Over fall break, I was in Boston with one of my good friends to look at law schools. On the way to find food, we found ourselves in the shopping district. Predictably, we got caught up in clothing stores far longer than we had budgeted for. My friend has a very distinct sense of personal style, loving classy neutrals, whereas my style consists of whatever gets me through the day, or what I steal (borrow) from my more fashionable friends. Both of us love clothes and style, even if I’m quite a bit messier.
Then we saw the Doc Martens store. Quality, timeless, fashionable boots, that are also a hit to your wallet. On the farthest wall, we spotted Doc Martens for babies. “This is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen,” I said. I don’t even like babies that much. I’m not fond of kids. But seeing the boots that I think are the epitome of coolness shrunk down to such a cute size – something just came over me.
Like, I’m gonna have the coolest baby EVER. My one year old will be edgier and more stylish than all the other one year olds in daycare.
And then the price tag. On the Doc Martens website, baby Docs can range from $30 to $65. I don’t have a good sense of what most parents spend on clothes and shoes for their kids, but the idea of someone spending a lot of money on Docs for a child is a little funny to me. Do babies even need shoes? And why do they have to be fashionable? Like, I’m gonna have the coolest baby EVER. My one year old will be edgier and more stylish than all the other one year olds in daycare. See my baby wearing tiny Doc Martens? Yeah, I’m preparing them for art school.
(To be fair, I can’t say much – I wear my Docs to my English classes and my Iris magazine meetings.)
This leads me, of course, to think of what my mother had me wearing when I was just a toddler. Usually, I overrode my mother’s authority by wearing tutus when she wanted me to wear, y’know, real clothes. I had to be a fairy princess. Mom won on church days, though. I think I wore long-sleeved velvet dresses in maroon and black, at least in the winter. Sometimes there would be a ribbon around my waist. What I hated, however, were my squeaky black Mary Janes and the frilly, lacy white socks that had to be folded down at the top so that the lace would sit right. Colorful tutus were acceptable in my eyes, but god forbid I wore frilly white socks. What kills me is that Mary Janes and those white socks are now kind of in style for my age group–the friend who I went to Boston with was wearing them the other day in class.
Parents sometimes dress up their kids to an aesthetic, that’s for sure. Maybe the Goth mom has a Goth kid, and the preppy dad has a preppy kid. But what if there’s something a little more sinister going on? To understand a certain factor that influences how some parents dress their kids, let me take you to a time even before birth; the “gender reveal party.” The gender reveal party, which started out as a simple celebration of birth, seems to have morphed into a trend of massive parties, where cakes or balloons (or guns or explosives) reveal the assigned gender of the not-yet-born child. To the point where it’s become a meme, they use lines like “Is it a cupcake or a stud muffin,” or “touchdowns or tutus.” What silly phrases; what high expectations for a kid who hasn’t even seen the light of day yet.
Most people have probably heard a parent say “I’ve always wanted a girl,” or “I always wanted a boy.” Why? And how many trans and nonbinary kids have heard their parents say that they were heartbroken they “weren’t our baby [gender] anymore”?
On another note, how many kids just want to wear the clothes that aren’t assigned to their gender?
Parents could buy a shirt that depicted their belief and give it to a child to not only pass down that belief to the kid, but have the kid advertise that belief. It almost becomes part of that kid’s identity.
When I was a preteen first becoming interested in fashion and clothing, I remember looking at the target girls’ clothing section and seeing the walls plastered with colorful clothes with catch phrases like “GRL POWER” and “Girls Can Do Anything,” all over them. I didn’t like them at the time – I still don’t – partially because they were a little ugly and corny. Mostly though, it wasn’t my conception of feminism; it was a corporate entity’s conception of feminism that is attractive to their somewhat liberal consumers. Parents could buy a shirt that depicted their belief and give it to a child to not only pass down that belief to the kid, but have the kid advertise that belief. It almost becomes part of that kid’s identity.
This is the key: appearance and identity are connected. We put our beliefs into our clothes; you know what, girl power is great! We put how we want to be perceived; my fellow English majors MUST know I’m cool and maybe even think I make good points in class. Even our own personal tastes are part of who we fundamentally are; I’m just not a mary janes kinda girl, yknow?
A parent’s ideals and hopes can often be projected not just onto a child, but onto the appearance of a child. These hopes could be “I want my child to be a feminist.” Maybe a parent wants to raise their child to know that personal presentation is important in certain situations. Or “I want my child to learn how to express themselves creatively, including through clothes.” Most simply, parents might look at a cute piece of clothing in a store and decide they absolutely have to see their child wearing that. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of this, and it can manifest in cute, endearing, and even mildly funny ways. My favorite blog/social media account of all time, Humans of New York, used to photograph toddlers in adorable outfits with the caption “Today in Microfashion.” I ask though – where’s the line between wanting your kid to look cute and projecting more than your child ever asked for onto them?
I’m still figuring out how I present myself, how I decide what I like, and how I want others to see me based on my clothes.
I’m still figuring out how I present myself, how I decide what I like, and how I want others to see me based on my clothes. I do love my Doc Martens, but the steps from here are a lot bigger. Do I want to dress more masculine or feminine? What do I feel confident wearing? Am I trying to appeal to a certain group of people when I dress? What do I want to convey? Most importantly, why can’t I make this sweater look right?! The french tuck isn’t working!! My mom casts a few less judging looks on my outfits when she visits. Am I getting more stylish or is she accepting that I have a different (worse) idea of what clothes to wear?
My greatest hope is that people can start asking these questions when they feel ready, and to have their own unique answers supported by those who love them most.