New teenage survival guide for parents about fashion
Forget those heated conversations over revision, manners or screen time, there is nothing so likely to cause a row between parent and young teen as clothes. Whether you’re frustrated by the way they want to dress like a soap-starlet-on-red-carpet-duty, a gangster rapper or – at the other end of the spectrum – Mr. Stink (wearing the same smelly pair of trousers and hoodie sourced from the floor robe, day-in and day-out), parents can be sure of only one thing: when they reach a certain age, you no longer have any meaningful influence on how your child looks. In fact, the only support they want on shopping trips is likely to be financial.
Your days of expressing yourself as parent via what they wear are over. I just hope the Duchess of Cambridge is enjoying herself dressing Prince George and Princess Charlotte in Fair Isle now, because in a few years’ time even they will be insisting on head-to-toe athleisure wear and crop tops. Of course, children should be encouraged to develop their own sense of style as part of establishing their growing identity. Learning what suits, pleases and defines you can be exciting and rewarding; it can build character and self-esteem. But since most teens and tween wear some form of school uniform during the week, it can sometimes be difficult to explore the possibilities of fashion to a point where they understand what suits their lives (and occasions such as visiting granny) as well as their personalities. So how can parents open up the choices available, encourage experimentation and support our youngsters’ foray into style – without seeing them go the full Guardianship?
Stylist and personal shopper Jo Baldwin Trott, herself a mother of twin daughters, understands the conundrum perfectly. “It’s hard to strike the balance: recognizing a daughter, for example, wants to look grown-up and have her own style, when you are worrying that they are dressing in a way that is too revealing and mature. You can be perfectly laid back until they come out of their bedroom in something tight, with a low neckline and a short hem. “Getting upset will just create barriers,” she adds. “You may see them as young, but in their heads they feel older and mature. They will respond to criticism by feeling unrecognized.” Psychotherapist Jennie Miller warns: “Don’t tell them they cannot dress in a certain way, but it’s OK to ask if they feel 100 per cent comfortable in an outfit and, if not, what part of it is giving them that awkward feeling. You could ask, why do you want to dress like that? How does it make you feel?”
The caveat, she adds, concerns safety. “If your daughter is wearing something which seems inappropriately mature for them, context is everything. If they are spending an afternoon at a friend’s house, there’s no harm. But if they are mooching around town, it’s worth explaining that they may attract more attention (and the wrong sort) than they would like.” She points out that some of our parental reaction may be about our own feelings of discomfort. “Are you concerned about how others will view your child? It’s worth remembering that among their friends, your child will probably not stand out at all.” Yet, it’s also vital to help them step outside the peer group. Miller adds: “This is the time when you are helping your children to develop their own healthy boundaries as individuals. At times, they will want to dress like their ‘tribe’ – whether that means wearing leggings every day or head-to-toe black – which is fine, but they also need to be encouraged to be themselves too.”
The answer, says Baldwin Trott, is not just to help them build their own style but also to help them unpick what lies behind the dress codes of their current icons by acting as their personal stylist for a day. “Get your teens to create a mood board of style heroes. This might include current fashion favourites such as Gigi Hadid as well as quirky characters from films and books like Harry Potter, or sportspeople such as Laura Trott. “They can add favorite colors, fabrics and motifs, too. Building up the picture of what inspires will help them get away from slavishly following one unobtainable look.” Baldwin Trott also suggests that you explain how a look on Instagram is not one the model themselves will have chosen – but how it serves a purpose for marketing. “Talk about brands, too. Children are very savvy about being sold to. They don’t like being dictated to by large companies any more than you.” She adds: “If they really like the way a model is dressed, get them to break down what it is that appeals; if it’s the shape of a dress, you can probably find something similar on the high street.” Shops she particularly recommends are Zara and H&M. “They stand alone in teenage wear, recognizing the relevance of trends but keeping it quite innocent.” These stores are great for boys, too. “It’s a really exciting time for young men,” says Baldwin Trott. “It’s cool to look like you mean business, a bit serious, and for that I take my hat off to the Beck hams. They have really encouraged that smartness.”
Another trend for all young teens is vintage wear, thanks to influencers such as Alexa Chung, retro fairs and online marketplaces like depop. Stylist Lynnette Peck, who runs the website Lovely’s Vintage Emporium, explains the appeal: “Teens appreciate the environmental credentials of buying retro and proved as it doesn’t contribute to landfill. “They’ll buy a vintage piece like a bag, hat or scarf to mix with high street and help them stand out from the crowd. A unique sports top or leather jacket is really cove table.” Mixing vintage and high street is also a way that teens can follow high fashion trends without becoming slavish. “Palm leaf and Hawaiian prints are everywhere on the high street at the moment,” says Peck, “and you can pick up plenty of vintage Fifties dresses like that. There’s a bit of a Paul Weller revival, too – and boys can follow that by finding vintage sportswear like Adidas, Kringle and Fred Perry.” Teens can benefit, too, from the sizing of vintage clothing. “I have parents buying the smaller items from Lovely’s Vintage as they are perfect for the slenderer, small-wasted shape of an adolescent girl. A vintage 10 is about the same as a modern size 6.” Both genders can be encouraged to explore color, says Baldwin Trott. “Look into a young teen’s wardrobe and you will see acres of white and black, with plenty of grey. But most of us in the UK look much better in brighter colors even if you are pale. Colors with a warm golden undertone – navy, cream, orange and bright tomato red are great for summer.”
She adds: “Ask them what matters to you? How do you want to feel in your clothing? For example, sporty or trendy. What do you feel comfortable in? What would you like to try wearing?” When you do go shopping, she points out, encourage them to try all kinds of clothes on so that they can develop an eye for shapes which suit. “And always look at clothes by the shop doorway in natural light if you can; shop lighting can be too flattering.” Lastly, Baldwin Trott points out parents can take the lead on style as with everything else. “Model good behavior. Don’t live in black, try new looks and shapes, and be true to yourself.”