Clothing Choices

Out of the corner of your eye, you may have glimpsed your daughter rushing out the door to middle school wearing—wait, was that an actual skirt? It barely covered her derriere! Perhaps she showed up for church in a midriff-baring tank top you thought came from a Victoria Secret catalog. Or maybe you’ve faced an indignant preteen in a dressing room hissing, “But, Mom, everyone else is wearing this!” A quick look around the mall suggests your daughter might be right; clothing racks do seem to be filled with items that are noticeably skimpier and racier than you would like.

What are you supposed to do? Well, taking a deep breath isn’t a bad start. Then it’s helpful to understand why your daughter is gravitating to clothing that may be anything but your idea of style—or age-appropriate. When you’re clearer on where her desires are coming from (and also, what they’re not about), you can speak to her in ways that best encourage her to make better choices—rather than to stomp out of the room or, worse, morph into a Christina or Britney look-alike on the way to school.

At any given time, girls’ clothing choices say something about who they are—or want to be. By late elementary school or early middle school, girls are often becoming self-conscious, highly alert to how they stack up to others, and more vulnerable to peer pressure. Often, the look they aspire to is “revealing and appealing.” Their basic message is, “I’m figuring out who I am.” Their outfits are one way they try on new personalities and differentiate themselves from adult preferences. That is why their styles may change so quickly and dramatically.

As they do so, they may lose sight of how they appear to others. If so, some girls are given pause just by parents asking the questions, “What do you think that outfit tells people about who you are?” or “What message do you think boys are getting?” Some teens and tweens are truly unaware of or underestimate their powerful effects on testosterone-driven adolescent boys.

Another issue for many parents is concern that their daughters’ clothing choices reflect poorly on them. But it is crucial to acknowledge that teens are separate individuals who, no matter how close and loving they are, often have tastes and inclinations different from those of their parents. Try not to be insecure about others judging you on the basis of what your daughter wears. Give her the gift of finding her own way. Besides, better to save your energy for the bigger and more important battles.

It is only when your daughter’s style conflicts with propriety or family values that you have to step in and draw the line. That is, make a distinction between what is simply your daughter’s taste—and what is tasteless. For example, if she dresses inappropriately for a religious service or family occasion, give her specific guidelines. Or if she wants to wear attire designed for older teenagers or adults, she needs that feedback. Girls who are in a great rush to grow up often need such parental limits.
Teach your daughter about more than just what is trendy. Encourage her to buy what is flattering for her body shape. Some parents give girls a clothing allowance to teach them how to budget and plan their wardrobes accordingly. As she matures, your daughter will appreciate your giving her increasing autonomy and responsibility. When she knows that you respect her right to have different preferences (“That outfit’s not my style, but it looks great on you!”), she will be more likely to seek out your opinions.

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