Catherine (right) is wearing her Mom's solid black Tahari blazer.
From a Mom to a Mom...
Self-expression at the Expense of the Group
Fighting with kids about what they wear is not a battle many parents want to fight. I admit, it is a difficult battle, especially with the driving force of our culture being profit. But teaching our kids how to dress, along with every other type of education, is very important. A school dress code can be frustrating, most often not because of the rule itself, but because of the inconsistencies with the way it is enforced. However, parents should aim at buying their kids' clothing according to their school's dress code. It is a battle worth fighting. The deeper issue here is not the school dress code, it's allowing our kids to focus on the needs of self rather than the needs of the group. I get it. Reaching a common goal with a group is not easy, and it doesn't take much to distract people from the goal and take huge steps backwards, whether at school, work, or whatever. Our culture places an emphasis on building one's own brand. Serving the needs of self seems to be far more important than serving the needs of the group. Self-expression and developing as an individual is vital, but not when it consistently becomes more important than the love and service of others.
There will be a time and place where kids can have more freedom of self-expression than others. Helping them understand this concept is very important in life. While teaching young people the importance of dressing professionally for a job interview, we often address the frustration young people have with denying self-expression with their clothing. Depending on the culture of the company you are interviewing with, often the employer is most interested in your willingness to work on a team, skills and experience. Before a word is even spoken, an employer can get a good idea about who you are simply by how you dress. If we won't teach our children to respect the dress code at school and care about the impact their clothing choices have on the people around them when they are young, they will likely not care about their presentation for a future job interview. There are ways to stay true to self, all the while respecting the boundaries set in place for a common goal to be reached. I tell my children all the time, when you are in charge, you can make the decisions. Until then, respect the boundaries put in place for you and understand it is for the good of our family as a whole. The needs of the group matter too.
Professional attire has evolved and especially for women, it doesn't have to be boring to be acceptable.
Thongs are Easier to Find
Ironically it's not like dressing our children in adult-like styles is uncommon. Bikinis are available for toddlers. Thongs with "Call Me" are available for our middle schoolers. From our tweens' favorite role models, the music they listen to, and the clothing we buy them, we are training up our children earlier than ever to focus on their bodies rather than who they are and what they have to offer as a whole person. Why is it we seem to quickly buy the most adult styles for our daughters, but putting them into professional attire when it's appropriate is so arduous?
I went to Nordstrom, my favorite store most of the time, to look for a blazer for my daughter. (She often comes with me to volunteer at the Top Buttons Boutique and you better believe I have her dress in appropriate yet stylish attire.) Nordstrom had no blazers or structured clothing in her size. One of the reasons I love Nordstrom, is that you can always count on them to have the best customer service and the most current seasonal items available for every family member. I know going into summer, there are not many moms looking for blazers for their pre-teens. But I still had hope that they would have something along those lines, since I normally do not leave the store disappointed. I even talked to the the kids' department manager about my concerns, who confirmed what I was thinking. They had nothing of the sort for pre-teens. Thankfully, H&M and Gap Kids had some options, and I snagged up a couple of pieces to pull off just the right edgy yet structured professional look for my daughter.
It really is easier to find a thong for our pre-teen than it is a blazer. This is a problem. Our daughters are smart, strong, bold, and talented. They are more than just a body. Buying clothing from a young age which places an emphasis on their developing sexuality rather than who they are on the inside reinforces that standing out is connected with their body alone. "If your clothing is overly revealing, you may have difficulty getting attention for your ideas," states Leah Bourne, a contributor for Forbes Magazine. While they are harder to find, a blazer speaks a much more powerful message about who our daughters are from within and what they have to give.
Brooklyn's Blazer (Left) is from H&M Kids
Clothing has Power
Yes, beauty comes from the inside out. Let's keep working on that. But we need to make sure we understand that what we wear affects the way we feel about ourselves internally. The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology conducted a study called "embodied cognition" which revealed that we not only think with our minds, but also with our bodies. Further studies show that clothing directly affects the brain of the wearer depending on two factors: symbolic meaning and the physical experience of wearing the clothing. This is referred to as enclothed cognition.
So yes, What clothing is bought and worn by your daughter will affect the way she views herself. This video explains the concept well.
Dressing in pajamas at school, will likely result in a more relaxed and less attentive student. That actually makes sense. Putting on all the newest, stylish running gear plus a pair of new Nike shoes, may inspire one to run faster and longer. That makes sense too. What about boho and relaxed clothing in the work place? ... What about seductive and revealing clothing on our daughters? Will it encourage our daughters to behave more provocatively? This is a question we need to ask ourselves. Most parents do want to give their children the resources needed to make healthy choices. Since clothing does impact decision making, we should place a high priority on filling our kid's closets with proper fitting attire.
Pull it off with what you have in your closet already, plus one key structured item like a light weight sweater or structured jacket.
Contextually appropriate attire, or (contextual modesty) is simply "Clothing which fits the setting its being worn in"
Tips on how to get our kids wearing contextually modest clothing:
- Ask them questions to get them thinking: What message do you want to send with this outfit? Where are you wearing it to?
- For a potential job interview, study the culture of the company to find out the appropriate attire to wear
- Give them options
- Encourage them to do it from a young age and it will come more naturally when they are older
- There will be places they can have more style freedom. Give them opportunities to have more freedom in other settings.
- Help them to recognize the importance of group goals over their own
- Buy them clothes that fit them properly
- Support role models who dress creatively but tastefully. Steer clear of those who reinforce self-absorption, provocative behavior, and disrespect.
- Shop together and find what you both like
Other ideas for accomplishing the professional pre-teen look:
- Put on your favorite romper accompanied by one of mom's blazers and roll up the sleeves
- Throw on a nice spring dress with appropriate coverage and a low heel. It looks tasteful and will work great for most business casual settings
- Loose fitting trousers or harem pants can even fit the part if paired with a structured top
- Depending on the event, even black denim pants with a simple neutral top and bold color blazer will send the right "I'm here to work" message
I remember a conversation I had once with a dad about the clothing his daughter was wearing. The story went something like this: Mom and Dad were divorced. Mom always bought the daughter whatever clothing the daughter wanted. She was a tall and beautiful young woman, with the shortest shorts and often very provocative attire. Dad took out his frustration on his daughter, often griping and complaining about what she wore. I offered a potential solution for Dad to take his daughter shopping with the only condition being that Dad will only buy it if he likes it. Knowing that Dad sees the problem and is offering a solution rather than just complaining is a step in the right direction. You may be fighting a battle you feel like you are losing. But as a parent of a beautiful, tall pre-teen daughter myself, I can say that teaching them the importance of sending the right messages with their clothing is important enough to sometimes fight about.
If we don't educate and equip our daughters on how to present their best self on the job, at school and in life, the fashion and media industry will. And we may not like the outcome. I would recommend we start by finding them a blazer.
Cheney's Yellow Blazer is from Khols
Makeup was done by the one and only, Yolanda Delacerda. We love you!
A huge thank you to Beth Carter for jumping in as photographer. She photographed our very first Top Buttons photoshoot back in 2012 and has been such an encouragement ever since. Her work is exceptional and she captured the essence of what I was looking for with this article, perfectly.