One of my earliest memories is of itchy taffeta as it chafed my upper thighs, lining an already uncomfortable dress. I was only 3 or 4 years old — still too young to dress myself (or so my parents said). It was Easter Sunday, but perhaps Thanksgiving; that part's fuzzy. What I recall most is the discomfort: Feeling like I was being punished for a crime I wasn't aware of committing. It's remembering this feeling that makes me certain I won't force my kid(s) to dress up for holidays.
Because my daughter is only 4 months old as I write this, I am currently the one in control of her wardrobe. Dressing her up every morning is one of the best parts of my day, but it's also something that will pass as she begins to develop her own tastes and the ability to vocalize them.
In the meantime, I try to exercise mindfulness when shopping for my baby. While my eyes do sometimes gravitate towards princess-like dresses and tutus, I make sure my kid's wardrobe is a mix of gender neutral options alongside the super feminine and more traditionally boyish styles. I don't want her to ever feel like her dad and I are pushing a look or an agenda onto her. I don't ever want her to feel limited.
When I think back to that party dress my parents put me in, however, I definitely felt limited. I felt as though I couldn't run as fast as the male cousins around me; as though I couldn't just relax and enjoy myself without worrying about ruining the outfit and upsetting my mom; as though I couldn't just be me. If there's one parenting goal I have, it's for my daughter to always feel free to be herself.
Of course, it's possible that my daughter will love dressing up. Personally, I went through stages of both adoring and abhorring dresses and skirts in equal measure, depending on my age and the current trends at school. But she might not. The point is that I don't have any clue of what her personal style will look like. All I know for sure is that I always want her to feel comfortable.
I want my daughter to feel like she can climb the tree or run in the field or play with the neighbor's chickens or cuddle the family dog or sit down for a holiday meal without having to worry about how her ensemble might interfere with those plans.
I want my daughter to feel like she can climb the tree or run in the field or play with the neighbor's chickens or cuddle the family dog or sit down for a holiday meal without having to worry about how an ensemble might interfere with those plans. If she's happy to do all of those things in a dress, then I'll be happy as well. If she's not, then I'll be willing to forgo any images of cute toddlers in tutus in lieu of her wishes.
As someone who works in fashion and finds quite a bit of empowerment and self-actualization through my wardrobe, I am aware of the benefits of developing and building one's own sartorial preferences. I know that the perfect dress will help me feel strong and professional, ready to kick ass at work and as a mama. I know that the right combination of prints might help me feel bold, visible, and powerful. But put me in an outfit that I don't love — in an outfit that I, for whatever reason, feel forced to wear for someone or something else — and my energy dwindles. My creativity rusts.
I want every special occasion to feel precisely that: special. As soon as she's old enough to start telling me of her likes and dislikes, I hope to help my child feel special in whatever way I can, even if that means allowing her to choose some tatty, stretchy jeans on Christmas Day instead of a red velvet dress.
Looking back onto my own childhood, I often wonder if part of the reason I developed social anxiety and mild agoraphobia was my perpetual discomfort with my clothes. Some might think that's a far-reaching conclusion to come to, but I didn't dress myself until I was much older than my peers. Even if my mom hadn't been keen on choosing my outfits, there weren't a lot of options around for children my size as I grew rounder and plumper come pre-puberty. Fashion didn't really seem like it was "for me," so I usually just wore whatever was put in front of my face. The inevitable discomfort would soon follow, particularly during holidays or other formal occasions. The bigger the audience, the more severe my awkwardness.
Sure, I understand that dress codes are an inevitable part of certain aspects of life — to be found in some educational institutions, some work environments, or some weddings — but they are not an inevitable part of all aspects of life. Holidays, in particular, feel to me like opportunities to catch up with family and friends in safe, welcoming environments. Even though they should often come with stress warnings, I don't really believe they should. I certainly don't believe they should be synonymous with the development of anxiety over what this aunt or that grandparent thinks about your outfit. Even if it is, that's not a type of anxiety I'd ever want to subject my kid to.
I don't want to subject my kid to the pressures of dressing a certain way before other people around her inevitably and unfortunately do so, be it her peers or teachers or bosses. I don't want to be yet another force telling her that she needs to be more done-up or girly or professional. Escaping such messaging is nearly impossible, at least in our current cultural climate. I don't foresee that changing anytime soon. My daughter will at least escape it at home, though: A place where she can know the comforts of a Lion King sweatsuit or the fun of a pom-pom-emblazoned dress, or neither, or both.
That includes during the holidays. I want every special occasion to feel precisely that: special. As soon as she's old enough to start telling me of her likes and dislikes, I hope to help my child feel special in whatever way I can. Even if that means allowing her to choose some tatty, stretchy jeans on Christmas Day instead of a red velvet dress.