On Clothes, and Dressing My Children

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October 27, 2014 by multiracialsky

Natasha_Sky_clothes1When it comes to my children’s clothing and presentation, I’m currently spanning the gap between protecting my children from being tragically mis-perceived as another Trayvon Martin and letting them find their own style. I’ve written about this before including my big no-no’s: too tight, too small, stained, ripped/holes, underwear showing, see-through, totally inappropriate for the weather.

The space my older kids are currently exploring is that of personal clothing choice and combination (including logos I never would choose to put front and center across my child’s chest, and sweaters that are totally not my style). One of my children is in a full-on preppy phase, which I have shied far away from as that was the only style choice of my childhood.

I have come to accept that I want my children to be ‘read’ as upper-middle class. This is more complicated to achieve with Children of Color than with White children. However, I hold all my children to these same standards, regardless of how they are racially perceived. The older my kids get, the less say I have in their physical presentation (also something I am coming to accept!).

I screen my children’s clothing (and dress my little ones) more carefully than many of our friends. There are a lot reasons for this:

  1. We are a large, multiracial family. We attract attention, and I want that attention to settle on my children in as positive a way as possible. I want people to smile when they look at my kids, not wonder if they are well cared for.
  2. Children of Color with White mothers are especially scrutinized; people at large want to know that we know how to care for our children’s hair and skin. I do.
  3. As a foster-bio-adoptive family, my children’s behavior is more-likely-than-the-average-bear to be ‘off’ out in public. Again, with the attention.
  4. People in our immediate community know that some of our children are foster children. There are many negative stereotypes about foster kids; part of our job as a foster family is to negate those stereotypes on behalf of our children. Children with clean faces, brushed hair, shoes that fit, and clothes as nice as the rest of my kids helps our community view and treat our foster children the same way as the rest of our kids.

I know families who only ‘do’ new clothes, and who spend a good portion of their budget on outfitting their kids in the latest styles. That is not how we roll. I have been a thrift store queen since I was a teenager. I even managed a vintage clothing store when I was fresh out of college. I view it as a treasure hunt.

Between hand-me-downs from a couple cousins and my thrift store finds, all seven of my current crew of kids are fully outfitted in Mini Boden, Hanna Andersson, Zutano, Polo, Gap, Children’s Place, Gymboree, Carter’s, UnderArmour, Nike, North Face, Hollister, Aeropostale, Old Navy, Patagonia, and various other brand names. They step out of the house daily in outfits that cost less than $10, including shoes (and that cost doesn’t count intra-family hand-me-downs: when one of my kids is wearing a shirt that started with a cousin and has already been loved by two older sibs). Goodwill here is $2/piece for children’s clothing, and I get a 10% discount. Less frequently, I also check out Salvation Army, Once Upon a Child (if I’m looking for something specific), and various second-hand clothing stores when I travel.

We get some children’s clothing catalogs including Garnet Hill, Patagonia, and Hanna Andersson. So I know what the latest styles and fabrics look like (and what I like), and then I look for them in the thrift stores. The previously mentioned prepster of mine? They decided what they wanted to wear to school this fall was short-sleeved collared Polo-brand shirts; they were hoping for several (a different color for each day of the week). I searched one thrift store; I probably spent 30 minutes. I came home with 6 different colored beautiful-as-new Polos $2-$5/each. I think I spent $20.

The rare retail clothing/shoe purchases are usually saved for birthday/holiday gifts or special grandparent shopping trips. (Like those crazy Nike Elite socks—that’s what my guy got for his birthday last year!) I stash out-of-season finds and items in a size we’re not currently wearing in tupperware bins in the basement, sorted by size. I readily part with clothes that have passed through two washes and remain stained, shoes that are past prime, anything with a zipper that won’t go, and holes of any kind (unless it’s that ‘favorite’ shirt which is then relegated to hockey-duty-only).

Switching out seasonal clothes twice a year is an event my kids look forward to. I haul the giant bins up from the basement or down from the attic and I start making piles. Each piece is tried on and then vetted by me. It’s a several hour fashion show, inevitably ending up with a good-sized pile of clothes for each kid, a trash bag full of clothes to give away, and a short wish/need list for the older kids. My oldest daughter has started dipping into my clothes, and she just passed a sweater back to me that sat in her drawer all last winter. In turn, she’s loving those purple jeans I bought for myself that didn’t fit me quite right.

A friend hounded J to buy me designer jeans for my birthday last year–so not my style, nor his! The next time she saw me, she was shocked because I was wearing the exact kind of jeans she had been talking about. They were a recent thrift store find; I had no idea they were ‘designer’ jeans–I chose them because they fit well. She made me look them up online. Retail: $100. My cost: $5.



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© 2007-2014 All rights reserved by Natasha Sky. Posts, essays, photographs, and art may not be republished, reprinted, or repurposed without permission.
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