Smarty Pants?
August 30, 2010 11:32 AM   Subscribe

Was there ever a study that suggested that children become more successful / independent / happy / etc. when they're allowed to choose their own outfits from an early age?

My brain insists that I heard of such a thing, and brought it out in a conversation the other day. Following up after a "citation needed" comment I'm not finding anything on the Google. Usually my memory about this kind of random information is pretty accurate, so I'm holding out hope that I didn't file away some self-proclaimed expert touting anecdotal evidence.

(In case it's not clear, I'm not interested in anecdotes. Unless they're really, really, REALLY cute anecdotes, of course.)
posted by rouftop to Science & Nature (3 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Anecdotally, my friend's little brother got to pick what he wore when i knew him at age 4 or 5, so he almost always wore this spiderman shirt that had webbing between the arms and body, and sometimes a cape. He was awesome and as near as I can tell he still is ten years later.
posted by cmoj at 1:05 PM on August 30, 2010

I don't have any citations but I do use dressing as a way to coach parents about autonomy. Kids get to pick, but only from 2, MAYBE 3 outfits. Once they pick they're done and that's what they're wearing for the day. This helps when kids run amok and tear up their closets and parents feel like they can't set limits. I assume this sense of autonomy might lead to increased confidence and age appropriate separation behavior.
posted by ShadePlant at 1:32 PM on August 30, 2010

When looking for scientific references the trick is to think about how scientists would perform the study and how they would word it. Looking for a correlation between child clothing choice and success is going to be too long to conduct and open to misinterpretation. And happiness is too subjective (it's frequently written as "self-reported happiness" in papers, which is okay for adult studies, less useful for children).

You'll have more success looking for terms such as "sense of self", "pleasure", and "perceived importance". When you find an article that's close to what you want (but not quite), you can still mine it for more fitting search terms.

I tried searching for "children choice clothing self" in Google and Google Scholar. The top results in these searches identified references that were close to what you're looking for (I think! see list below), but more time sifting through would likely find more exact articles.

From preliminary reading your theory sounds entirely plausible, though, so I think you will find something useful.

Some results:

Children's clothing in child care (warning: pdf). Not really a scientific reference, but at least from a reputable source (the National Childcare Accreditation Council).

Children's Involvement in the Choice of Clothing in General and With Three Clothing Items in Particular (also pdf).

A paper on clothing choice by teenagers:
Symbolic consumption in teenagers' clothing choices

For a slightly my more generalised perspective on consumer behaviour (in children as well as adults), this article, Possessions and the Extended Self (another pdf), appears to be a landmark review (almost 2000 citations, which is a lot). It might give you a sense of how the field looks at this sort of thing, which should further help your google-fu.

Good luck!
posted by kisch mokusch at 3:25 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

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