Thursday, June 19, 2014

Modest Preschoolers (or, My Daughter Wears Jeggings)

It's almost summer, and the issue of what toddler/preschooler girls should wear in the summer has been popping up all over my social media.  I'm having one of those moments where I feel like I was raised by (inappropriately dressed) wolves, and I have no idea what these rules are that other people are talking about.  It's like when I found out that a significant segment of society feel that babies should never appear in public wearing only a onesie, because it's like an adult walking around in her underwear.

These are the rules I have heard:

-No tight clothes
-No short shorts
-No big arm holes
-No faux-sexy styling
-No bikinis

LB is breaking a few of these rules right now: tight stretch shorts, with a tucked-in tank-top with big arm holes (worn backwards to maximize exposure).  And I have some questions:

Do people really think it's wrong for a preschooler to wear bike shorts as shorts?  I had no idea.  I feel like there should be a compendium of these rules just so I can know when my daughter's sartorial choices are offending the world.

LB's outfit of choice: Elmo and jeggings and to make it even better, her pants always ride down

LB used to wear such cute clothes: cotton rompers, bonnets, handmade sweaters.  Hanna dresses from Grammy.  And then she learned how to undress herself.  Now any clothing considered too soft, to scratchy, too big, or just NO is immediately ripped off.

The last outfit I ever forced LB to wear-doesn't she look happy (and I'm still not sure how the school picture company came up with such a glamour shot)

What I want LB to wear:

I'm still holding out hope for next fall!

She will never wear this before she outgrows it

And LB's choice:

She styles this shirt (I'm pretty sure this is the exact big-arm-hold shirt that the other mom returned) with tight pink stretch shorts.  Shirt tucked into shorts. Shorts pulled up high.  Socks pulled up high, with sneakers.  I call this her "Fire Island called and wants 1985 back" Collection.

As I write this post, Motherlode has published the post, "Whose Dress Code Is It and Why?"  This column gets at some of what I'm feeling.  If people look at LB and judge me because she's not modest enough, I will judge them to be prudish jerks.  If they judge me for dressing my daughter in pants that slide down her butt whenever she engages in strenuous exercise, and wonder why people start training their children to participate in the horrors of the femininity industrial complex at such a young age-well, then I will just hang my head in shame because I agree.

But it's LB's body and it's the clothes that grandmas bought her.  I am a feminist mom.  I want to be a feminist mom, but I'm not sure that means I need to be an authoritarian feminist mom.

In the Motherlode piece, KJ Dell'Antonia reminds readers that dress codes aren't simply about sexuality, they are also about learning a variety of other social rules that may serve us well in life.  The word that she doesn't mention specifically is class.  And that's where I get even more uncomfortable with the rules and hierarchies of clothing.

My parents were passing into the middle class as I grew up in the 1970s-not so much by money, but by practice.  That meant that while other kids wore new clothes from KMart, I wore second-hand smocked dresses and fair isle sweaters. Classy.

I loved polyester and bright colors and plastic headbands and shiny shoes.  One day when I was eight my dad brought home a pair of Timberland boots for me (way before they became Tims) and I cried and hid them in the back of the closet.

As a teenager in the '80s, I was one of those girls putting together outfits in thrift shops and trying to make t-shirts into skirts like they showed in Sassy Magazine.

Now I wear a deliberately boring and hopefully clean, mix and match, business very casual.  I like people who wear outfits.  I want LB to have the joy of expressing herself through clothing.  I never want to see her in short shorts with writing on the butt, but I don't want her to judge girls in short shorts with writing on the butt to be cheap whores, and I certainly don't want her to think that clothes make her person-for better or worse.

Dear LB, It's the content of your character not the clothes on your back.  And if you want to be a peacock, if you want your pants to sag, if your skirts too short, I will love you for it.  And I will also replace songs on your ipod with lectures on feminist theory.

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