Although back-to-school shopping was always a treat for my daughter, when I would broach the topic with my son, I would be met with an eye roll.
My son cared little for new clothes and was disinterested in the entire process. His goal was to minimize the amount of time spent shopping, regardless of the outcome — which is not uncommon for boys. So, like many parents, I took note of the styles, colors, and basic brands he would tolerate, purchased them in his size, and left them in his room. This worked for us.
My daughter, on the other hand, would be giddy with anticipation as we would approach the stores. Although she was appreciative if I picked up a few items for her when I was alone, she loved the hunt and the satisfaction of leaving the store with an array of potentially life-changing attire.
She always knew what she liked and did not like, and what she wanted — even though we did not always agree on price and style. More than once, a dress or blouse was returned to the rack, because I made the executive decision that the style was too grown-up for my child, regardless of the perfect fit.
Decisiveness in a diminutive shopper can be an admirable trait, but fixation on a particular dress she “had to have” was a different story. Her “needs” resulted from a confluence of factors: occasionally, an actual need — after all, she was a growing girl; a desire for a varied wardrobe with pieces that worked well together; and, finally, the insidious need to be fashionable.
Is ‘fashionable’ so bad?
“Fashionable” is not a bad word, but it becomes the Holy Grail for many youngsters at increasingly earlier ages. Often, sporting the latest fashion can be fun and even exciting. By the time they are in middle school, children should know the relative price of the brand names they are clamoring for, with respect to similar generic items of equal quality. My daughter’s bid for a brand-name item I personally owned was quickly shot down, as I explained to her that we were not equals and that she could invest in such a label when she joined the over-40 set. Too often, these mini fashionistas forget that they are still kids.
Now that my daughter is turning 18, she has noticed that I am more flexible with my approval of her choices, if I am involved at all. The price and styles appropriate for an 11-year-old, a 15-year-old, and an 18-year-old about to go to college are — and should be — different.
I have learned that if your child tells you that he does not want the designer labels, listen to him. Years ago, I made the mistake of forcing my teenage son to accompany me to a store frequented by many of his peers. After all, it was conveniently located, the clothes were neat-looking and conservative, and he spent all of his time in “running pants.” Suffice it to say, it was not a pleasant shopping experience for either of us, and he never wore the clothes.
In comparison, my daughter knew which labels she wanted before opening the door of the store. In her case, and that of like-minded, fashion-forward youngsters like her, it is important to tell them how you feel about labels and the value — or lack of value — they have to you. Your child will appreciate your honesty. Then, I believe it is important to temper their desires.
Occasionally, I’ve found that even a few, small brand-name items, like a headband or belt, would please her and take the place of filling an entire closet with overpriced items that would only fit for a few months. Either way, it may sound superficial to an adult, but to an adolescent, it is very important. A battle should not erupt between parent and child, simply because the clothes do not match the parent’s taste, or she fears that giving in will create an insatiable monster. Although a parent does not need to satisfy all of her children’s requests, there is a middle ground.
Judging people by their labels
When my daughter was younger, I was in control. I bought what I wanted for her, and she loved her clothes. Complications ensued when the label requests started coming from her. I would be less amenable to appeals for faddish items or certain seasonally limited items. I was circumspect about restraining my acquiescence to her pleas: I believed that total compliance was neither appropriate nor necessary — not to mention pricey. Unfortunately, in her school, there were plenty of parents who would never dare say “no” to their little princesses.
Still, I was not averse to every label request. Many of the styles were cute and would look good on her. I knew that the higher prices reflected the market value of the particular brand name. And yet, I recognized that for adolescents, it is normal for them to want to fit in and be popular — and the clothes can help.
Although I would agree to some reasonable requests, I tried to teach my daughter that there were people who would judge her by her clothes, and not the person wearing them. By fourth grade, I cautioned her that, although she was old enough to pick her own friends, if she chose the ones with those values, they would turn on her one day, when she would not be able to keep up with their boundless acquisitions.
Luckily, she chose friends who had better values.
How not to break the bank
So, I knew where I stood on this issue, and my next hurdle was figuring out how I could buy my daughter some of the labels she wanted, without the frustration of knowing that I was paying well more than the item’s value. It seemed to be a slippery slope, as the requests for So Low’s and Juicy turned into pleas for Marc Jacobs and Herve Leger.
When she was younger, she was pleased if I sometimes purchased last year’s styles or popular knockoffs of the big names, and I was a connoisseur of sales and off-price stores that carried the brands du jour. But, as she entered her later teens, she clamored for higher-end labels and only the current year’s fashions.
The price tags were higher, so I would pay the amount the item should reasonably cost, and she would pay the difference between that price and the actual price — the mark-up resulting from the brand name. Faced with this scenario, the “need” for an item would sometimes wane. Other times, we would engage in heavy negotiations, as if we were in a Middle Eastern bazaar.
Once in a while, the answer was just “no.” Those demands were either for totally inappropriate garb, or for items that I would deem way too costly for any teenager to reasonably own, even if she offered to muster every last penny she had to cover the full cost.
Ultimately, there should be a balance, in accord with family finances, parents’ wishes, and to some degree, adolescents’ wishes. After all, even though I eventually got a pair of red, faux-leather, wooden clogs, I would’ve given my eye teeth to have owned the Olaf Daughters blue suede ones that had become so ubiquitous by 1973.
Risa C. Doherty is an attorney and freelance writer from Long Island.
Ban brand-name items?
Some children are as opinionated as toddlers about their clothing preferences, expressing them loudly, whether it is a fondness for pink, clothing with “Dora the Explorer,” or just a comfortable-feeling garment. Some precocious Coco Chanel wannabes can coordinate an ensemble before they can read.
As they get older, many become more vocal and are acutely aware of the social impact of clothing. There are positive aspects to allowing children to select their own wardrobe, however. For those children who are interested, it is a form of self-expression. It helps those who prefer to blend in, blend in, and those who prefer to stand out, stand out. Moreover, everyone is happy to feel as if she is starting her day and meeting her peers looking her best — even as kids.
Still, there can be an inordinate level of importance placed on clothing labels. Many adults prefer certain brand-names, because they believe a certain level or quality will be associated with them, while others prefer the label’s cachet. The latter seems to be an ongoing issue for many parents and their children.
It is a phenomenon that pervades most socioeconomic groups. The name on the label may differ from neighborhood to neighborhood and school to school, but the issue remains: Clothing choices can impart a certain status to the wearer. If a parent prefers to reject the latest fashion trends, that is fine; some parents find certain brands’ styles too provocative for their youngsters.
Of course, usefulness, fit, and durability are most important for garment purchasing decisions, but a parent should not turn a blind eye to the wishes of her child.
I would advise against a total ban on all brand-name items, depending on your progeny’s peer group and your means. Adolescence is hard enough without a parent facilitating pariah status for her kid.
If a parent chooses a particular neighborhood or school where literally all of the students sport certain brands, it is almost cruel to deny the child (who has asked) all access to those items. Like it or not, these brands become part of the culture of the schools, and, at a certain age, adolescents can embrace them and covet them, or abhor them.
Risa C. Doherty is an attorney and freelance writer from Long Island.
Copyright 2011 by Risa C, Doherty