Dressing the 11-year-old girl
It's all about making distinctions and discernment, isn't it? It's all about discussions and mother-daughter dialog. It's all about time spent together in each other's company. And "that's a good thing," as Martha Stewart says.
Here's a story ("Lolita's Closet" by Emily Yoffe at Slate) that made my morning and made me laugh out loud (thanks to Instapundit)--it's a savvy and down-to-earth mother's review of her back-to-school shopping expeditions for her 11-year-old daughter, and it's so funny and rings so true:
...Fortunately, my daughter shares my goals: She wants to look stylish while still sweet, trendy but not trampy. The designers at Limited Too, a shrine to 'tween fashion, and I differ on how to achieve this....--including the rare "pants with enough inseam to reach your waist and cover your underwear." Read the whole thing and enjoy. It certainly echoes my recent shopping experience with my daughter, who fortunately also wants to look feminine and classy, not like a cheap junior skank or fashionbot.
She (child of Washington that she is) had given me a useful parameter of 'tween fashion. While you don't want your daughter to look like Britney Spears, she doesn't want to look like a failed Supreme Court nominee from the Bush administration. In between those two poles, if you have patience and good arch support, you can find enough nice stuff.
It's three weeks into the school year and my daughter and I have already been laughing over her descriptions of the little girls who've showed up at the middle school wearing ultra-miniskirts and leggings (in August's 90-degree heat). Or in multiple layers of spaghetti-strap tank tops, trying in vain to evade the rule that wearing spaghetti-strap tank tops will get them sent home from school. What a waste of time and energy that could be better spent actually learning something useful in the classroom. Who teaches these children, these precious little girls, to focus so much of their energy on such utter nonsense as to hassle with a middle school administration over fashion?
But having seen mothers show up to volunteer in the elementary school classrooms wearing low-slung hip-hugging pants and ill-advised shirts that reveal their plumber's cracks, navels, and way too much bosom when they sit down to help string yarn or cut-out construction paper shapes--nothing that the little girls wear to school in this district surprises me anymore. It's not the kids, it's the parents, as they say. It's not the 11-year-olds driving themselves to the mall and plunking down the credit cards. It's the parents driving the children to ape their own questionable consumerism. Yecchh.
Whenever I see a kid wearing anything that says "Abercrombie" (and Abercrombie clothes certainly advertise themselves on an army of willing zombie bodies, don't they?) I translate that immediately into "I am the unfortunate product of parents with more dollars than sense." In other words: poor dumb kids.
Clothes do make the girl, and they do telegraph what you were thinking and where you were coming from when you (or your parents) bought them. I'm very proud to see my daughter, once relatively unconscious about the clothes she wore (as long as they were comfortable and had a graphic of a cat or other furry animal on them), now putting together stylish yet respectable and flattering "outfits" with real taste and an eye for color, line, drape, and texture. She's signifying that she's growing up, thinking about and taking responsibility for how she projects herself, and wants to and deserves to be taken seriously and respected by the more discerning people around her. And she's telegraphing she's not afraid to be a cut above the crowd in order to be true to herself. That can be a hard row to hoe in middle school and high school, as the kids that dress like skanks are also usually the "mean girls" focused like lasers on what other kids wear (more wasted time and energy) and they have seemingly been taught no scruples or manners against browbeating others. But being true to yourself in the face of the herd I believe is the only way to a happy life in the long run. It's good (and unfortunately, necessary) to learn these lessons early.
Thankfully, just as you can find decent clothes if you keep looking, you can also find decent people who will share your views and tastes and appreciate your confidence, your unique strength of character, and your discernment.
UPDATE: Emily Yoffe takes questions from readers who agree and disagree with her views (more laughs).