Why I Let My Teenage Daughter Wear Whatever She Wants (Really)

mother daughter shoppingIf you're one of those moms who spent your whole life dreaming of dressing up a little girl in frills and bows, then having a daughter who's obsessed with fashion is probably the best thing ever. If, however, you're a mom like me (i.e., NOT fashion-obsessed), it's a very different story.


Don't get me wrong: It's not that I'm anti-fashion, or that I don't like getting dressed up or shopping or spending hours in the aisles of Sephora (which isn't exactly fashion -- it's beauty -- but aren't they connected?). I like to look good, sure, and if I ever had an excess of free time and/or spending money, I'd probably give the whole style thing more thought -- but putting together the perfect ensemble has never been a chief preoccupation of mine.

My 14-year-old daughter, Charlotte, on the other hand, has been obsessed with fashion since before she could walk. At the age of 2, she would fixate on certain items of clothing with the discerning devotion of a budding stylist; at the age of 3, we nicknamed her "Imelda" because her shoe collection was so ridiculously extensive. She racked up an embarrassing number of "tardies" during her first year of school simply because deciding on the right outfit every morning was such a high-stakes task.

I know what you're thinking: Why didn't I just make my 5-year-old fashionista pick out an outfit the night before and force her to stick to it in the morning? Well, because it became very clear to me very quickly that what Charlotte wore meant a lot more to her than it did to the average 5-year-old. It wasn't just that she wanted to wear pink every day or rejected any item of clothing that didn't have polka dots or butterflies on it. Her choices, and her process for making those choices, seemed much more emotionally fraught. It was as if building her wardrobe and building her identity were intrinsically linked.

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And so, because my own preferences were (and are) not nearly as particular and are far less crucial to my own mental health, I essentially gave Charlotte free rein over her what she wore every day. Partly because I thought this freedom was important to her development, and partly because it was so much fun to watch her sense of style emerge. Part of it, too, had to do with the fact that my mother more or less insisted on picking out my clothes until I was pretty much in high school (granted, I went to Catholic school and wore a uniform every day so there wasn't much wiggle room, but still). At almost 40 years old, I still don't feel like I've developed a solid personal style -- and while I certainly don't blame my mother for this (a lot of it has to do with my personality and the fact that I started having kids young, which meant I spent most of my 20s covered in spit-up and Cheerios crumbs), I think having more control over the contents of my closet as a kid probably would have helped.

So when we go back-to-school shopping, I'll be largely hanging in the background. Charlotte is about to start high school, a phase of life when personal style is of the absolute utmost importance (no uniforms at her school!), and the last thing she needs is a fashion-challenged mom holding her back! Actually, I'm hoping she can give me a few tips this time around. I'll never have as many shoes as my daughter did when she was 3, but I could still use her help picking out a good pair of boots.


Image via © sturti/iStock

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