This post by the ShinyRedRobot, and La Comtesse's contribution to the fashion pot luck dinner that ensued, got the ol' cerebral cogs a turning about my relationship with my daughter's clothes. Each time I let go of a rope tying me to their wardrobes, I think it’s the last one. Until of course I untie the next one.

When Manaia was a baby, I had more baby clothes than baby to put them on, and if you take into account how often you need to get a baby changed over an average day, that’s saying something. I freely admit I was one of those mums who dress their babies for their own amusement. Big puffy marshmallow snowsuits for the perilous trip to the shops (in the car)? Check. Bobbly-eared hats? Check. Even those little headbands on her baldy head sometimes, because it made me laugh.

When she was a toddler, I realised she was a person, not a plaything, and let go of the desire to dress her for my needs. I bought clothes that were practical and would all go together, with a few pieces bought purely because I liked them thrown in too. How mature, I thought to myself. I’ve managed to let go of that control – teenager-hood is going to be a breeze.

Then, when she hit about four, I really realised she was a person, not a plaything, and let go of the desire to dress her for my needs. She fell in love with a horrible vinyl dress my mum found in a charity shop (for about 50 cents I think), and if it wasn’t in the washing machine, dripping wet on the line or hidden quickly enough, she had it on. It was a horrible thing, candy floss pink with puff sleeves and ruffles in the most flammable-looking material you’ve ever seen, and a white ribbon around the waist. I couldn’t stand it, but she loved it so she wore it (she also loved to wear shoes to bed, but that’s a different story). How mature, I thought to myself again. Now I’ve really managed to let go of that need to control. Look at me, not worrying that people are going to look at her and assume she’s a freaky spoilt brat who lives in a perpetual state of birthday-partyness. I have got this thing down pat.

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As she wears a uniform to school, that’s not been an issue so far, apart from the Sports Jacket Incident. Last year, clever little money-saving me bought a second hand sports jacket for her to wear, as I knew I would need to get a new one this year as they’ve changed the school emblem. Obviously, Manaia preferred to freeze all winter than wear it, but I was magnanimous about it. I let her. The rest of the time, she gets herself dressed not by climate, not by occasion, but by proximity and affection. I’ve walked past her sitting cheerfully on the couch in a woolly hat and tights, long socks pulled up past her elbows and a frilly strappy top and shorts that her bestest (if slightly taller) friend handed down to her the day before.

So, after the last ‘how mature’ thought process, I really did think I had it beat. Even as I was thinking she needed new clothes so I wouldn’t look like an uncaring/unhip parent. I went out and got her a pair of skinny leg jeans, a purple tunic with skulls on it and a black woollen swing jacket for her trip to New Zealand.

When she got home from school, she tried them on and told me she liked them, and we decided that I would return the jeans and top for a different size, and she’d be set.

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What I hadn’t realised was that I was so busy thinking about how I was letting her wear these fashionable things and not keeping her in childish clothes, I had forgotten to actually ask her what she wanted.

On the morning of her flight, we set off for the shops, to do just that. We changed the sizes, came home, and an hour or so later I went into her room to pack for the trip. To cut a long story short(er), she didn’t like the clothes and had only said she did so I wouldn’t get upset.

I got upset.

Then she got upset. I felt bad that she hadn’t felt able to tell me she didn’t like what I’d picked, and managed to convince myself I was the worst mother out there. That my child was afraid of me. How had this happened? Where had I gone wrong to make it so hard to tell me such a simple thing?

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I dug through the rubbish bin for the receipts. I made her come and help dig through the rubbish bins for receipts. We went back to the shop and hour before we had to leave for the airport (without the receipts) and changed all the stuff for things she chose.

For those of you who have noticed the theme here, it’ll come as no surprise to hear that I hadn’t let go at all. I was still dressing her like a toy. She didn’t want to dress like a little fashionista. What she wanted was more 60-year old-retiree-on-a-trip-to-Vegas. She chose:

  • a pair of leopard spotted leggings
  • a purple leopard spotted tunic
  • a fire-engine red Chinese Dragon top
  • black and purple striped leggings

There was a matching black and purple striped top that had chains across the front, but we didn’t have enough on the exchange note for that too. Standing in the changing rooms with her, I overheard another mum talking to her daughters.

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“And so you like it? And you’ll wear it?”

Aha, I thought. All my fears of having done something wrong were well, wrong. It was nothing personal at all! All kids will at some point either say anything to get out of the shops or say what they think you want to hear in case they make you sad. It doesn’t even matter if it will or not – they’re kids, and you’re their parent.

And the playing field shifted again. Things weren’t as I thought they were, and I looked back and wondered how I could have thought (only hours before) that I knew what was going on.

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Eventually, we did get to the airport. Marching across the car park, I looked at my daughters and felt even though I had said it before, this time I had really really let go. There was Manaia, struggling with her backpack and checking she had a pen to draw with, in her leopard print leggings and tunic, with knee high ‘pirate’ boots (they’re suede with buckles up the sides). She found it, and sighed, looking up at me and smiling before skipping to catch up with Mr_Beani.

And marching next to her was Lotte, with her Batman hologrammatic jandals, red and black striped leggings, faded ‘Bratz’ tee shirt she thinks is the best thing ever as it used to be Manaia’s, blue woolly ski hat with ear flaps and pom poms dangling to her shoulders, and a bunny nose and whiskers drawn on her face. She also had carrots drawn on both her forearms in case she got hungry as a rabbit, and my library bag slung over her shoulder and bumping along the ground (it had some jelly snakes and ‘bip lam’ inside). Even though I was a little behind, I could still hear her singing “Pumb it – LAGER – pumb it – LAGER!” without a care in the world. Which I suppose is how the Black Eyed Peas would like their song “Pump it” sung.

Anyway, watching them, there was another shift. Aha. I haven’t let go of what they look like. I do mind what they wear.

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And it doesn’t get more personal than what they’re wearing.

I loved what they were wearing. I loved that they came up with these outfits themselves and went with what they wanted to wear, not caring what anyone else thought.

Their choices actually suited them down to the ground. They looked exactly like themselves. How many of us can say that about what we’re wearing today?