Tap-Dancing in Tutus: Should All Kids Dress The Same?

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We here at SMB are excited to introduce to you the newest addition to our team: Sara Frederick! You can learn more about our amazingly talented new contributor on our “Meet the Contributors”  page or at her personal blog,  Mind Body Rules.  Welcome to Scottsdale Moms Blog, Sara!

Before I had children, I swore that if I ever had girls we would dress them in every color but pink, avoid anything involving princesses, and raise them to be healthy, strong, independent human beings.  Four years into my parenting experience, I’ve already had to admit defeat on two of the three goals.

My daughter recently begged me to let her take dance lessons.  In an attempt to avoid the high powered semi-professional dance studios (do four year olds really need makeup?), we found a low-key tap-and-ballet class for her age group.  When I called ahead to find out what the kids needed to have beyond tap shoes and ballet shoes, they said that some children like wearing traditional dance attire but that really, anything was fine.

So, once a week, we have been rolling into a local community center with some combination of bright pink tutu and red Hello Kitty t-shirt, or a Princess Sophia dress-up skirt with a rainbow colored top.  For a few weeks, there were a few other girls who had their own style but slowly their numbers dwindled. By last week, I noticed something: my daughter was the only one not wearing a muted pink or black leotard and skirt.  Here she was, looking like an adorable hot mess, prancing proudly in the middle of a class of mini-ballerinas.  Standing in the back of the classroom, I was mortified at how mismatched her clothes were.  Yet, she couldn’t have cared less that she was wearing something different.
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Or, so I thought.

Later that night as I was tucking her into bed, she asked me oh so gently if maybe we could go to the store and get her “one of those dance outfits like the other girls have.”  I brushed back her hair and mumbled that I would find something when I next went shopping.  Internally, I was crying.  How could I have been embarrassed that my four year old wore something different?  Didn’t I always admire her independence, and her strong-willed nature?  I had hoped that her individualism would continue through her teenage years, to keep her from following the crowd into trouble.  Did she pick up on my judgment of her outfit that day and have her spirit crushed just a little?  Or was this desire to be like the other girls just part of the natural progression of growing up?

There is of course a positive side to conformity.  Conformity keeps people from being wildly rude to each other, it allows for social norms of safety such as following traffic laws.  On a smaller scale, school uniforms can foster a sense of belonging and take away the pressure to keep up with the hippest crowd or most expensive brand.

But within the greater rules of society, I cherish my daughter’s free spirit and hope that she holds it up proudly when she faces peer pressure – implicit or explicit – that make her question herself and her choices in the years and decades to come.  As a parent, I want to help support my daughter’s creativity and confidence to be true to her beautiful self.

Where do you stand on conformity vs independence?  Would you let your children go out with you in their dress-up costumes, or do you like the idea of proper attire and uniforms?  How do you handle your children’s self-expression?

5 COMMENTS

  1. Sara! So excited for you to join the team! I love how thoughtfully you approach this issue – because it is sort of gray and murky, isn’t it? With my oldest in kindergarten I’m dealing with so many of the same questions. (They do wear uniforms, actually, which I like – but it creeps in nonetheless in other ways.)

    In general, I’m one to encourage independence, like you. But maybe there’s something to allowing them to explore conformity in a safe way as well? Dressing and acting like others isn’t going to stop – so maybe it’s our role to sort of steward it and guide it toward the positive as much as possible?

    I don’t know, but I’m sure glad you wrote about it. Welcome to SMB! xo

  2. I let my 2 1/2 year old Sofia wear what she likes….be it pajamas, tutus or a sports Jersey. As long as she is dressed I’m all for her wearing what she wants 🙂

    However, as mommy, I do like her to “look the part” depending on what we are doing or where we are going. If we are going someplace fancy, well then I win in the “you can’t wear your swimsuit” department! LOL! Mommy-hood, the hardest things any of us will ever do 🙂

  3. Congrats on the new “gig” my dear friend, Sara!

    My daughter was never a costume girl. I don’t think she owned, or even requested one. Ever. She has always dressed to satisfy her kinesthetic nature. Comfort over couture! She didn’t like jeans, blouses, sweaters, tights or tutus even in dance class. She hated everything girly or stiff. (Apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree).

    In elementary and middle school she fought me tooth and nail to wear PJs on a few occasions and that was a steadfast “no” for me. (I may have allowed it in her early years but I can’t recall). I don’t know if it is my old-fashioned nature or my OCD about pj’s that have seen the streets not belonging between the sheets. Maybe it was just the sight of so many girls in flannel pj bottoms and Ugg boots around the Desert Canyon school campus while she was attending, that made me think, “Do these girls even brush their teeth before school”? I like the routine of actually “getting ready” for school and eventually my daughter actually thanked me for caring.

    She is 18 now and has made other decisions regarding self expression and independence. She is still a die-hard kinesthetic, sure to be found in a pair of Lulus, Converse, sports bra and a t-shirt, but her most visible and latest addition is an eyebrow piercing. That is flexing the independence muscle.

    On MY perfect, beautiful baby girl. What’s a mom to do?

  4. Wow, thank you for your comments! Got so many more on email that I wish I could post up here. Sarah, was great meeting you and thanks for the welcome – looking forward to getting to know you & your writing as well. Alison & Jo, I guess that’s what it’s all about – deciding when to pick our battles!

    Also full disclosure: my oldest daughter goes to school now where she has to wear uniforms and I love it. And I love that she can then come home and rip off her clothes and put on a comfy dress or tutu or whatever she wants!! Ahh, the joys and questions of motherhood.

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