They Dress Themselves


“They dress themselves.” I once added this line to the end of a family bio, when we were the “Family of the Month!”  at our daycare. The bio hung on a bulletin board in a communal space, a few short paragraphs surrounded by pictures of our family.

As usual, our portraits showed off my children’s smiling faces, which glowed with the inner light of their stunning beauty (I might be biased). Also, as usual, they were all dressed like complete clowns. 

When it comes to this clothing debate, here’s what I do care about:

  1. I insist that my kids wear clothes that they can play in. I will not buy shoes that cripple my daughters on the playground. Girls need to run and climb just as much as boys do.
  2. I insist that my kids wear clothes that are mostly weather appropriate.
  3. I insist that my kids are relatively clean, have brushed their teeth, and have reasonably brushed hair.

Other than that? Game on, kids. Go get dressed.

One daughter wore a Batman costume – a literal Batman costume – as often as it was clean for nearly two years. Her love for Batman is endearing enough that my family showers her with Batman-themed gifts at every holiday. She has Batman shoes, Batman shirts, a Batman swimsuit (well, rash guard which she wears as a swimsuit, if we’re being technical here). She can rock Batman head to toe, and frequently does.

She also loves knee-high socks, but kinda prefers them to be mismatched. She likes me to do her hair “owl style.” She’s growing out her bangs, you see, and if I put two small rubber bands in the crown of her head, she can imagine herself in feather tufts. Her current favorite accessory is an owl hat, which is something of an evolution. For a while, she’d rock one of our impressive collection of capes.

My other daughter has a more Punky Brewster vibe – she likes leggings under dresses, with layers and accessories. She cares mostly about comfort, about soft fabrics and stretchy t-shirts.

Look: I know these are fashion crimes. I really do. I know, also, that there will almost certainly come a time when they’ll begin to choose their clothes to please other people, rather than please themselves. They’ll become increasingly aware of social norms, of fashion, of how they “should” look. They’ll pick up on the rules that no one has written, or taught, but we’ve all learned.

I also know that I’m in the minority, here. I think many moms enjoy dressing their babies and children, curating adorable outfits. I think that many moms feel a pride and comfort in a child who looks cared-for and correct. I think it’s fun for them, and a way to show love. And somewhere, I do wish I could wrap my kids in the armor of proper clothes, if only to protect them from imaginary people who might assume that they are being raised by wolves. After all, I apologize in our family bio, don’t blame me, I implied. Blame them. They dress themselves.

HOWEVER. I, myself, would rather poke myself in the eye than wrangle a baby into suspenders, no matter how adorable it makes the baby. 

I, myself, think that a pre-schooler wearing a cape is the very pinnacle of cute. I love bed head, floppy hair on kids who refuse cuts, pinks matched with reds, sparkles over stripes. I love the glimpse into their creative/crazy junior brains, who try out the feeling of being a superhero, the feeling of being a princess or a dragon. I love giving them the responsibility over their own choices, in an age when they have the power to choose so little. I love washing my hands of the whole messy business of trying to make them look correct.

I love that it’s deeply temporary. The Batman phase, the cape phase, the owl phase – they will be too brief. So for now, dear daughters, dress like fools. May you never lose your originality. May the confidence of your early childhood never wane. 



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Maddie is a recent transplant to the Northern Kentucky Area, where she moved last spring after a decade in Columbus, OH. She’s the mom of three kids: A son, born in 2009, and twin girls, born in 2011. This is as exhausting as it sounds. Luckily, she thrives on chaos. She balances the glamour of working full time with the rigors of first grade homework, playing dress-up, and moving mountains (both metaphorical mountains, and mountains of laundry). She had hobbies once, but doesn’t quite remember what they were. Now, when she gets a moment of free time, she uses it to catch up on her wine and/or sleep, usually in that order. She also loves to cooking, running, singing badly while playing her guitar even worse, and reading.


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