Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Little Ladies with Style

Even though I work a lot with clothes--sewing them, thrifting them, refashioning them, etc.--we are not a family who puts much emphasis on what we wear. I buy/sew clothes for the girls that are roomy, comfy, NOT trendy (if you don't have little girls, you probably don't know that you can buy low-rise jeans, shirts that proclaim one to be a heartbreaker who's looking for a boyfriend, and bikini-cut panties for your four-year-old), not girly (since the girls were babies, I've often made it a point to dress them in clothes gendered male because I know that people react differently to small children based on how they're outwardly gendered and I'd rather people think my babies are boys and call them sport and tell them how strong they look than think they're girls and call them princess and tell them how pretty they look--you know?), and I'm a sucker for costume stuff and vintage stuff and stuff containing pop culture media references from my own youth.

It's interesting to me, then, to witness my daughters' relationship to clothes. Willow has dressed herself since she was about two and a half, choosing her entire outfit each day--the only conditions I put upon her are that she has to cover her genitalia if she wants to leave the yard and she has to follow the school dress code when dressing for school (Montessori dress code isn't too big of a deal, since it's pretty common sense--play clothes instead of dresses; sneakers instead of cowboy boots or sandals; no pop culture media references; no jewelry; no costumes. Will's teacher only starts to get REALLY crazy when winter comes and she's telling you what kind of zipper she wants on your kid's snowsuit and hanging up an example of the kind of gloves you're NOT supposed to buy--after 40+ years in the game, the lady has her opinions).

I usually choose Sydney's outfit and dress her, because she has yet to have any interest in those activities for herself. Oh, and I'll occasionally make/sew matching articles of clothing for the girls and ask them to, in Willow's words, "be matches" now and then for my own amusement.

So for the past several days, when I've thought of it, I've been taking photos of the girls after they've finally gotten dressed for the day. I get a kick out of seeing what they're wearing and where it came from: This was yesterday, just before school. Sydney is wearing a striped onesie that her Grandma Janie bought her on clearance at Target two summers ago; white leggings with green butterflies that Grandma Janie bought at Old Navy and sent her last month (Willow has a matching one with pink butterflies, but the seams ripped in it the first time she wore it--I have my suspicions about Old Navy's workmanship); a wool vest that I bought at Goodwill; and red and pink shoes that I scored when I ended up transporting garage sale leftovers after a fundraiser (that I would be "going through" said garage sale leftovers before dropping them off at Goodwill was understood. Probably. (ahem)).
Willow is wearing a ratty old pajama top with planets and astronauts on it that I had intended to be a painting shirt when I dumpster-dived it; a pair of embroidered jeans from Goodwill; and a pair of pink and white shoes handed down from one of her little girlfriends--the growing-like-a-weed little girl blew through them in about a week, but they're still about two sizes too big for Willow, not that she cares.

This was not a school day, obviously--I don't know if you can tell, but the girls have removed the frame from my laundry bag in the closet and are using it as their "ballet barre" while they try to imitate the positions in the ballet book there in front of me. Willow is wearing a tutu I made for her while Sydney is wearing a dance skirt that was one of her birthday presents from a little neighbor girl; they're both wearing handmade necklaces, also gifts from the same party.

Oops, I shouldn't have let Willow wear those Powerpuff Girls pajama pants to school! With it she's wearing a grey velvet shirt from Goodwill, and Sydney is wearing conductor overalls sent years ago from Grandma Shoemaker to baby Willow in honor of Grandpa Shoemaker's career on the rails, and a dumptruck sweatshirt from the sidewalk exchange at our Recycling Center.

Here Sydney is wearing a flowered shirt and flower-cuffed capris (long pants last winter) that match but that I got from the Recycling Center on DIFFERENT days (wahoo!), and Willow is wearing a housefly shirt and comfy sweats from Goodwill. They're both wearing their matching candy-pink Converse Chuck Taylors from the mall.

This is Willow's school picture day, God help us. I've obviously just finished scrubbing her face to remove most of the black marker, but she chose a red shirt from Goodwill, a dumpster-dived kitty cat swing shirt (formerly a dress), plaid shorts from Goodwill, and mismatched socks. Sydney is wearing a vintage polyester dress from the Salvation Army thrift store and a blue Fuzzi Bunz.

And here Willow is wearing a ratty and poorly handmade dinosaur T-shirt that I picked up at the Recycling Center solely for the fabric but that is now, of course, Willow's most very favorite shirt that she wears everywhere so people can think I awkwardly and unevenly stitched it together for her and DIDN'T FINISH THE SEAMS! Anyway...Sydney has on a red dress with faux fur trim, also from the Recycling Center, and hiking boots that a friend gave me, assuring me her kid hardly wore them.

So I have no idea what patterns are revealed here, or what it's supposed to say about my children and their relationship to clothes. Does Willow wear whatever comes to hand first, or does she have some obscure reasoning as to color combination, material, or pattern? Does Sydney actually match in regards to what I dress her in, or sort of not? Do they look like all their clothes were originally worn by some other kids?

Or do they look totally awesome?


Anonymous said...

I think they look totally awesome! I think your idea of dressing them in boy-themed clothes is very interesting. Did it work? I definitely understand your concern about your girls being taught by society to value themselves based on looks and shallow expectations. I know someone who, everynight when she tucks her daughter in bed, squeezes her little girl's toe and says, "You're such a smart girl!" I think that's a great idea!

Reading your blog makes me wonder what I would do if I had a little girl. I know that I would not reveal the gender of my baby at any pre-birth activities (showers, etc.) for fear of pink, pink, pink everything. Oh well! Some people like to dress their daughters like mini-Disney princesses. I am just not one of them.

Abby said...

Gotta say, I like some girly shit. But I don't love pink. Lily has clothes coming out the wazoo, but almost all come from Grandmas. So I happily take what I can get, and she wears her fair share of pink.

I think you have awesome ethics, and your girls are gonna be strong, self confident individuals.

Abby said...

AND whatever you wear with candy pink chucks looks rad.

julie said...

I have eased up somewhat since the girls became old enough to make their own decisions (including candy-pink Chucks!), and the fact that my parenting ethic also keeps us away from most mainstream media makes it easier, I think, because the girls just don't see stereotypical gender representations, but I am, I admit, so totally hardcore about not gendering them with stereotypical female markings, because stereotypical female markings and their cultural implications severely trouble me.

I'm troubled by swimsuit bikinis that demarcate the primary and secondary genitalia of small children. I'm troubled by low-cut jeans that expose a child's butt crack when she bends over, and the bikini-cut panties to wear under them. I'm troubled by dresses when the wearing of the dress causes an authority figure to dictate certain behavior--don't run, don't climb, sit with your legs together--that either privileges the condition of clothing over the child's desires or is concerned with the concealment of sexual characteristics.

I'm troubled when girls are told that they look pretty, especially "in that outfit," because I don't want looking pretty to be a girl's goal, and therefore I don't want her praised for it (I do, however, often tell my girls, "You look awesome!"). I'm troubled when girls are put into outfits they don't like or are uncomfortable in or are told how to cut or wear their hair, because that tells them that they are not the owners of their own bodies. I'm troubled when girls are given playthings that are sexist or confining, such as buxomy Barbie dolls or infantalized Bratz dolls or "wholesome" but stereotyped and sexualized Hanna Montana merchandise.

I do encourage the girls to honor being female, however (I hope!), like someday being a mommy, being able to carry a baby in your tummy, give birth to it, and nurse it. When they're a little older, I imagine we'll expand that, obviously, hopefully to embrace their individual bodies and the signs of their fertility and the community of women--any ideas about how the hell I'll do that? And yeah, I made the big mistake of telling my large extended Southern family that I was carrying a girl with Willow, and I had to return so much pink crap to Wal-mart that you wouldn't even believe it.

Anonymous said...

I am so impressed that you have thought so much about how to rear your children. I feel like most people don't even consider what it means to dress your daughters in a bikinis and give your sons giant fake machine guns.

I really don't know what to tell you in regards to future fertility/sexuality/womanhood talks with your girls. Good luck, I'm sure you'll think of something great.

I'm getting married next year, and I am dealing with the social expectations that come along with that tradition. I have A LOT against A LOT of the wedding ceremony. Luckily my fiance is pretty easy-going and willing to let me cut out and rearrange and re-write everything to be, well, not sexist and patriarchal.