Feb 6 2009
Clothing and the Character of the Child [Excerpts]
Our daughter Hannah is rapidly closing in on thirteen years of age. She is tall for her age. Her dark curls and tawny skin mirror the features of the birthparents who brought her to a Romanian orphanage when she was eight months old. Hannah has been part of our family since she was seven years old. She is the apple of her Daddy’s eye, the princess of her Daddy’s heart, and—at this moment—she’s in need of some new clothes. In our household, this means a Daddy-Daughter Date Day, primarily because, in our family, Dad tends to have more patience than Mom when it comes to the quest for appropriate clothing.
And so here I am, meandering into a local mall, hoping that this year’s range of suitable selections is better than last year’s.
The jeans that are long enough for Hannah’s ever-lengthening legs seem to have gained this extra length by trimming too many inches off the top. The sweatpants that fit her best have “PINK” emblazoned across the backside. And the messages that glitter on the chests of several otherwise-appropriate shirts lead to immediate vetoes from our household’s executive branch: “I Want What I Want Now,” one hoodie declares, while a nearby t-shirt boasts, “I Have an Attitude and I Know How to Use It.” “Sooner or Later I’ll Get What I Want,” another sweatshirt announces. Interestingly, the brand names on the tags are “Personal Identity” and “Self Esteem”—almost as if Erik Erikson and Sigmund Freud crept in during the manufacturing process and retagged the clothes to resolve adolescent girls’ supposed identity crises. To Hannah’s credit, she takes it all in good humor, knowing from past experience that, once a veto has been declared, her father will not budge.
Please understand my point here: I am not claiming that clothing, in itself, causes children to behave badly—that would be tantamount to declaring it was the presence of fruit in the garden that caused Adam and Eve to sin. And I’m not suggesting that children’s clothing must be unfashionable for them to be holy. What I am suggesting is that these fusions of cotton, polyester, and iron-on transfers are not values-neutral. They are declarations of what we believe, what we value, and what we expect our children to believe and to value.