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Building A Strong Mother/Daughter Relationship: Help Her Find Her Fashion Style
Every girl, tomboy or faerie princess, has a style and fashion sense all her own. By personal fashion sense I don’t mean buying the latest, hottest designs, spending gobs of money, or having everything fancy all the time. I mean knowing how to dress and groom in a way that presents your personality to the world, the outside matching the inside. It means being and looking comfortable in your own skin. That “skin” includes the outfit, makeup (optional), hair style and accessories. The mother-daughter relationship can provide a safe haven for a girl to blossom into her personal style, or it can be a minefield littered with the mother’s issues. Most mothers mean well, but the strength of their reactions to a daughter’s appearance can catch them off guard. Developing a girl’s personal style can be a fun bonding experience, or put mother and daughter at odds.
A Tale of Two Aunties
The following is a true story. When I was growing up I had two aunts, Auntie 1 and Auntie 2. Auntie 1 had a lot to say about the way I looked: I had too much curly hair, my stomach stuck out, my glasses were too big. When I was dressed for a special event she said things like, “You’re not going to…” Pause. Horrified look. “Wear that? Are you?” In contrast, I don’t remember Auntie 2 saying anything about my looks while I was growing up. But I can still picture her warm smile.
When I was fourteen, I won a scholarship to a boarding school. This school had a dress code: formal meals five nights a week required dresses or skirts, and for classes, skirts, dresses or slacks, as long as they weren’t “western cut.” No denim, shorts or sneakers. Up until this point I had worn mostly hand me downs or gifts, which may explain why I didn’t have a clue how to choose clothing. To get ready for school Auntie 2 took me to T.J. Maxx, which resembles a large warehouse packed with many styles of clothing in no particular order.
This school was important to me. I wanted to look right, but I didn’t know how to start. Auntie 2 explained that we needed to get different pieces that would all match, for instance two skirts and two tops would result in four different outfits. “This is how you tell if things go together,” she said holding a blouse and a skirt at arms length. “Do these match?” I had a glimmer of what she was driving at, but was still doubtful. I said nothing. “OK, so the way you tell is look at the colors in this plaid. Now you need a blouse in one of those colors.” Once she said that I realized the plaid was in fact made up of many distinct colors, and I roved through a blouse rack, finally drawing out a soft, dove grey top with a peter pan collar. Auntie 2 held it against the skirt, and we both lit up. Now I knew what she was talking about! Suddenly the warehouse wasn’t stuffed with random flotsam and jetsam; it was alive with potential combinations. I flew through the racks, making matches. I went off to boarding school well armed with a closet full of clothes that gave me confidence, that presented the serious, intelligent, demure girl I was.
A "To Do" List for Helping Your Daughter
Based on this story and my own experience raising a daughter I designed this “To Do” List for Helping Your Daughter Find Her Personal Style:
1) Lay a foundation of unconditional love & acceptance. I knew Auntie 2 loved me, and had my best interests at heart. She wasn’t one to talk feelings, but it was all there on her face and in her voice. This foundation of trust builds over years with a child. I worked on it with my own daughter with nightly snuggle time, and lots of conversation. When I was young my mother read to me a lot, hour after hour really, and I always meant to read to my own children – have long story times on the couch, punctuated with cups of sugary tea and raisin bread toast. Unfortunately neither one of my kids wanted to participate in my version of a childhood idyll. My son was too energetic, and needed to climb on things at the park. My daughter didn’t want to be read to – she wanted conversation. Not stories, real life, the ins and outs of her fourth grade classroom, what would we do for her next birthday party, reliving our overnight in San Francisco. I’ve discovered bonding doesn’t always look like you thought it would, and that it must be child led. Had I tried to force either of my kids into the mold I wanted, I wouldn’t be as close to them. If I follow their cues of what kind of closeness they want, the relationship blossoms.
2) Be positive, not critical Auntie 1 was genuinely trying to help me get myself together, but the critical approach just made my walls go up. Kids are like this. As an adult, I see that Auntie 1 had conflict about her own identity as a woman, and her ability to present herself to the world. She also had a contentious relationship with her older sister, my mother, who refused to lose weight, shave her legs, get her teeth fixed, or make any attempt to look good. These frustrations came out when Auntie 1 tried to tidy me up. As a child, I didn’t understand all this, I just felt persecuted. My reaction, a common reaction, was resistance.
3) Identify the teachable moment That day in TJ Maxx I wanted, I needed guidance. One evening of attention set me on the path of learning to choose clothes that would look good on me, and help me present my true self to the world. Auntie 2 helped me feel comfortable in my own skin, and amazingly she did it in a very short time. The key was finding the time when I was ready to receive.
4) Give specific direction Auntie 2 was great with this, as I think the above story illustrates. She followed my lead, giving more explanation when I was confused, stopping when I was on a roll.
5) Provide the resources A lot of money isn’t necessary. Fashion on a budget can be a treasure hunt, if approached the right way, in a spirit of fun. My daughter and I comb Goodwill and resale shops every so often. If she finds a special, more expensive something that she really, really likes I will often ask if she wants that for Christmas or her birthday. Christmas might be months away, but I wrap it up, and know she will have at least one gift she thinks is fabulous.
6) Let her be herself My daughter likes things I don’t. My first temptation when she made known her love of anything with cheetah spots was to look horrified, but I put on a smile instead. One day we were in a resale shop, and she discovered a whole cheetah outfit, with gathers and swags this way and that, and an attached silver belt. “Do you like this, Mom?” She held it up. “That’s not the style I like sweetie, but if you like it and you will wear it, I’ll buy it for you.” She put it on in the dressing room and asked more insistently, “Do you like it?” I had to admit the outfit suited her, though I wouldn’t have picked it out myself in a million years. “You and I don’t like the same things. If you like it, you can get it.” As the sales lady rang up the cheetah suit she murmured, “My daughter and I don’t agree about clothes either. You’re a good mom.” She smiled warm and quiet, like Auntie 2.
7) Find ways to make her feel special Adults often talk about loving yourself, and say things like “No one can bring you down unless you let them.” While this may have some truth for adults, children are different. Their identities aren’t fixed. They take in what adults around them, especially parents, communicate about them, and incorporate this into their identity. As mother of a young daughter you have an opportunity to consistently show her that she is beautiful and unique. Saying “You are beautiful and unique” doesn’t go very far, but recognizing her personal taste shows you have paid attention. A little boutique in our town carries jewelry made by local artist April Martin, and my daughter loves everything April makes. It’s not my style, but I can see it is hers, so she’s gotten several gift bags from this little shop on special occasions. (They use cheetah print tissue paper. It couldn’t get any better.) Finding some ‘trademark,” or way of setting herself apart, gives a girl self esteem. It can be cheetah print, a special pendant, or a baseball cap worn backwards. Anything will do, as long as it feels it belongs to her.
How we look is a vulnerable spot for many women. Get your daughter off to a good start in feeling comfortable with herself. In experimenting with dressing her outside, she explores her inner personality, values and character as well.
Links About Mother/Daghter Relationships, and About Fashion
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