I'm a Boy Mom Who Lets Her Kids Wear Dresses & It's No Big Deal


Megan Zander

My twin boys are almost 5, and like most kids their age, they have very strong opinions about their clothes. Sometimes that means we argue over whether or not they can wear shorts in the middle of January (sorry, boys), and sometimes they beg me to wear the same pajamas three days in a row. But the one fashion choice I won't second-guess them on is the sparkly, floaty dresses they lovingly call their "tutus."

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I wasn't always so laid-back over the idea of my sons wearing "girl" clothes. Even though I've always thought of myself as the kind of parent who would encourage my kids to follow their hearts, when my sons asked me to buy them dresses, my gut reaction was "hell no." I'm ashamed to admit that my first thought was that people would make fun of them (or worse) for wearing dresses, and my momma bear instinct to protect them won out over the desire to let them express themselves.

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I knew their asking for dresses wasn't a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Clothes don't have any bearing on their gender or sexuality, and I know wearing a dress doesn't mean they'll be asking a boy to prom one day -- though if that does happen, I'll happily be there to snap all the pictures. I love my kids for who they are, but my fear of other people's reactions made me temporarily throw my own carefree attitude about clothes out the window.

I was also worried that my husband would think I was forcing this upon my sons. He's seen me linger over the Barbies when we stroll down the toy aisles, and heard me mention ballet lessons more than once. He knows I would have loved a daughter to go shopping with, and I feared that he would think I somehow convinced our boys to get these dresses even though it was 100 percent their idea.


Megan Zander

The first time my boys made a plea for wearing tulle, we were at the store buying birthday gifts for two of their female classmates. Naturally, I had to snap up the purple Trolls dresses with attached sparkle skirts. My boys saw what I was buying and instantly made a bid for the dress that most closely aligned with their individual interests. My Olaf-obsessed son said he wanted a Frozen dress, and my son who insists he's going to be a chef one day fell in love with the Shopkins gown, because it has food on it.

At the time, I didn't stop to think about why they might want a dress to wear. Instead, I instantly imagined someone laughing at them for wearing a dress and decided it was better to spare them that embarrassment and pain. We left the store empty-handed that day. It took some time (and lots of whining on their part) for me to see why my fears weren't worth stifling their imaginations and creative spirit. 

When the dress campaign continued relentlessly at home, I started to consider why my sons might want to wear these dresses. Part of it was because they had characters on them they liked. As someone who owns no less than five Cinderella-themed Alex and Ani bracelets, I get that. And part of it was that they knew their classmates were getting ones just like them, which of course automatically ups the cool factor of anything, even chicken pox.

Four days after our birthday-gift shopping trip, when they were still begging to go back for the dresses, I asked them point-blank why this was so important to them. "So we can dance ballet with you, Mommy," they said in that tone preschoolers have that both melts your heart and makes you feel foolish.

I grabbed the keys.


Megan Zander

Even though I knew I was doing the right thing for my kids by getting them their dream dresses, I still felt like it was an unusual situation. Was I trying to force my kids into being the girls I didn't have? I confessed to a close friend about what I bought for the boys, wondering if she would secretly think it was strange. Without missing a beat she told me how her toddler runs though her house wearing his older sister's ballet costume on the reg.

That's when I realized that, to my boys, putting on a dress is no different than putting on any of the other costumes in their dress-up bin. If they too had an older sister, I wouldn't think twice about their trying on her princess gowns. And I'd never bat an eye at a girl wearing a firefighter hat or a ninja outfit. Kids are taught gender norms, but their baseline is to want to play with everything, and I want to encourage that.

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Since then, the tutu dresses make regular appearances in the boys' outfit selections. They'll put them on and demand that I drag out my old dance costumes and show them basic ballet moves, which usually devolves into their trying (and failing) to break-dance or doing somersaults across the floor. They'll put on Daniel Tiger and point out all the times that Katerina is dressed in a ballet costume just like them. And then they'll trade out their skirts for their firefighter uniforms and start a whole new game that involves "rescuing" the cat and breaking the rule about not jumping on the couch.

So far we've been the subject of a few snickers and whispered comments when the boys have worn their dresses in public, though thankfully I've been the only one who's noticed. I know that one day our luck will run out, and my boys will have to deal with a mean comment from someone with a narrow worldview about clothing and gender roles. I can't protect them from bullies forever. When the time comes, I hope to handle it gracefully, to instill in them a sense of self-confidence that encourages them to keep dressing in the way they feel most comfortable.

Until then I'll just watch my little boys twirl, knowing they're loving the freedom that comes with expressing themselves without limits.

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