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Fashion Nightmares and Lingerie Dreams

How do you address how your child dresses?

Among other things, Project Runway host and supermodel Heidi Klum is known for her catchphrase, “You’re either ‘in’ or you’re ‘out.’” Klum’s words aptly summarize the fashion world, which is one of the most dynamic components of popular culture.

Clothing trends change so quickly and so frequently that it’s very hard to keep up. Look, for example, at the way fashion has changed over the last two decades or so. Today’s and yesterday’s young fashionistas wore incredibly different garb.

Then again, maybe it isn’t so different after all. Both eras are marked by clothes that look like they should be worn to bed, leaving onlookers to ask, “Her parents actually let her leave the house wearing that?”

In the late 1980s and early 90s, Skidz was one of the most popular brands of clothing for preteens, teens and young adults. The totally tubular attire most notably consisted of wide, straight-legged pants with a drawstring waist, which were weaved from bright color cotton fibers into loud patterns, typically plaid or striped.

Folks could tell the pants were Skidz, and not some cheap knockoff, because of the little yellow diamond on the loose butt of the breeches. The brand emblem was a car followed by skid marks, just like the street sign.

Other than their relatively expensive price in a depressed economy, the biggest gripe that parents had with Skidz was that they looked like pajama bottoms, like something a kid should wear to bed rather than to school or the mall.

The grunge rock of the mid-90s ushered in the button-down flannel shirt trend, causing parents to complain over the garment’s resemblance to pajama tops, again something that should be worn to bed rather than in public.

Now, it’s almost 20 years later, and neither Skidz nor flannels are in style any more. Yet, parents are still complaining that their children’s outfits look like something a kid should wear to bed rather than in public.

But these days, parents aren’t challenging clothes that look like pajamas. They’re challenging clothes that look like lingerie.

Camisoles, tank tops, miniskirts, short shorts, slip dresses and leggings are pretty much what’s “in” in fashion nowadays. Less fabric, tighter fits, lower necklines and waistbands—it’s hip to be bare.

Of course, this isn’t an entirely new trend. Madonna was wearing lace bras and corsets as tops back in the day. But the thing that made Madonna a maverick, before Madonna made Maverick, was that she was flouting social norms by openly wearing actual lingerie, not just clothes designed to look like lingerie, at a time when no one else was.

What was once a discrete rage against the machine is now commonplace. Today’s daughters are wearing sexy apparel because that’s all that is being worn by nearly every celebrity and because that’s all that is available in nearly every store.

The T-shirts and roomy pants that their mothers used to wear every day are what daughters are now wearing to bed.

While this vacillation of day- and night-ware may be fascinating, it’s of little more than cursory interest to parents. Parents are faced with a far more practical concern: coming up with clear and meaningful guidelines to regulate what their children wear.

There is a very thin line between encouraging a fashion-forward young lady to take pride in her body and allowing her to advertise her womanly wares.

School dress codes can help parents walk that line. Because such codes are usually somewhat vague, however, and since school only accounts for a portion of a child’s day, school dress codes don’t eliminate the need for parental involvement and control.

So what exactly is a parent to do?

Unfortunately, there is no precise formula parents can use to strike a balance between self-expression and self-control. But there are some good places to start

Here is a non-exhaustive list of things you can do to address clothing issues with your child:

  • pay attention to her fashion interests and set an unambiguous family dress code that honors both her interests and your concerns;
  • teach her about body image, social perceptions and potential problems associated with risqué clothing;
  • shop with her instead of sending her out on her own;
  • remember that kids will be kids and regularly check up on how she is following your rules; and,
  • introduce her to positive role models and practice what you preach in your own wardrobe selections.

Even if your child is young and does not yet face fashion issues, it is still important to do these things for her.

A child is never too young to learn. The earlier you start teaching her about good practices, self-esteem and strong ideals, the earlier she is likely to demonstrate these things.

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