What your child wears to school - Does it matter?

Filed under: Preschoolers, Big Kids, Tweens, Day Care & Education

Today was Picture Day.The day responsible for the documentation of kids as they grow, wearing dorky hairdos (a.k.a my three inch hair-sprayed bangs in seventh grade) and awkward fashion trends. The day that marks the start to another school year; another September.

Every year the kids come to school on Picture Day giddy and twittering, and they wear everything under the sun: from ties and Oxford shirts, to favorite tees that are ripped and worn. Some girls try to get away with makeup. They sneak to the bathroom and come out with an excessive lip gloss smile. Others come with hair curled, outfits perfectly matched. They spend all morning terrified that they'll get something on their shirts, and that if they do, their Moms will kill them.

I love watching the kids arrive on Picture Day because I get a different glimpse of them on this day than I do on any other. I see them dressed up and dressed down--reflecting their own varied styles and the styles of their parents. I catch a glimmer of the kids who have their own fashion sense--who's to say a ripped pirate shirt and a pair of beaten up soccer shoes isn't all the rage? I get a snapshot of those parents who either care a lot, or don't care at all about how their children dress.

As a parent, I fall somewhere in the middle, leaning ever so slightly towards to the don't care at all side of things. I let my son, who just started preschool a couple of weeks ago, pick out his clothes. It doesn't bother me at all when he wears striped and plaid and possibly a Hawaiian print shirt to boot. As long as he's happy, I'm cool. Mostly.

But then his two favorite colors in the whole wide world suddenly became pink and purple. Which, by the way, I have nothing against (in fact I can totally see where he's coming from, because they ARE cool colors.) But there are all sorts of funky gender stereotypes that the powers that be who make clothing impart upon kids and parents alike, and try as I might, I cannot find an acceptably non-frilly shirt in pink or in purple for him to wear. Still, I concede where I can, and he has some fabulous pink and purple PJs in a Seventies retro floral, and some rainbow stripped woolly gloves that are pretty groovy.

There is a line though, somewhere, that maybe shouldn't be crossed. A boundary between cool and not so much. Between cute, and well, not. And when this line IS crossed, kids somehow invariably notice, and like a bunch of Killer Bees they're on it, making comments, whispering behind the backs of their hands.

It's hard to say when and why that line gets crossed. All too often it's the kid who is shy and awkward who is also wearing the too tight or too short or too whatever clothing... and it sends a message to the other kids in the class. Their confidence, on some small trivial level is linked to their appearance and how they are perceived--and self confidence, when it goes tumbling, is not a trivial or small issue at all.

Maybe it's not what they wear, but how they wear it.

I've seen a kid wear a hat you could say was possibly quirky, or dorky, or goofy, or---you pick the adjective, and because he was confident and thought his hat was cool... because HE thought HE was cool, the other kids did too. Just as in the same instant another perfectly sweet, albeit shy and kind of off-beat kid, could wear the exact same hat and get eaten for lunch.

Parents have a tricky role in all of this. We can be everything from overbearing or oblivious. And as a teacher I can't help but wish I could sometimes slip a parent a little note suggesting that maybe those pants that they're always sending their kid in are just not doing anything for him (his ankles are sticking waaay out there.) Or that their daughter might think of herself as something more than an object for boys to chase after if they'd stop sending her in shirts with "Cutie Pie" and "Sweetie" scrawled across her chest. But then I'm torn because a part of me wants to think that fashion doesn't matter at all.

What do you think? Does it matter what your child wears to school?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.