PARENTS

How Do You Dress Your Children? For Your Enjoyment Or Theirs?

08/04/2013 10:32 | Updated 22 May 2015
How do you dress your children? For your enjoyment or theirs?WENN

When my son was a baby, I used to entertain myself by buying him a variety of 'amusing' rock and roll onesies. (Hey, listen – I was very sleep deprived and babies don't care what they wear, they're too busy wondering what all the people with the big faces are staring at.)

As he got older, though, I was still doing it. There was the 'What Happens At Nursery Stays At Nursery' T-shirt, in pretty sky blue. And the guitar ones, and the drum kit ones, and the ubiquitous nautical stripes.

Never have I put him in a shirt, and I would rather die than force him into a waistcoat. He's happy to wear retro Snoopy tees and baggy shorts, and I thank God he's inherited my scruffy gene and isn't pestering for a three piece suit and a pocket watch.

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Personally, I am highly suspicious of smartly dressed children. They look like tiny, creepy risk assessors who work for Morgan Stanley.

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Obviously, though, dressing your child is a deeply subjective thing. Maybe you like to put your children in cut-off tops that say 'WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT?' or 'MY DAD'S IN PRISON.' Maybe you like them to wear preppy gear that makes them look like they've just graduated from Harvard. Or maybe you favour the full shell suit with gold chains and high tops. It's up to you.

Or is it?

When you've been dressing your kids since birth, it's easy to assume they'll like what you like - until they're old enough to articulate their opinion, that is. Then you find that ACTUALLY, little Jimmy wants to dress like a fairy princess, and Amelie and Imogen the angelic twins would rather eat poo than wear matching outfits.

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But because you're in charge of their sartorial 'choices', often you can end up dressing them in what you prefer. Cue an army of kids in Ramones T-shirts who have never heard a note of a punk song. You can even – perish the thought - end up dressing in the same clothes.

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Take actress Selma Blair, who recently went out for a coffee with her baby Arthur, dressed in identical sailor tops and jaunty white shorts. OK, so it was cute photo op, but I've lost count of the amount of times I've subconsciously colour coordinated with my son (although I draw the line at a Cookie Monster hat and Crocs). And it seems I'm not alone.

"Yes, I do dress them for me," admits Ellie, a mum of four. "Some of the clothes my 10-year-old wears are just smaller versions of the clothes I choose. And because I love stripes, we've often gone out looking like a bunch of sailors."

So are we busy creating a legion of Mini Mes? Or just being practical? "If my boys choose what to wear, the five-year-old will pick his favourite Land Rover T-shirt (too small) and my three-year-old would wear his Spiderman costume everywhere, even to bed," says Eloise.

"It's a constant compromise, but practicality has to rule, otherwise we'd look like a family of weirdos."

And there's the rub. Ask children what they like and they'll invariably pick the most monstrous thing ever to belch its way out of a Primark bag. Like a tropical fruit playsuit, or a slutty Rihanna knock off bra top with 'I'M A DIVA' emblazoned across it in diamante.

When I was a kid I once proudly wore a disgusting pair of leggings with 'New York', 'London' and 'Paris' written across them in a variety of hideous splattery neon fonts, and I thought I was the coolest. Looking back, I should have worn the Laura Ashley dresses my mum favoured.

But now I'm a parent, I think there's more to choosing your child's clothes than parents just imposing their will on their kids. I can see that selecting your child's clothes is a way to preserve their innocence, and keep children looking like children.

While my mum put me in gingham and Mary Jane sandals, I wanted to be Olivia Newton John in Grease (the slutty off-the-shoulder version who bumps buns with John Travolta in the Shake Shack) or Suzi Quatro playing guitar in a skin-tight pair of jeans.

It's an ideological battle that still rages on today. "We're OK now, but a couple of years ago my daughter wanted to dress like Katy Perry and I was more 'Little House on The Prairie," sighs mother-of-one Shelagh.

The thing was, when I was kid, I didn't know the women I wanted to emulate were sexy, I just thought they were nice, pretty ladies. I also didn't know that if I'd dressed like that, it would have been highly dodgy, not to mention hilarious.

Today, there are even more opportunities for kids - especially girls - to dress inappropriately. And as popular culture becomes increasingly sexualised, we hold the key to their wardrobe tighter than ever.

But maybe as our kids get older, we need to back off a bit and meet them in the middle. Sometimes – just sometimes - they can make good clothing choices, even without your input or futile waving around of the Boden catalogue.

"My nine-year-old son only wears brightly coloured skinny jeans, skateboard T-shirts and Converse," says Claire. "My seven-year-old daughter only wears leggings or skirts and dresses with leggings or shorts underneath (in case of an unexpected high wind!). I think they look pretty cool so I let them choose their own stuff. Actually, I have style-envy."

Do you enjoy choosing your kids' clothes? Are you inadvertently styling mini-mes?

Nicole Richie on Childhood Fashion Blunders and Harlow's Style Independence

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