Jie-jie has always loved “girly” and ‘”fancy” clothes. The pinker, lacier and more ornate the better. Last year she basically refused to wear pants. Instead it was skirts and dresses with tights and the fancier the better. A month or so into our relocation to Sweden, however, she announced that she doesn’t like pink anymore and she doesn’t like dresses. She started complaining about her existing clothes and asking for more plain clothes like leggings and jerseys in solid, neutral colors. I explained that she couldn’t expect to completely replace her wardobe overnight but that I would make sure that we began acquiring clothes that fit her new fashion preferences.
Was I happy that my going-on-7-year-old daughter seemed to be moving into what seemed like a more practical and inexpensive style? Sure. But, all the same, the change was so abrupt that I needed to ask her about it.
“Why don’t you like pink, dresses, tights and clothes with fancy designs anymore?”
“Well,” came the reply, “I actually still do like nice clothes, but the girls at my new school never wear dresses. They stare at me and whisper when I wear my clothes and I don’t like it. When we are back in Vermont and when we go to China I can wear dresses again.”
I told Jie-jie that it was perfectly reasonable for her to feel out-of-place and critically observed. We talked about the fact that it seemed that her school, our town in Sweden, and maybe even the entire country, was a bit more interested and conformist in terms of fashion. We talked about the need to balance attempting to blend in and gain social approval with expressing ourselves and being true to our preferences and way of seeing the world.
And then we went to H&M and got Jie-jie what she needed to feel comfortable at school. (H&M, Lindex and a higher end store called Polarn och Pyret clearly set the tone on children’s clothes at my children’s school).
I actually found this experience with Jie-jie quite reassuring. I was happy that she recognized her new fashion preferences for what they were. Her desire for new clothes was the result of the pressure for conformity and adaptation to a cultural context with a particular aestethic and in which clothes had greater social import. She did not mistake this social pressure she felt for the idea that some kinds of clothes are just better than others in the abstract sense. She did not develop the idea that her previous fashion choices were bad and wrong, just that they didn’t work in her current context.
I know a lot of adults who have yet to figure all that out.