Their Fashion, Their Identity
By Sheena Low
Fashion holds a universal power that transcends boundaries of age, culture, and generation. It is a language of artistic expression and an effective outlet for our inner thoughts and emotions. When we enable our children to tap into this art, we empower them to see the value of their voices and stories; we enable self-discovery, self-confidence and, ultimately, self-worth. Self-worth is, above all else, what I want for my daughter because this is the foundation for a life of purpose, fulfillment, joy, and much more.
So how can we achieve this with—and for—our kids? Here are some of the practical ways I’m raising my daughter to embrace the power of fashion and style.
1. Encourage self-expression within boundaries
One chilly day, I took my two-year-old, Augie, to the park. I usually let her choose which shoes to wear, but because of the weather, the obvious choice was sneakers. I asked her to pick her socks instead.
It’s important to let your children explore different styles and validate what resonates with them. They are unique, and this should be celebrated! At the same time, we need to set boundaries. Allow them to pick from options appropriate for the context.
If it’s a hot day, I might offer several light T-shirts. For a special event, I offer a choice of outfits to suit the occasion.
To no one’s surprise, Augie wore mismatched socks for that trip to the park—a Mickey Mouse sock on one foot and a dinosaur sock on the other. But this approach taught her the importance of adapting her style to different contexts. The key is to let your child make the final decision within the boundaries you set. This empowers them to make choices and instills a sense of responsibility, and it’s a great way to strike a balance between guiding them and allowing them to express themselves through fashion.
2. Listen actively
With a curious tone, I asked Augie about her socks. “Interesting choice! Why this pair?” She mentioned her daddy’s birthday, which we’d celebrated the day before. She’d given him a dinosaur hatpin. Then she told me about the Mickey Mouse toy car her friend, Towa, had given her the week before. Even with her limited vocabulary, she was able to express that she cherished these moments and they had a profound impact on her choice of socks!
When your child makes a style choice, it’s our job to get curious, pay attention to what they convey through their fashion, and engage in meaningful conversations about why they love certain items. This dialogue deepens our understanding of their evolving identity.
3. Provide a safe space
One of Augie’s most treasured fashion items is a checkered preppy dress that her daddy bought for her first birthday. Now, at age two, it’s so short that it shows her buttocks. One day, she excitedly put on this dress. I took a deep breath and thought of a constructive way to tell her it wasn’t suitable without discouraging her. “Augie, you’ve grown so much! This dress looks like a shirt on you now. Let’s put on some pants to make a new outfit!” Our children thrive when they feel comfortable expressing themselves, so rather than judgment or criticism of their fashion choices, we can offer constructive feedback and guidance.
4. Teach confidence
Augie loves to pick out her clothes, so I keep them in cupboards she can reach. One day, she chose to wear a Wonder Woman headband, a Wiggles T-shirt, and Pikachu bottoms. No matter how mismatched her choices seem, I let her embrace her sense of style and her individuality. I emphasize that individuality and confidence come from within and that fashion is a tool to amplify them.
A child’s fashion choices are often motivated by external inspiration— maybe the memory of a play date, or even that of a silly clown! Children should wear clothes that make them feel empowered and self-assured. Embrace their sense of style without judgment, and remember that being silly is fun!
5. Avoid imposing your preferences
If your child is anything like mine, they may have a different taste in fashion to you. I detest baby pink, so at my baby shower, I let my guests know I don’t like this color. (Augie was a fetus then, so I got to make these decisions!) Fast forward two years and she’s unleashed into the world with her own opinions. When I was online shopping for her sneakers last month, there were two options—blue or pink. “Come, choose what color sneakers you want!” I called to her. She clambered onto my lap to look at the screen, then, jabbing her finger at the pink pair, squealed “This one!” I clamped my mouth shut and added them to the cart.
Do your best to avoid imposing your own style preferences on your child. Instead, let them lead the way. Augie’s feeling of being empowered and supported in her choices, and later in wearing what she picked herself, was far more important than my dislike of pink.
6. Resist peer pressure and avoid labels
Just as I really respect Augie’s choices in fashion, I also make a point of teaching her to respect others and their choices. She once saw a child wearing a cat outfit and started laughing hysterically. “Why is he wearing that? That’s silly!” It’s so easy to fall into the trap of just cajoling them and agreeing that it’s silly (which actually isn’t so nice when you think about it), but moments like this are ideal for teaching a valuable lesson. I said “Hey Augie, I think he looks great! He’s happy, and we should respect what people want to wear.” It’s really important to tag on the point of respect and not fall into shame.
Encouraging your child to follow their own fashion compass rather than blindly following trends to fit in, and discouraging labeling people based on their fashion choices, teaches them that true style is about authenticity.
In nurturing your child’s relationship with fashion, you are nurturing their sense of self, independence, and confidence. Remember that this journey is a powerful way to foster open communication, trust, and self-esteem. As a parent, you have the chance to inspire your child to be unapologetically themselves, to embrace their individuality, and to stride confidently into the world. So let fashion be the empowering tool that paves the way for your child’s beautiful journey of self-discovery. Your child is communicating with you through their style; let’s not hush it— let’s amplify it.
Photos courtesy of the author and Canva.
About the Author
Sheena Low is an aspiring children’s book author, mother to two-year-old August, and runs Super Fly Honey, a pole activewear brand. She moved from Amsterdam to Bangkok in December 2020 and is now embracing life as a full-time mom.