Every day that we leave our homes, we put on a show via our choice of apparel. What we wear in public tells a story about us. The dilemma that hangs over most parents’ heads is trying to find the balance between supporting their child’s or teen’s sense of self — and maintaining a sense of clothing appropriateness.
The term “peacocking around” comes to mind when we consider fashion sense, styles, and trends. Like the gorgeous pheasant, human beings put on a show in public. We don’t have multicolored feathers, but we do have options of color and style in clothes, accessories, hair, and makeup. Unlike peacocks, whose males are bright and colorful, human females are usually keener on selecting outfits than males are.
Many see fashion and style as a pastime for young women. What we forget is that society uses fashion and uniforms to distinguish all sorts of people. Firemen, policemen, doctors, and delivery men can be identified quickly by glancing at their attire.
When we are not obliged to dress a certain way for work or special occasions, we choose what we will wear based on what we like. In other words, our personal preferences influence what we wear. People who are into certain sports, such as skateboarding, or music, such as rock, have established dress codes popular enough to warrant their own brands.
Some children put little thought into what they wear, while others have opinions from very young ages. Many parents might not particularly understand their child’s desire to wear neon yellow nail polish or wear off-color T-shirts, but few have trouble of a larger proportion.
When dress code issues occur, it is usually indicative of deeper and more long-running issues between child-parent relationships, especially when the children have reached their teens. Studies have shown that the children who are most likely to rebel are those from strict households — and the first indication of rebellion usually takes the form of image projection by rebelling against dress code.
Many teens either fail to realize, or flat out do not care, that self-image is reflected in dress, as are others’ perceptions of an individual. The outfit one wears does automatically convey a certain message to other people. Dressing preppy or hipster or trendy are generally considered “safe” styles, even if some fads border on the outrageous.
However, there can be real problems with apparel that comes across as somehow intimidating. Chances are good that the local grocery store owner will not be overjoyed to see someone ambling down the aisles of their shop with chains hanging off their jacket or their pants three sizes too large.
For girls, outfits that are too tight or revealing can lead to negative perceptions being formed about the wearer. It might not be fair to judge someone by their attire, but the hard truth is that people do this instinctively since, through the clothing they choose to wear, individuals convey messages about themselves. If those messages are perceived as derogatory or threatening, then others’ responses are going to be negative and laced with suspicion.
Parents should try to teach children from the time that they are small — well before the rebellious teen years peak — about the dire importance of maintaining self-respect while developing a personal style. Not every outfit choice is going to be a parental favorite. There will always be those shorts which are too short and those pants which are too baggy. Yet it is not worth fighting over unless something about the attire is truly unacceptable. Making fashion mistakes is part of growing up.
Fashion fads and trends are started via trial and error. Peacocking around is part of life. As long as self-respect is factored into every outfit, then we should all feel free to strut our style freely.
Meagan Meehan is a published author of poems, short stories, novels, and articles in numerous publications. She is also a cartoonist and an award-winning modern artist.