My daughter attends a public school where uniforms are required. But every Friday, the middle school kids who have maintained a clean discipline record for the week are allowed to wear whatever they want. It was on one of these recent Friday mornings, when she emerged from her bedroom in another perfectly styled, city-kid outfit, that I realized that there is no way in hell that she would have worn a single thing that I wore when I was 11.
My pre-teen closet was immediately and horribly handicapped by two factors: first, I was freakishly tall and bone thin due to various illnesses. Not a good combination in the time before there were clothes for “tall girls.”This meant that I sometimes had to wear boy’s clothes, especially pants. The worst of which were these hideous jeans that Sears sold called “Toughskins.” This was before I discovered Calvins and other designer jeans, but I sure as hell knew that Toughskins was not the look.
The other black cloud hanging over my tween closet was the fact that from the age of 9 until I was about 13, we lived in Germany. Berlin is obviously impossibly chic, but where my dad was stationed, rashion was not on the radar. Everything, including TV shows and style trends, were at least 6 months behind.
I’ve shown my daughter pictures from our time in Germany, and the conversation usually goes something like this: “Eww, are you wearing a turtleneck?” “What, what kind of shoes are those”? You can imagine how fun it is to have your kid throwing shade on your old photos.
What she doesn’t understand is when I was growing up, kids didn’t really have “fashion.” There were no New York Times features on stylish toddlers or Tiny Sartorialist blogs. There were simply clothes. The general public’s knowledge of labels and the fashion industry as a whole has increased exponentially, as the Internet and the exportation of high street stores to the US has made fashion more democratic and instantly available. That means that kids in the know can spot a Chanel 2.55 bag from across the street and have specific ideas on what makes a sneaker have swag. Many of the TV shows that my daughter watches double as half-hour fashion presentations, with the stratifications between the “cool kids” and everyone else made very clear via their clothes.
Mothers who revel in art directing their children’s lives have found an ally in the rise of luxe designer collections for kids, something that I can just imagine would have sent my mother into convulsive fits of laughter. Five-hundred dollars for a pair of velvet skinny jeans for an 11-year-old? Mom would have dragged me to the fabric store, insisting that she can replicate the Lanvin version, with no one knowing the difference.
But many kids these days DO know the difference, and their eye is as keen as the most seasoned stylist, and homemade clothes are not gonna to cut it. Clearly, $500 jeans are out of the question for my daughter, but I do understand how important it is for her to look the way she wants to look. Within reason, she leads the way on what lands in her closet.
Considering that she views my sartorial misadventures through the lens of Harajuku Girls for Target, DVF for GapKids, Hot Topic and the stylish kids in the H&M ads, it’s no wonder that she is mortified by what her mom wore in 6th grade. While my mother insisted that we look “appropriate” and “respectful” at all times, my daughter’s wardrobe choices revolve around 5 major elements:
1. Must have a skull on it. Somewhere.
2. If it’s pink, it better be hot pink.
3. The skinniest of skinny jeans. No flares, no bootcuts.
4. Too many rubber bracelets are never enough.
5. Hoodies. Everyday, all the time.
Clearly, every kid who considers themselves even remotely cool these days has strong ideas about what they like to wear. And that is what my daughter can’t wrap her head around when she sees old photos of and my sisters and I -- we didn’t look cool. Not in the least. And if you don’t look cool, how can you show your face in public, or horror of horrors, go to school?
Even today, her mom looking decidedly unhip around her friends is a tantamount to an immediately punishable felony. Recently, I volunteered to be a chaperone for a field trip her science class going on. As we were about to leave, she says this:
“Can you change and put on your skinny jeans and your vintage Nike Airs, please?”