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Parental Indiscretion

A sartorial dilemma

By Rachel Laing | Illustration by Radostina (Joy) Stiff

Parental Indiscretion

Golden Dancer illustration

The first time I let my daughter dress without my judgment or guidance, I received a text from my husband as I was packing up stuff and getting ready to head home from work. He was getting the kids from their afterschool program, and had a question: “Why is our daughter dressed like a stripper?”

“How dare you!” I texted back. “She’s not dressed like a stripper. She’s dressed like a Solid Gold dancer!”

Never have I so squarely nailed a description. Georgia, who was then in first grade, had gone to school in metallic purple leggings, a light-pink leotard from her short-lived ballet career, red velour shorts at least two sizes too small, and a sparkly silver scarf.

See, on a scale of 1 to 10—with 1 being Understated Elegance and 10 being Liberace —Georgia would go to 11 every day of the week. As she sees it, if one pattern is good, three are fantastic. Shine and sparkles are not accents; they are staples. And rhinestones are a girl’s best friend.

I wish I had a video of her reaction, as I attempted to explain the “less is more” concept. “No offense, Mom, but you’re just not fashionable like me,” she responded with equal parts pity and disgust.

Every morning, we fought about her outfits. “You are NOT wearing that to school!” I’d say. A battle of wills would ensue, and we’d both start the day grumpy.

The explanation I gave her was the same one my parents had given me when I was a kid and thought every great outfit started with one of my mom’s old silk nightgowns, tights, and a couple of safety pins: “People will think you don’t have a mother!” my father would say before dressing me in something soul-crushingly sensible.

But that morning when Georgia emerged in her Disco Whore ensemble, instead of fighting, I thought about what was driving me to exert control over her sartorial selections. Why did I care what she wore?

There was some degree of being worried the other kids would make fun of her, but there seemed to be no indication of social trouble. Mostly it was about me. What would her teachers and the school administrators think about me if I let her go to school dressed like that?

But it occurred to me that “like that” was actually “like herself.” Here I was, squashing my daughter’s creativity, whimsy, and willingness to stand out from her peers, and telling her she needed to subvert it to spare me embarrassment.

I now let her choose her own clothes, overruling her judgment only in cases of weather-appropriateness and occasional breaches of basic decency.

The only concession is that I still pull aside her teachers at Open House to explain that I’m picking my battles, and that Georgia does indeed have a mother. I also take pains to dress my best on those occasions. After all, I wouldn’t want them to think she got her fashion sense from me.

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