Darn You, Dress Code!


This is not the dress code story you think it is. This is the story of a mom, who was hoping for an easy way out of the millions of hard decisions moms make every day, who instead had to learn – not nearly for the first time – that the important parts of parenting are rarely easy.

A few short years ago, I had a preteen daughter who was adamant that she wear only modest clothing. Legging required tunic tops. Necklines could not sag. T-shirts were tossed out right and left when arms raised above her head revealed even a sliver of her abdomen. While finding just the right clothes was sometimes challenging, I was quite satisfied with this state of affairs. I was relieved – it could be so much worse, right? I was… smug.

dress code

Lesson #1:

Being smug is never a good look. No parent of a teen should ever be smug about what we think we know of our children and our parenting. If the toddler years did not make this clear, the teen years will give you another chance.

More recently, my newly-minted teenager was preparing to transition from homeschooling to a new school to begin her freshman year of high school. Back-to-school clothes shopping was top priority for both of us. For her, to outfit herself in awesome stylish fall fashions. For me, to find her some school-appropriate attire, or in other words, any top that was not at all cropped. As we shopped, I realized our goals were at odds. Imagine if you will, her current preferred style – a cropped top (that looks to my mom eyes exactly like a sports bra) with an open cardigan or un-zipped sweatshirt over it.

Lesson #2: Adolescence can be a complete metamorphosis, and the child you knew may not be the teen you have.

So, I suggested (what I thought was) a perfect solution. Let’s get a couple of things that we are sure meet the school’s published dress code, and then we can add more to her wardrobe after we see what the girls are actually wearing at school. Again, I fell victim to ignoring Lesson #1. I was smug in my years of parenting experience and knowledge the school’s dress code, which forbid the revealing of one’s midriff.

Lesson #3: Relearn Lesson #1

Turns out that no one at school seems to care about or enforce the dress code that says no bare midriffs. Sigh. My attempt to shrug off my parenting onto the school and their flimsy dress code was not going to work. DARN YOU, dress code! Instead, if anyone was going to rein in my daughter’s style, it would have to be me.

But I didn’t. Even if my daughter’s style makes me a little uncomfortable, what is my goal? To make me happy? To protect my image as a “good mom?” OR do I really believe all the things I have said to her before?

  • That it’s up to her what she does with her body – what she wears, what feels good and what doesn’t.
  • That her body is not a commodity to be consumed by others but her own, to use for her own enjoyment and satisfaction.
  • That it is not her responsibility to use her clothing – or her body or actions or life – to make others feel a certain way or to ensure they do not feel uncomfortable, distracted, pleased, or otherwise.
  • That what a person wears tells us little about who they are, and dress codes confuse assumptions about a persons clothes with their value as a person.

If I really believe all those things, then my job is to keep my opinion about my daughter’s clothing to myself. So that is exactly what I do.

Lesson #4:

Strive to be the parent you imagine on your best days. Be who you say you are. The kids are watching.


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