. That’s an important aspect of fashion that many adults overlook.
I’m giving out a “Shame on You” raspberry this week to child magazine and I’m also sending a letter to the publisher . The subtitle for child (yes, that’s the way they write it) says “Raising Kids with Smarts and Style”. Well, I beg to differ with them on their definition of style. The cover of the December/January issue shows two kindergarten children not only dressed, but posed, like little adults. Their outfits are expensive and pretentious, but it is the pose that really bothers me. If people have lots of money to spend on dressing their children I guess it is none of my business. But I think it is dangerous for us to expect them to look “stylish” instead of just looking like children. If you don’t understand the difference, look at the December issue of Parents magazine. That’s a child- a beautiful child- but one that looks natural and relaxed.
I’ve had some stylish children in my classes over the years. Most are either arrogant because they’ve been told how much better they are than everyone else, insecure because they somehow know that the person inside of them can’t quite live up to the decorated outside of them, or just plain uncomfortable because they want to do a lot of things that are restricted by their clothing and the “rules” that go along with style. I know it’s difficult to believe, but I’ve had five year olds not only tell me the brand of clothing they are wearing, but make fun of someone with “plain clothes”. I used to have a student whose mantra was “I can’t get dirty”. Try being a five year old and living by that rule! I had another one who was so stylish he usually couldn’t get through all the layers of buttons and belts and accessories to go to the bathroom. I had a girl in one of my classes who wanted to play with the other children, but her dresses were too frilly for any sort of real play. We can get so carried away with decorating our children that we forget they are children.
Several years ago I wrote an article for ParentLife entitled “Are You Decorating Your Child?”. In it I explored the idea that we see our children as a reflection of ourselves and their appearance is important to us because we want others to perceive us as good parents. We have the mistaken notion that “attractive=good and/or well-behaved”. But I also asked the question, “Are we dressing our children in clothing which meets their needs, or decorating them for our amusement or our own needs?”. That question is even more relevant today when children are not only being dressed in designer labels, but in clothing that is decorated with slogans most of them can’t read. Our children are being encouraged to spend money, support causes, emulate rock stars, and “dress up” before they grow up.
I believe in moderation in all things. I think we can apply that to fashion and we can make better choices. We can look nice without being obsessive about labels and prices and designers. We can be comfortable without being slobs. We can be casual, but respectable. We can value each others differences. And we can teach our children that who they are is far more important and long lasting than what they wear.