Tweens and clothes - parenting best practices?
February 16, 2022 7:51 PM   Subscribe

My almost-nine-year-old is getting increasingly picky about her clothing. How have you navigated clothing choice, fashion exploration, choosing quality, responsible spending, body image et cetera et cetera as a parent?

My usual instinct would be to give her a budget and take her to the mall but between the pandemic and the low quality of most mall offerings I'm leaning towards online options for actual shopping. I'd love to hear philosophical approaches towards kids learning to choose their clothing as well as practical advice.

Please assume I know not to bodyshame, project my own tastes, or sexualize her.
posted by arrmatie to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I buy lots of stuff from Nordstrom. Free shipping and returns. You can use their stylist virtually to help with choice and budget. I can say “androgynous 12 year old who likes grey, and a very girlie 9 year old but no pink” and get a great selection of stuff from Zella, Boden, etc etc.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:59 PM on February 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Not to threadsit, but I am entirely capable of shopping for her. I'd like to help her grow her autonomy so she can eventually shop for herself.
posted by arrmatie at 8:31 PM on February 16, 2022

Best answer: first of all you have my sympathy because this was super rough in the beginning for us.

For my teen, I put her as an authorized user on my credit card so she can shop for herself. She knows the deal: if the clothing is reasonable - she knows what I think is reasonable - I'll pay for it. If she wants to buy stuff that I don't greenlight, she pays for it (paying me back for the cc bill); she has a job. I feel this strikes a balance between incentivizing her to stay within appropriate parameters, which she mostly does, and still gives her autonomy to do her own thing if it's really important to her. And her work ethic is tremendous.

My tween is somewhat picky but not so much so that we can't find what we need pretty easily. Usually I put options in an online "cart", she reviews and chooses what she likes. So far she's been satisfied with that. At some point I'll transition to suggesting two or three websites, and she can fill the carts herself and we'll review together.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:59 PM on February 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Without ANY prompting on my part - other than a complete aversion to sitting in shopping malls - my three daughters discovered "thrifting".

Which they converted to a social activity with their friends. To the extent that one of the favourite birthday party activities was - "Here is $5. Go to local stores and in an hour bring back to the party what you have bought and we will vote on who has spent the money the best."

My middle daughter discovered that using her grandmother's sewing machine meant that the cloth item (bag, vest, jeans, etc) could be both "tribal" and "hers". My youngest realised the same could be achieved with permanent markers aka laundry markers
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 9:44 PM on February 16, 2022 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah I was gonna say, thrift stores.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:58 PM on February 16, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Mine got a reasonable budget paid twice or quarterly for clothes shopping of their choice. I paid for school and sports stuff plus underwear and socks. If they need an outfit for an event not of their own choosing eg family wedding, I paid.

They had free reign over what they wore except if I was going out with them when I could veto outfits but not choose clothes directly. I used that for informal clothes worn somewhere fancy mostly, but not often.

I feel quite strongly that giving them choice and control over their bodies and how they present to the world is very helpful for their confidence. Let them look like clowns as teens so they have a sense of their own style by adulthood.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 10:58 PM on February 16, 2022 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I think 9 is a fantastic time to learn about low-quality clothes because a) they are still growing anyway and b) tastes will change. But I also echo the idea of thrift stores.

Because I worked fashion-adjacent for years I have taken my nieces and nephews and kids shopping and I showed them a few ways to tell if clothes are made well - hold the fabric up to the light, pull at the seams and check the stitching, check button holes, hem allowance, scrunch test, and also try clothes on for fit. I, separately from shopping (I.e. not in front of Old Navy), also talked to them gently about fast fashion and sweatshops. After that, it’s up to them.

With my own kids, I buy them the basics (with them with me) - coats, hats and gloves, boots, shoes, undergarments and socks, and a high quality capsule wardrobe. They are boys so it’s a bit simpler but 5 pairs of pants, plain sweaters, t-shirts, white shirt and dress pants for concerts, suit when required. Then I give them a budget and we shop together (11 year old) or apart (16 year old, I e-transfer to his account.) We go about twice a year, to the shops we like to support, and pre-pandemic to the thrift stores every couple of months, and in the summer they both tend to pick clothes up at outdoor arts and craft fairs etc.

In the pandemic we’ve not gone as often but with waves abating we still have shopped in person mostly (2020 not as much), because they are both very fussy on feel and style. I love supporting independent online shops but part of our environmental approach (this is just us) is to select things carefully and with clothes that is easier in person. Obviously there’s a bit of risk but for us it’s worth it.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:17 AM on February 17, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Also all the kids have bought complete garbage (scratchy sparkly leggings, things that dissolve the the wash), but that’s how they learn. :)
posted by warriorqueen at 4:18 AM on February 17, 2022 [2 favorites]

As an adult woman who doesn’t have kids yet reading this, it’s practically triggering, that’s how painful and emotional my memories around clothing choices and shopping with my mother are. Reflecting on the moments that still make my chest constrict: it was much more hurtful when she tried to make me wear things I didn’t like (but that she thought I looked cute in) than when she used “veto power” on outfits or told me things were genuinely not well made or not flattering on me. I actually think my mom has great taste and I learned a lot from her and I’m grateful for it. But the frustration and shame and violation of my sense of self when she tried to make me wear things I genuinely didn’t feel good in (or expected other kids would tease me for/knew weren’t “cool”) is a vivid emotional memory.

All that’s to say, you’re doing great already, and in my experience gently guiding them away from certain choices or even hard veto-ing isn’t too problematic, as long as in the end what she does buy and wear is something she likes. Try not to talk her into buying or wearing things she is resistant to, even if you think it’s very flattering and high-quality.
posted by amaire at 6:53 AM on February 17, 2022 [8 favorites]

If she gets into thrifting, shopgoodwill can be a lot of fun -- I find lots of high quality things on there for not much more than they'd be in a thrift store, although shipping charges can be high.
posted by jabes at 7:23 AM on February 17, 2022

We go to a local consignment shop, which my kid and I find a bit less overwhelming than thrift stores. She's learning about reusing, shopping local, sort of a Marie Kondo philosophy of dont-buy-it-if-you-dont-absolutely-love-it, whether labels/brands are important to her, a low-risk ($ + time) way to figure out her personal evolving style, and also going on a treasure hunt/adventure with mom. We go anytime she's outgrown clothes and so it's sort of a celebration of her healthy, growing body when it's time to hit the shop again.
posted by rabidsegue at 7:39 AM on February 17, 2022

Best answer: Give her a budget. She'll make mistakes, but that's how learning happens. Also, talk to her about how fast fashion generates masses of waste. Thrifting with judicious additions from the Mall is a great alternative. Maybe have a clothing swap where she and friends can exchange stuff they no longer love. And talk about sweatshops, absolutely.

Once in a while, take her shopping, talk about what colors looks good, shapes, and also, it's fun.
posted by theora55 at 8:28 AM on February 17, 2022

Best answer: I can't help with any of the girl-specific horrors of clothes shopping, but my mom did one thing out of frustration that turned out to be an improvement for both of us: she put her foot down on a shirt I wanted with care instructions she didn't want to deal with. I could have it, but she wasn't going to be responsible for washing it. Up to that point she'd done all my laundry, but she didn't do it on my schedule and I often ran out of underwear before my dad did. And she'd also somewhat recently ruined a shirt I liked, so I didn't see much of a downside to this deal. I thus got the shirt I wanted and a second shirt that also had fussy care requirements, and coincidentally never ran out of underwear again.

I don't know that mom necessarily planned in advance to make me do my own laundry, but by making it inconvenient for me to rely on her she ended up teaching me some self sufficiency, both in the "don't buy it if you're not willing to take care of it" sense and the practical lesson of how to do laundry well before going away to college would have made it necessary.
posted by fedward at 8:34 AM on February 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We use ThredUp-- an online consignment shop with a pretty good search interface. One of the filters is by dollar amount so my daughter and I decide on more than 5 dollars per top. And then she can search by color, by style, by brand, etc. It also allows her to experiment with comfy, high quality clothing while side stepping the problem of fast fashion. It's been a great experience for her and I highly recommend.
posted by jeszac at 9:12 AM on February 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When I was very near that age, I switched over from asking for specific clothing to being given a budget. I spent 80% of the first one on stupidly fancy sneakers and learned a lot from doing so. Getting a ride to thrift stores was also a great opportunity to try out weird stuff without worrying much about the cost. (As a cis guy and an obvious geek, the clothing stakes were very low for me. But, I don't remember any friends being happy about parental guidance when it comes to clothing.)
posted by eotvos at 9:15 AM on February 17, 2022

I completely stopped telling my daughter what not to wear when I realized I never had similar conversations with my son.

They both get clothes in summer and fall. They choose where and what to get. I pay for a certain number of items of each type (shirts, pants, hoodies). They get themselves other clothes out of their own money.

I try to keep any comments positive.

Much different than how I was raised and it has been super hard to step away from "protecting" her from making "wrong" choices. But I think it has worked out well.
posted by halehale at 9:54 AM on February 17, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Thrifting, remaking clothes, and making it fun. My kid has had a sense of style since toddlerhood and I have never had any real success dictating outfits. Their dad and I make the occasional comment on fit (yes those shorts fit you but also I can see your butt cheeks), or appropriateness (visiting some family members, but most environmental). My kid is free to ignore those comments and sometimes does.

We do a semi-seasonal Kondo of the wardrobe, and have a running list of things they want to wear or buy.

However my kid is long and lean. Most fit issues are that the item does up but is far too short (I don't think they have any pants that are not either too short or too big in the waist). This makes things easier than if it were the other way around (aka me). We have always made a point of saying and demonstrating that it's the clothing that is incorrect, not the body, but also being realistic about their growth and proportions. They will keep growing and will get bigger, and sometimes that means growing out of favoured things.

We also have mild wardrobe planning stuff - what are you going to wear that with, do you need more shorts, and so on. There are fumbles and bad choices sometimes, others are the jeans that have lasted six years (!) Or the fact my kid looks great in Capri cullotes jumpsuits with stripes.

We have also moved into foundation garment choices. This is another place to experiment but also monitor. My kid wore compression sport bras for a while but we talked about not sleeping in them (they did once, many regrets), and now have decided on bralettes. They have preferred underwear styles too.

We also budget splurging and discuss the value of spending many dollars on shoes that they will outgrow soon. Particularly since their feet are now bigger than mine so it's not even "convince mum then steal them".

Also a sense of experimentation. Several of my cardigans and shirts have made their way into my kids wardrobe. I am significantly bigger but they work the oversized. It does help that my kid is 100% style over fashion and has always been that way, and is well known for it, so turning up in a handmade dress with a cat print overshirt and boots is met with glee rather than opprobrium from their peers.
posted by geek anachronism at 1:33 PM on February 17, 2022

I'm coming off the high of chaperoning a middle school dance right now so, for once, I feel highly qualified to give feedback as an adult who's on the outside looking in. Tween and teen style is so cool these days, and I love seeing what people choose to wear. I heard a podcast on Gen Z trends and now understand some of the styles, like dark/light academia, cottagecore, kidcore, goblincore, e-kids, etc. I'd start by asking your daughter what styles she likes and is interested in -- pictures online or friends or shopping out and about! This could start with something low-key and simple like choosing a t-shirt at Target to making her own Pinterest under your guidance. I LOVE that people are suggesting thrift stores and sewing in addition to fast fashion and high-end stuff. Going together -- or looking online together -- is a great way to connect. I think researching responsible fashion is important and positive but maybe something you want to ease into so she doesn't feel guilty -- or judge others who may not be able to afford anything else. (I say this as someone who shares your mindset and always seeks a balance, which can be hard in this unjust world.)

I'd focus more on questions than opinions -- not that you would give them but she'll probably ask. "Do you like it? Is it comfortable? Do you feel good wearing it?" as well as "When and where would you like to wear it? What clothing do you have now would go with it?" You could have a phrase like "It's always worth also trying one size larger and one size smaller to see what feels best to you!" which helps eliminate any size shaming. I am so sad to hear that many of the 7th grade girls have been body policed by family members -- for being too tall and "fat" (she was normal!) or being too skinny and to stop exercising (also healthy!) so I'd be aware and ready to deal with extended family there.

Instead of saying anything is verboten, you could try focusing more on when and where it would be fitting. Instead of saying something is too revealing, you could say "that looks like a fun outfit for a party." Same for makeup but, frankly, lots of kids see makeup as more of art or expression than a cover up these days, which is good. A lot of girls -- and some boys and gender non-binary students -- wore belly shirts at the dance; they don't usually and most had a jacket for before and after but it was cute and fine. (I feel comfortable in my almost middle-aged body but damn I wish I had worn more stuff like that when I was younger but felt too self-conscious?)

Speaking of age, most girls look their moms as a fashion influence -- in good or bad ways. I still think my mom is the most beautiful woman -- at least in her 40s and 50s when I was young, and I'm sad that she never felt good about her looks. Modeling positive body image -- and being open about struggles when it feels appropriate, as she gets older if she brings up worries -- is so awesome. For example, "I love wearing yoga pants because I feel strong when I work out / flannel shirt because it reminds me of camping / a special dress to make an occasion feel fancy / etc." The language is about how you feel and what you do rather than how you look. Clearly, you are a great mom and are doing things so well already!
posted by smorgasbord at 1:56 PM on February 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

I might suggest she spend a little time browsing Reddit's Blunder Years for fashion ideas that were educational.
posted by ptm at 3:55 PM on February 17, 2022

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