8 Things You Don't Have To Do When You Dress Your Son
From the minute you make your "it's a boy!" announcement, be ready for the onslaught of blue-colored everything. From balloons to receiving blankets, you'll be drowning in a sea of blue. Once your baby is born, you'll receive countless baby clothes that all reaffirm the same thing: the baby wearing them is undeniably a boy. So it's somewhat understandable if you feel like it's your obligation to continue this trend of "masculine" dressing. The thing is, though, there are so many things you don't have to do when you dress your son. And, you guessed it, dressing your kid in blue is one of them.
When it came to dressing my first son, I thought I had to acquire as many navy-colored or grey-colored clothing items as possible. Ditto for little polo shirts, anything with suspenders or bow ties, and shoes that looked "just like dad's" that he would kick off after wearing them for 2.3 seconds. Of course, there was nothing wrong with dressing him in these clothes, but I recognize that I was pretty rigid in sticking to the gender stereotypes when creating his wardrobe of what was without-a-doubt "boy" clothes.
With my second son, however, I loosened up, mainly because I was exhausted but also because I just didn't care as much. I had more fun dressing my kid outside of a tightly proscribed gender code and in loudly patterned pants, cream-colored sweaters, and little French boy outfits. And as my first son got older, I've gotten more fast and loose with his wardrobe, too. He wears pink without protest, would like to dress up as a female anime character for Halloween, and wears his hair long and messy. I'm glad that together we've come to a place where neither of my sons bat an eye at a boy in a nightgown, or think anything of a girl wearing boy's underwear with a boy haircut.
So with that in mind, here are a few things I've learned as the result of dressing my sons. Trust me when I say you can survive that sea of blue. In fact, you can ignore it entirely.
Put Him In Anything Proclaiming Him A "Ladies Man"
You may think that one of the first things you need to do from the moment your baby boy exits the womb is declare that he will be a future womanizer. But you don't. Really, and truly, you don't. In fact, please, for the love of everything that is good in this world, do not feel the least bit obligated to put your newborn boy child in onesies that say anything like "Future Heartbreaker," "Ladies Man," or, "Stud Muffin". God help me if I see any babies strolling around in a "Lock Up Your Daughters" onesie, because I'm just not sure what I will do. Your son may indeed grow up to be a misogynist, but at least give him the chance to come to that conclusion all on his own without having to walk around with the label since birth.
Side note: I totally dressed my first-born in a little tuxedo onesie on New Year's Eve. It's no "Stud Muffin" shirt, but it feeds into outdated tropes of masculinity in a lot of the same ways.
Only Dress Him In Things With Sports Imagery On Them
I cannot count the amount of baby clothes I received with all manner of sports-related equipment on it when I had my first son: basketballs, footballs, soccer balls, tennis balls (really, so many balls). It was like the world was trying to tell me and my baby that if he didn't grow up to enjoy and excel at sports then why even bother with life? On top of that, I felt like a huge poser, parading my son around in shirts with baseball gloves when I'm the least team-sports-oriented person on Earth. It felt like putting the shirt of someone else's favorite band on my kid and not having ever listened to one of their songs. Despite having worn a number of these sports-themed shirts as a baby, my first son dragged his heels to every soccer class for the past two years and can't get excited about athletics unless it is ice skating or swimming.
With my second boy, if someone gifted me a sports-themed clothing item it either got relegated to the back of the drawer or I donated it to someone else (sorry friends who got me any such gifts). He loves princess dresses, but he also loves soccer.
Adorn Him In Baseball Caps
Why limit yourself to baseball caps? Are you always at a baseball game? How about a cute bonnet (with dinosaurs or trucks if that makes you feel better), or sailor hat, or beanie, or pageboy cap? Accessories for kids are so in, so you're not just limited to the one cap sold at The Gap. There are so many to choose from!
Only Buy Him Costumes That Have The Word "Man" Or "Hero" In Them
If your son enters a dress up phase, as both of my sons did at around age 2, you may be tempted to steer them in the direction of superhero costumes or costumes that epitomize the hardworking range of male characters that make up, say, a Peppa Pig book: firemen, policemen, construction men, etc. But if your son keeps picking up the scarf from the dress up box and fashioning it into a dress and a shawl and calling himself a princess, what are you going to do? Are you going to keep buying him more hero and worker costumes in the hopes that he just hasn't found The One yet?
Forget it! You do not have to provide your son with only superhero or boy-themed costumes unless you come from the school of thought that jobs like police work and construction work are ones best (or only) performed by men.
Constantly Tell Him How Much He Looks Like A "Little Man"
When you tell your kid that he looks like a "little man," you're really just complementing yourself on how "man-like" you've dressed him. He has no idea what you mean when you say he looks like a "little man," and does not beam with pride at the idea that he looks manly.
Apologize Or Make Jokes To Other People Anytime He Wears Something Pink
I've totally caught myself doing this: I'll dress my son in a pink shirt or salmon-colored pants, and inevitably someone will comment on his outfit. They'll say something like, "Whoa! We're rocking the pink today!" And then I'll say, "Real men wear pink," or, "It looks funny, but whatever," or something like that.
But why even comment on pink being a thing? It is just a color. We ascribe so much meaning to color and it's association with gender. My 2-year-old son isn't "rocking" anything. He is wearing the shirt I selected for him, that is pink, and goes well with the hue of denim I picked out that day. It is not a statement, but rather, just some clothes.
Discourage Him From Wearing "Girl" Costumes During Dress Up
So your son isn't into that fireman costume, and he is begging you to buy him an Elsa dress. I hear you. That was me. I took far too long for me to wise up and buy that damn dress, mostly because I was afraid it would lead to more and more dresses. But so what if it did? Some boys have endless costumes for their Star Wars obsession. Mine has costumes for his princess obsession, just like most of his female friends in preschool. At age 3, his gender is still fluid. He only knows what "boy" clothes and costumes are because those are what I dictate them to be. There is no rule that boys can't dress up as fairies, mermaids, and princesses. You don't need to enforce something that is arbitrary.
Make Him Feel Ashamed If He Wants To Wear Dresses, Skirts, & Other "Girl" Clothes
It is one thing when we are talking about dress up and costumes, and another when we are talking about every day clothes. It can be hard when your little boy suddenly expresses that he wants wear clothes like the girls in his classroom are wearing. You might think your job is to reinforce the idea that "girls wear this" and "boys wear that" because you are trying to protect him from the judgement of the Big Bad World. One of the tools often in a parent's arsenal tends to be fear. As in, "If you go to school dressed like that, people might laugh at you." But it doesn't have to be this way.
When my son started telling me that he wanted to wear girl clothes occasionally out of the house, we talked about it plainly but without shame. I told him that sometimes people might mistake him for a girl when he wears those clothes, and I asked him how he felt about that. He was OK with it, and said that he would just tell them he is a boy. I explained that most boys wear pants and shorts, so that it might be confusing to people when they see him in a dress, but that he can just tell them that he is a boy when that happens. His response? "Yes, I do tell them already." Because of course this has already been happening during his outings in his princess dresses. He understands it to the extent that a 3-year-old can, and so far he is willing to take the risks. I will do everything I can to not make him feel ashamed of his choices and feelings.