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Posted at 9:13 AM ET, 09/ 9/2009

School Fashion Issues Start Early--And Don't Go Away

By Valerie Strauss

When I was in junior high school it seemed that everybody but me had cool Villager skirts and designer shirts. My family went to Sears to buy back-to-school clothes, and I tried to replicate “the look” but it looked like I was trying. I remember giving up (opting instead for jeans and T-shirts, a different kind of uniform) and secretly hoping that people would stop judging each other by their clothing.

Fat chance.

My colleague Jenna Johnson’s story about middle school fashionistas is an engaging reminder that kids--girls more often than boys but boys too--care about clothes, want to fit in with other kids, and don’t really understand how much a new wardrobe costs.

The story focuses on middle school, noting that that is a time when girls’ bodies are developing and a focus on fashion becomes sharp. Elementary school kids, however, are not immune to this mindset--and neither are high school students. In fact, for many people, it never goes away.

There are real questions about what parents should do about this.

You can tell your kids that fashion doesn’t matter and they shouldn’t get stuck on the superficial, but that isn’t going to change their minds. It is going to make them think you have no idea what they are going through because fashion does matter.

If you are lucky enough to have the resources, you can deck out your kids in the latest designer stuff, presumably with the hope that it makes them the coolest kids in class. Beware, though, it could make them objects of ridicule.

A better bet is to help your kids express themselves with their clothes in a way that fits your budget and your own sensibilities--and your school's rules. It is not a crime for kids to want to fit in with their peers. At the same time, it is important that they hear from you that clothes don’t make the person. Over time, the message should sink in--as long as you really believe it and model that notion in your own life. Kids can tell whether you mean it or not.

How do your handle your children’s clothing desires? What advice do you have for other parents?

By Valerie Strauss  | September 9, 2009; 9:13 AM ET
Categories:  Parents  | Tags:  Back-to-school clothes, Parentings  
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We have just returned to the area after living abroad. When I took my daughter to school yesterday what struck me most was the amount of makeup many of the (very lovely without makeup) girls had on. Dark eye shadows better suited for evening. Enough makeup and powder to sink a battle ship (I'm sure there's real skin under there somewhere). Way too rosy cheeks. In addition to being really expensive, it must be incredibly time consuming to put it all on, every morning. My daughter asked me what these girls did to look "special" at the prom. I didn't have an answer (none of us, my daughters nor I, wear makeup except on special occasions, and even then very little). Even the HS girls, to me, seem to be trying way, way too hard. Wait until they get to college. There -- college, where my middle daughter is this year -- the girls seem to roll out of their beds in yesterday's jeans and a t-shirt, barely get their hair under control, maybe brush their teeth and wash their faces before heading off to class. I do not mean this as criticism, either. The focus should be less on appearance and more on substance, both in terms of the girls themselves, as individuals, and on learning, which is why they're at school in the first place.

Posted by: VirginiaReader1 | September 9, 2009 9:54 AM | Report abuse

I am forever thankful that my 7th grader daughter set her style back in preschool (skirts only) and never strayed. Of course, it has changed as she grew older (long skirts in 3rd grade) but she's comfortable with who she is and what she wears. If others balk at her style - that's their problem, not hers.

Posted by: slackermom | September 9, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse

My daughter has about a hour's worth of chores to do when she comes home as well as other things, and she gets $10/week for it. That's enough to save up for something she really wants. She knows I'm good for a certain amount of clothing and after that, she has to pay for it. She gets that $$ spent for clothes means less $$ for other stuff. I figure it's good practice for real life.

Posted by: aallen1 | September 9, 2009 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Setting aside the fact that these are 12-year-old girls in absurdly short skirts, why is middle school fashion a front page story?

Posted by: tomtildrum | September 9, 2009 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Not just a front page story, but one with people that are so utterly ridiculous I weep for this country!! If that's what girls are led to think is so important god help us when they become women. All public schools should require uniforms like my stepson's-- it takes 90% of the focus off the clothes and everyone is much more equal. Girls, be tomboys! It's much more fun than being a fashionista.

Posted by: genxer | September 9, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

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