Should You Let Children Wear Whatever They Like?

22/04/2012 20:55 | Updated 22 May 2015
Child wearing fairy wings and welliesRex Features

Every time that five year-old Suri Cruise steps out in dancing shoes and red lipstick her mum, Katie Holmes, gets it in the neck.

According to the damning reader comments, Katie should know better: she should stop Suri from going outside in ballet shoes or high heels, tie her hair back, make her wear a warm coat and ban her from playing with make-up.

But, as the mother of a five-year-old daughter who loves dressing up and has strong opinions about what she likes wear, I completely understand why Katie just lets her get on with it.

We all know that it's not unusual for little girls to want to play with make-up, try on high heels and wear princess dresses to the supermarket - and as far as I'm concerned, that's part of the fun of being five.

It's not as if Katie is letting Suri dress wildly inappropriately. Most of us agree that she looks cute - why else would she have been voted the most stylish child on the planet earlier this year?

She's not wearing crop tops emblazoned with suggestive logos, or mini skirts, hotpants or any of the other uncomfortably sexualised children's clothes that frequently appear in high street stores.

And if you take a closer look at those 'high heels' that Suri seems to love so much, it's obvious that they're dancing shoes. This suggests that they are, at least, properly fitted - and they're hardly stilettos, are they?

Should you let your child wear whatever they like?Doug Meszler/Splash News

Of course, there's the argument that encouraging an interest in clothes makes children grow up too fast, and most parents don't want their daughters to look like little adults before they reach the age of 10.

But playing dress up is a long-established form of childhood play and given that we encourage children to express themselves in a range of other ways, be it art classes, music lessons or sports clubs, it seems harsh to get huffy if they choose to assert their individuality through the clothes they wear.

In my book, it's far worse to dress children in drab, restrictive clothes and then stop them from running around and playing in case they get dirty. So while I used to feel a bit sorry for Liz Hurley's son Damian when he was dressed up in knickerbockers, white knee socks and T-bar shoes, Suri makes me smile because it's obvious that she's chosen her outfit all by herself.

Admittedly, letting your kids choose their clothes isn't always plain sailing. Yes, there have been times when I've struggled to talk my daughter out of wearing a summer dress in the middle of winter (we compromised with thermals underneath), or a winter coat and wellies in the middle of the heatwave - but provided she's not going to freeze or get soaking wet I tend to go along with it and let her work out for herself why it's not the best idea.

Usually we're barely out of the door before she decides she's too hot, too cold or too uncomfortable and asks if she can add or lose an extra layer or go back inside and change.

Katie Holmes has obviously had a similar experience. When asked why Suri didn't wear a coat in freezing New York temperatures she said: "Recently, Suri and I were taking a walk and a fight got started because it was cold outside and she didn't want to wear her coat.

"My philosophy is, well fine, because after a block of walking you're going to ask me for your coat.

"So the pictures of her [without a coat] are sort of embarrassing, but I said, "Suri, I'll take the hit, just put it on when you get cold."

But this habit of criticising mothers for the way their children dress isn't reserved only for those whose daughters favour flimsy pink frocks and blue eyeshadow.

Remember how Angelina Jolie was slated for letting her daughter Shiloh, also five, dress like a boy?

When asked, Ange explained that her daughter has "Montenegro style" (no, us neither), and isn't keen on dresses.

"She likes tracksuits, she likes [regular] suits. She likes to dress like a boy," she told Vanity Fair magazine. "She wants to be a boy. So we had to cut her hair. She likes to wear boys' everything. She thinks she's one of the brothers."

But are Katie, Angelina and me right to let our children choose their own clothes?

"Most parents know that you have to pick your battles and I don't choose clothing as one of mine," says Anita Naik, mum blogger at Living with Kids.

"We might like to think that we'll dress our children in a certain way, but once they are past the baby stage there are other things to argue about. I wouldn't let my kids go out without a coat or wear sandals in the snow, but if you get upset about what your children wear you have to ask yourself if you're laying down the law for your benefit or theirs.

"We all want our children to be happy, and if that means letting them wear crazy outfits, topped off with a tiara and plastic jewellery then that's fine with me."

And let's face it, we've all got better things to worry about, haven't we?

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