This might seem like a superficial subject but it is not because people can be tortured for not being in fashion. Especially middle school kids, for whom fashion influences social position.
I have been thinking about this since my son came home and told me that a seventh grader asked him if he was poor after glancing at a hole in his shirt. He loves that green shirt with the black graphic and has worn it out. I guess we should get him some new shirts that don't have holes in them.
Since I have always loved to wear the same jeans several days in a row, I come up short on dress to impress. It is not about righteousness as I like to observe fashion trends, but rather loving sameness and comfort. The problem is that favorite pants may not feel so great if someone makes fun of you. My daughter ran into some roadblocks when she wore her jeans to school three times in a row in sixth grade. Maybe it was fourth. Three girls linked arms and hurled insults. Hmmm.
What to do? Do you buy expensive items you can’t afford? Or buy stuff you can afford but find superfluous or inappropriate just to protect children from harassment? This is a conundrum, especially if you grew up in the sixties as I did. The idea of clothing/fashion as a don’t-mess-with-me-message is troubling. It seems like strategizing to impress is okay when you are an adult in a professional world but kids should be protected from it somehow.
According to Freud, beauty matters to us. Research suggests that grooming can be comforting to women who were physically harmed. We respond to the aesthetics of waiting rooms, museums, homes, faces and outfits. I guess it all depends on what moves you. We can be wowed or repelled. I have noticed that head-to-toe fashion does not always bring out the best in the adorned. Then there are those who are amazing at looking great and not spending much. Creativity, style and individual stamp can go a long way. And good posture can trump all.
When I grew up, whether you had some money or not, it was considered poor taste to try to openly display it. Being understated was the way. It never occurred to me that it would be hard on my kids if we did not strut certain purses, cars or shoes. I was shocked ten years ago, when an 11 year old girl with a haute wardrobe spent the afternoon with us, looked me up and down with disdain and then demanded a return on her scoop of ice cream at the local store because it did not have enough chocolate chips.
Families who are struggling to pay bills and have a child who is teased for not having the right clothes can feel torn. I wish it were just cool to shop at the Gap or similar stores and be done with it. Recently I read that Princess Kate shops at the Gap.
The heartening thing is that the parents of other 11 year-olds I know these days are pretty laid back. It’s a nice group of kids. We lucked out with that. Perhaps the school’s emphasis on character and current attention to bullying in society helped too.
In the end, I would say, just do the thing that empowers your family financially and otherwise. If that means spending less, that can go a long way for building character, resourcefulness, confidence and creative skills.
Creativity according to Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, is going to be the most valuable quality for the next generation.
I will be better about watching for holes though.
Carrie Barron, M.D., is a psychiatrist and co-author of The Creativity Cure: A Do-It Yourself Prescription for Happiness, which she wrote with her husband, Alton Barron.