If you head down to your local mall and sit in the food court for a few hours people watching, you'll notice a disturbing trend....everyone is wearing the same thing. And not in a positive, “U-N-I-T-Y” kind of way. No. People are dressed alike in a “we are desperate to be old/young/cool/hip” kind of way. At times it appears that whatever the fashion world dreams up, trickles down to everyone regardless of their age or lifestyle.
Which begs the question, “what exactly does age-appropriate mean and why should we be concerned about it?” What's the fine line between trendy and absurd or obscene? As I shared in my previous post, I have a daughter who is growing up rapidly. She has already outgrown Children's Place but is not quite ready for the Junior’s Department. She wears a woman's size 8 shoe, but is not ready to wear heels. She can't fill up an A-cup bra, but she needs more coverage than a tank top t-shirt. Did I mention that she’s only 10? You can imagine the challenges I face trying to dress her.
What's a mom to do when her child is outgrowing the clothing designed for her age group? How do you create age-appropriate looks for the clothing she can fit? How do you help your child find her personal style in the midst of evolving trends? These are important questions, because kiddos who dress too-grown sometimes have too-grown attitudes and will soon be giving you the too-grown blues. Head this problem off at the pass by choosing the right looks now.
Too-Grown VS. Age appropriate looks
For me, one of the easiest ways to do this is a game I call “Dress & Play”. Essentially, you and your child open their closet and play! Working together, try to match as many items into outfits as you can using only clothing currently in the closet. This encourages your child to cooperate in dressing themselves which gives them a sense of ownership and freedom. As you work through the game, make note of items that you may need to purchase such as a new pairs of jeans or white shirts (to replace items that have grown too small). Make it fun by giving your child the freedom to create their own looks and establish uniqueness without judgment. You will be amazed and what your child already has and what they come up with. Also, you’ll have the opportunity to see their personal style and personality taking shape as you watch what they select. Is your child conservative, edgy, or sporty? You may not know for sure if you have never tried it!
Here are a few extra tips to help you get the most out of this fun game:
1. Choose at Stage One and Edit at Stage Two
Remember, the first step in “Dress & Play” is to let your daughter choose her own outfits, non-judgmentally. Be sure that you don’t cringe or start to criticize her as soon as she reaches for that shirt you hate. This will damage her self-esteem and your relationship. Your daughter, more likely than not, already has a personal style that is all her own. It simply needs to be shaped and molded into something that she can grow with and that you will both enjoy.
You may be wondering, why does it matter how you both feel about the outfits? Great question. There are times when every member of your family will need to dress a certain way, such as when you go to a wedding or when you attend a company picnic. These occasions are ripe for disagreements and last minute meltdowns. However, if you have used “Dress & Play” to prepare in advance, you will already have selected outfits which honor and appreciate your child’s personality and are perfect for the occasion. Remember, your daughter will be more open to your suggestions, if you listen to hers.
For example, if you follow her blog, Chastity has shared that her daughter is very sporty. Left to her own devices she would wear a sweatsuit everyday. Although Chastity is very “girly”, she doesn’t impose her style on her daughter. She does however, help her choose feminine sporty items and accessories such as pink bedazzled tennis shoes and fun graphic tees and sweat suits. She makes suggestions by asking questions such as “How about the pink one?” or “How do you think the black would look with yellow earrings?” or “Which one do you prefer?” This revealed what her daughter was actually aiming for - comfort. She found out that her daughter didn’t really care about color, only that she could move and play. The end result is that they can now make fashion choices together that honor who her daughter is and that she enjoys as a mother.
Imagine if she had ignored her daughter’s desire to be athletic? Her daughter would have felt ignored and devalued and probably tried to express her “sportiness” in a rebellious way. Instead, she is now the cutest little athlete on the playground. You are the first model your daughter sees on a regular basis and more than likely your style has influenced her (whether you know it or not), but don’t expect her to be a carbon copy - she is her own unique person.
2. Be a Good (Role) Model
While we’re on the subject of you....what message does your wardrobe send to your child? Are your clothes age-appropriate? Is there a clear distinction between your closet and your daughter’s? When I played this game with my daughter, I discovered that she had already learned a lot from watching me. For example, I noticed that although she liked the way the tight, too-small clothes fit her, she had already learned to wear layers so that the outfits didn’t look inappropriate. Layering is something I also do. I love layers, so I was happy to see that she had noticed how to work with them as well. As the game continued, I noticed that she changed earrings with each different outfit which let me know that, like me, she likes accessories. For me, my daughter had indeed picked up certain aspects of the way I dress. She has her own style, and her own way of executing it, but she has learned some techniques from me.
Now think about your wardrobe. As your daughter’s first teacher, would you want her to imitate you and wear what you wear? If not, think about the messages she may be receiving from you. Do you secretly hate shopping or have body issues? Do you ensure that whatever you choose, it is neat and ironed? Remember, your daughter will sense how you feel about yourself and your clothes and may begin to display it in her wardrobe.
3. Work Together to Revamp and Recycle
After you have assembled every outfit you can, there will certainly be a few left over pieces that don’t seem to have a mate. This is when it’s time to “Revamp and Recycle”! Allow your daughter to be creative. For example, if your daughter had a two-piece outfit one piece of which has long ago gone missing, what could she do with the remaining piece? Could you she pair a jacket with a dress, or use the skirt in a new way? Could she add a scarf that seems to go with nothing to one of the outfits you’ve already created? If the answers are no, or the items are absolutely too small or beyond repair, it’s time to recycle.
First, recycle items which have holes in them or are torn or aggressively worn. No one would want to receive these items so it’s best to take them to a clothing recycling center. Some communities have special recycling areas for clothing and there are some non-profits that turn old clothing into rags and resell them to support rehabilitation facilities. The point is to identify and discard anything that is no longer useful to anyone.
Next, allow your child to help you prepare a bag of clothing that may be too small but is still in good shape to bless another child. It is imperative to do this together so that your daughter learns how to be blessing to others and how to sow and reap the right way. Notice that this includes throwing away anything that is truly damaged. This teaches your daughter to give her best and expect the best in return.
How often you do this is up to you. Unfortunately for my family, we do this a bit more because my daughter's growth spurts occur about 3 times per year. It has been my experience that the fastest growing spurts happen during summer and after winter. Her job is to set aside the clothing she can't fit, not the clothing she doesn't like. This teaches her not to be wasteful. Whatever she doesn't like, we revamp.
4. Twinning Isn’t for Everyone
Thanks to Instagram and Pinterest, we all dream of perfectly twinning with our daughters. We think we’ve failed if we don’t capture that picture perfect look. However, remember that creating a kid-friendly version of your outfit can mean collaborating colors or adding your personal “momminess" to her look, instead of dressing identically.
Please understand, that if you have found ways to “twin” with your daughter that are comfortable and age appropriate please continue to do so. I personally, however, found that identical dressing was confusing for my daughter because the lines became blurred as to which items were appropriate for children and which items were appropriate only for moms.
This problem will also be even more difficult for parents with overly developed children. If your child already looks older than her age because of the way her body is built naturally, twinning may not be the best idea. She won’t need any help looking older so, if you have trouble finding age-appropriate twin outfits, focus first on ensuring that she looks like a child. She will grow up fast enough and you will have plenty of opportunities to twin when she’s older.
5. The One with the Gold Makes the Rules: Don’t Succumb to Peer Pressure and Mall Pressure
The mall offers many good (and bad) choices for age-appropriate fashions for your daughter, so don’t fall victim to the pressure from your daughter, her friends, or from retailers to choose items that look too old or things you really aren’t comfortable with her wearing. The clothing you choose should make you feel at ease and make your daughter feel cute but should be pieces that are not revealing and which do not make her look older than her age. Remember, you are the actual customer, not your daughter or her friends.
The fashion world is now appealing to "mini me" look a-likes or “mommy and me” fashion trends, so it can be a challenge for moms to identify which items look too adult for their growing daughters. A good rule of thumb is, does your daughter look older than her age when she puts on the outfit? Would she be mistaken for a girl who is a few years older than she actually is while wearing the outfit? This is a great sign that the item is not age-appropriate. Your daughter should learn, even at this young age, that she should not try to attract attention (from her friends or from boys) by dressing to look older than she is or to look sexy. In the end, this results in attracting the wrong kind of attention and causing your daughter to adopt an inappropriate “too-grown” attitude which could become a big problem for you and her.
Since we as parents usually purchase our children’s clothing, we are partly responsible for whether or kids fall into the too-grown trap. For example, my daughter loves anything that sparkles and is fitted. If I would allow it, she would probably wear a sequined dress to school. To make matters worse, she’s curvy for her age, so to ensure that I keep her sassy, sparkling looks age-appropriate, I buy shirts which cover all her curves, especially if she is wearing fitted jeans. I also add fun, colored Converse sneakers or leather flats to her outfits and complete her looks with a big bow hair clip, which she enjoys and looks child-like. Because she loves them so much, I purchase them in a variety of sizes, colors, and textures. This gives her the opportunity to add her own flair to her outfits with her pre-approved pieces. We top her looks off with Chap Stick, earrings, and her favorite smelling body spray. She's comfortable, age appropriate and hygiene covered and, as an added bonus, she feels super cute.
Finally, please remember that the vintage style of children’s dress which we wore when we were young has not lost its style. Knee socks, frills, tutus, skater dresses, and peacoat never go out of style. When we were children, we always looked appropriate because (quite frankly) our mamas didn’t play that. Times have changed but values never should. Children should look their age because, as we discussed, what they wear impacts their attitudes and personalities.
You can beat the “too-grown blues”. Just remember that your children need your help to ensure that they look their best even as they are developing their own personal styles. It's only when we become dis-interested or ignore who they are, that they want to take on an inappropriate style of dress and personality and try to be “too-grown”. These are also signs that its time for deeper conversations about what’s going on in their lives at school and with their friends. Don’t run from it, embrace it, and believe that you and your daughter will look great and beat the “too-grown blues”.
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Curtisha loves sitting on her balcony and watching the sun set. In her spare time you can find her relaxing reading a great book, traveling across the country, and spending time with her husband and children.