A girl and her shoes

A girl and her shoes

My children differ in many ways, not the least of which is clothing.

My son has always pretty much worn whatever I pull out for him every day, aside from that brief period when he was 3 and insisted on wearing a red shirt and black pants every day to preschool like Murray from the Wiggles (whom he called “Maury”).

My daughter, on the other hand, had fashion opinions from the age of, oh, 2.

I’d pick out a nice matching outfit, and she would ... disagree. Sometimes loudly.

One of our favorite books was “Ella Sarah Gets Dressed,” in which a preschooler fights off interventions by her mom, dad and older sister who want her to wear sensible outfits. She prefers her pink polka-dot pants, her dress with orange-and-green flowers, her purple-and-blue-striped socks, her yellow shoes and her red hat. In the end, her friends show up for “tea” dressed in all kinds of craziness — and they all look beautiful.

It took me awhile to accept this situation, but when I finally let go (repeat after me: control freak) I found my daughter had her own fashion sense.

True, she didn’t always get that stripes and checks don’t really go (“but they’re the same colors”), or that close-but-not-quite shades of pink or red don’t really go (“but they’re all pink”) or that things don’t have to match exactly — they can just “go,” as TLC’s Clinton and Stacy constantly tell us.

But she developed her own style, which for a long time meant lots of purple and pink.

And at our favorite neighborhood consignment sale, known to us as the “kids sale,” she found a treasure a couple of years back: faux patent leather lavender sandals.

They were flip-flops really, but sturdier, good for everything from church to the backyard.

And she wore them constantly. With purple and lots of other colors. They lasted through two summers, and at the first hint of warm weather this spring she hauled them out.

Problem is, about a half-inch of her foot hung over the back.

I tried to convince her that they were two sizes too small. But she said they were still comfortable. And we couldn’t find anything else quite like them.

I bought a pair of nice pink Stride-Rite sandals at the outlet, but they rubbed blisters on her feet.

Then we found a pair of hot pink flip-flops with sturdy soles, and those were acceptable. Just in time, too, as the purple sandals finally fell apart.

A few weeks later, she got a pair of glittery turquoise flip-flops from her aunt and uncle for her birthday. You can just imagine.

The purple sandals aren’t forgotten, but the pain of separation is easing.

Meanwhile, my 11-year-old son is discovering fashion.

Last spring, on his band teacher’s instructions, we went shopping to find a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved shirt he could wear for his first official concert.

I fully expected the usual moaning and groaning — “Do we HAVE to go?” — but not this time. In fact, after he dutifully tried on several pairs of jeans, I found him strolling through the racks checking out the clothes.

“Could we buy something like this sometime?” he asked, pointing to a rack of woven long-sleeved shirts — with collars, no less. And no sports logos.

This from the child whose preferred uniform is, well, a uniform, or a T-shirt and gym shorts.

I managed to sputter, “Sure,” and watched as he picked out — how can I put this? — a rather bilious orange-and-blue plaid number.

I know what you’re thinking. But I restrained my inner Stacy, managed not to grab the subtler red-and-blue print, and placed his choice in the cart.

“It’s an Illini shirt,” I said, searching for something positive to say.

He was happy. When we got home, he ran upstairs to show his purchases to his Dad (the fashion plate with the college sweatshirt collection).

I have to say it was fun. It felt like a first glimpse into what’s coming soon, those self-conscious teen years when they’ll spend hours in the shower or in front of the mirror before going out with friends (or anywhere).

A few months ago I took my daughter shopping to buy a birthday present for my mom, and rather than whining or playing hide-and-seek in the racks, she delighted in helping me pick out a few shirts.

Then I decided to try on a few things, and she discovered the wonders of the dressing room — running in and out of all the booths, sashaying in front of the mirror, etc. (I swear children like nothing better than trying out different faces in the mirror.)

We headed out, but then I found one more thing and asked if she minded if I tried it on.

“Can we go back to the dressing rooms?” she asked excitedly.

We really need to get out more.

One of my favorite childhood memories is shopping at the downtown St. Louis department stores with my mom, sister and aunts and eating lunch in the restaurant with the fancy ice cream dessert shaped like a princess dress.

As a teen, I spent many a happy Saturday on shopping excursions with my mom and sister, having lunch together and just talking. It was our thing.

I don’t shop so much anymore, but that day in the dressing room I got another glimpse of the future, one with mother-daughter shopping trips and long talks over lunch with fancy desserts.

And maybe a mother-son version, once in awhile.

Julie Wurth writes and blogs about family issues, social services and the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Her column appears in the paper every other Tuesday. Leave a comment below,  contact Julie at 351-5226 or jwurth@news-gazette.com or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jawurth.

Bottom photo: The famous purple sandals. Julie Wurth


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sscott wrote on August 16, 2011 at 12:08 pm

I find that there is a huge difference even between my two boys. My older son, now 21, always had a laid back attitude about clothes. If it fit, was comfortable, he was happy. He did go through the droopy drawers phase, which we reluctantly let him do, hoping it would die a natural death, which I'm happy to report, did! He's gone back to the same attitude, if it fits, and is comfortable, he is content. My youngest who is 13, is the total opposite. He is a fashion plate, always has to look good, and have the latest style, which as of late, has been "skinny" jeans. So I sit and wait patiently for this to die a natural death, too, while reluctantly admitting he does have pretty good taste, and looks darn cute in what he chooses. We all get to a point where we let them be the guides, and if it's something we don't like, hope it runs its course.

Julie Wurth wrote on September 22, 2011 at 11:09 pm
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Isn't it amazing how different kids can be? I hope I can remember that advice as my kids go through their teen years! Thanks for sharing!

Mary Schenk wrote on August 16, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Wonderful tale. Reminds me of a dear neighbor lady friend who was childless who took me to The Mayfair Hotel in downtown St. Louis for fancy lunches after shopping at the huge department stores with funky, skinny escalator steps when I was very young. It gave my harried mother of five a break from one of her charges and was an exceptional treat for me. Miss both of those women dearly but the memories are vivid lo these many years later.