They have so little choice, really. In their early days we decorate our children as we choose. Eventually it starts to matter to them – a lot. Favorite colors. T-shirts. Boots with ducks on them. Some prefer no clothes at all. We can help our young learners, still unaware of the pressure that will soon follow, understand the basic elements of clothing. Expose the wizard before he can take control.
When kids start school, they are in a demanding life skills lab. In the safety of family, they are loved and celebrated, whatever they do. But now, in the school environment, there are new rules. Looks take center stage. It becomes clear to them that, if they want to be liked and to belong, they need to pay attention to what the other children are doing. Being different has its costs. As parents we can help our children understand the elements of physical appearance and help them balance utility with uniqueness.
As kids continue to grow, we help them weather the challenges of wearing who they are – when who they are is ever-evolving.
So, welcome to the high-pressure world of appearance in our children’s lives. Let’s help them understand, celebrate and leverage what their “outsides” – and their friends’ “outsides” really say.
Ask your child to see if they can imagine why all these people are wearing these special hats. What might the reaction be if we wore a hat like that to the grocery store? Why?
Photograph: Alessandro Bianchi/REUTERS
Ask your child about the ways the people in this photo are showing that they are part of the same team. What might happen is someone in this group didn’t clap with the others? Have you been in situations where most of the people around you were expressing something together and you didn’t feel the same? What did you do? When you and your child are together, help them notice public displays that model agreement. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty
What you wear on your head can say a lot …
Ask your child to explore how these headwear fashion statements are the same and different. What can you tell about women wearing these – and what can’t you tell? Photograph: AP Photo/Russell, https://blog.texasnuns.com/ and ipsnews.net
Fashion and belonging Photo: Yan Li/National Geographic
Why does royalty wear crowns?
- Do you think they wear them all the time?
- Does the crown give them extra power? How does that happen? Is their power different when they aren’t wearing the crown?
- Can any of us make our own crowns and wear them? What would happen?
The purpose of these discussions is to help children recognize and appreciate the intention and power of smart design. More than any generation, their surroundings are saturated with visual messaging, each one offering the potential to help them show coolness, belonging and individuality. Using brands as personal identifiers can seem like an easy solution to social challenges. Bottom line – it is important to understand that these logos are marketing – meant to sell.
Some discussion points when you see a Nike logo …
- What do you think of the Nike logo? What do you think of when you see it?
- Does it tell you anything about what you can expect when you buy any Nike product?
- If you had two identical sneakers, but only one had the logo on it, which one would you choose? Why?
- Have you heard that the logo is called the Nike swoosh? What does that word make you think about?
- Have you heard Nike’s slogan, “Just do it!” What do you think the slogan means? Why do you think Nike chose that slogan?
- Companies use logos and slogans to encourage us to buy their products. They want us to feel that, by wearing their logo, that we are telling the world something special about who we are and what we stand for.
- Are there popular brands in your school?
- Do you have any favorites? Why do you like those brands
What can you tell?
The purpose of this module is to help your child appreciate how natural it is for people to quickly determine if a stranger can be trusted. Science says that one of the primary reasons for the whites of our eyes is so we can see a stranger’s gaze, see what they might be feeling. Much of this instinct has developed since humans started living in more crowded environments, surrounded by strangers at any given time.
- In order for people to feel comfortable with one another they quickly determine if they can trust one another. Looking into their eyes is one of the most powerful ways we can do that.
- What kinds of things can you tell when you look into someones eyes? What if they keep looking away? Share a few stories when you got an uneasy feeling.
- What can we do to put people at ease? Did you know a handshake is one way we can show intentions?
- Any other ways?
- What other indications might you see to help you? Does skin color make a difference? Does how they dress make a difference? Whether they are skinny or overweight?
The purpose of these discussion ideas is to help your child understand the role clothing plays in important ceremonies in life. Clothing adds solemnity and serves to indicate the special stature of officiants. Although the image and quote in the attached article relate to Catholicism, these discussion ideas provide you with a perfect opportunity to explore some of the details of your faith with your child. Bottom line? Clothing matters.
A priest recognized that those “clothes are not just about me, they are about my relationship with everyone out there. When I wear that black clerical shirt in public, when I pull that white tab across my throat, I am giving myself to them. The people I encounter then, they no longer see the ‘me’ I’d like them to see…Instead, they see ‘priest.’” Read full article.
- Why do you think (ceremonial leaders) wear special clothing? What if they dressed like everyone else?
- Do you think we should act differently with them when they are wearing their special clothing? Are they still the friendly person we know, or are they actually a slightly different person?
- Do special clothes bring special powers?
- Explore the symbolic aspects of the special garments. Gold signifies … The shape of the sleeve reflects …
- What have you noticed about how judges dress? Do you think it makes a difference?
- Occasionally point out to one another when you notice someone wearing ceremonial clothing.
Do you have your own brand?
The purpose of these discussion points, for older children, is to explore the idea of personal favorites. When does it get defined by fashion and media vs when does it get defined by the individual? The huge challenge kids face, particularly in their teens, is showing status and belonging. They are naturally pulling away from parental influence in favor of making choices that visibly connect them to their peers. This article explores how fashion brands are using students to promote their (and the student’s) brands.
- What brands are popular today?
- When I was growing up, everyone was really into ___. My parents could/couldn’t afford much so ….
- Do kids talk about what others wear?
- How do you think people decide which brands they like?
- When I was growing up Keds(?) were really cool but then …
- When your child wants to buy a new garment, explore in an easy, non-judgmental way, “Why is this what you want?”
Boss of Art?
The arts are very powerful. So powerful that dictators fear them and do what they can to control what people see, the stories they hear, their music, even what people wear – everything. They know the arts can change people’s feelings and even make them feel they can make a change in their government. The purpose of this discussion is to help your child recognize the reasons dictators fear artists and the messages they bring.
Definition: A dictatorship is a government or a social situation where one person makes all the rules and decisions without input from anyone else.
- Why do you think a dictator would want to control the arts?
- What might happen if people living under a dictator wore a t-shirt that was insulting to the dictator?
- In free countries we often have protest songs inspiring people to make the world – and their country – a better place. Do you think it takes courage to write and perform songs that criticize leaders in free countries? In dictatorships?
- How do you think other citizens feel or react when they see risky art? Do you think they look away because they are afraid? Do you think they try to protect the artist?
- Dictators are afraid that people will come together and challenge them. How do you think the arts help people come together?
- Let’s try to find art in our country that might not be legal under a dictatorship.
The purpose of these discussion ideas is to build awareness of how and why people talk about people in groups as if they are all the same. Ultimately we want them to be able to recognize this in their own thoughts and behaviors.
Definition: A stereotype is a preconceived notion, especially about a group of people. This is often due to a lack of exposure and understanding. Many stereotypes are negative, such as racism, sexism, or homophobia.
When your child is exposed to a stereotype that you see as insensitive, initiate a discussion that explores:
- Sometimes groups think it makes their group look better if they make other groups look bad. It can show up as teasing, shaming or bullying people who are different from them.
- Let’s think about groups we belong to. Favorite sports team? Faith? Ethnicity? Gender? Music preference? Do we ever experience people assuming things about each of our groups that aren’t true? Consider sharing some of the stereotypes you (as a parent) have had to experience.
- How does it feel when people think they know something about you that isn’t true?
- How does it feel when you don’t get to participate in activities that interest you – just because of stereotypes?
- Occasionally note examples of stereotypes in images or movies and TV. “It looks like they are talking about a group as if they are all the same. Is it meant to be funny? Do you think the people in that stereotyped group would be okay with it?”
- Let’s notice and help one another spot images that may make some people feel bad about themselves.
- If someone starts making fun of a group or an individual in a group, you might want to say something like, “I think those words could hurt someone’s feelings. Can we find better words or a better way?”
Clothes Can Show Faith
These conversation suggestions can help your child appreciate how the clothes we wear often tell the world something about what we believe or feel is important. Many religious communities develop specific ways for people in their communities to show their connections – that they belong to a shared belief community.
- Here are two images from the Amish community. Read more …
- What messages are they sending about what is important to them? About their values?
- When people wear clothing that indicates something about their faith, is it like people who want to wear clothing showing their favorite team? How is it the same? Different?
- What can’t you tell based on their clothing? Can you tell if they like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches just like you? Can you tell what they like for music?
- Why do you think some people sometimes avoid people who have different beliefs?
- Are there kids in your school who wear clothes that might indicate their faith? Does it make a difference to you?
- I remember the first time I saw someone from ( ) faith, …. Here’s what I felt and learned.
What to cover? And why?
These discussion ideas are meant to help your child appreciate that clothing isn’t just about fashion, but that it also has a job to do. Exploring your child’s ideas related to modesty in clothing is a great opportunity to discuss (and influence) personal values.
- Can you think of reasons to keep parts of your body private?
- Why might modesty be good? Is it ever bad?
- Should it be up to the individual to decide how much of their body they want to keep private?
- Are there rules in your family or school or faith about modesty in attire?
- What values do you think modest clothing demonstrates?
- Most people agree that being able to see a person’s eyes is important to being able to know and trust another person. What do you think? Is seeing their nose important? Their mouth? Why?
Fashion as political statement
The intention of these conversation starters is to help your child recognize political statements being made with fashion. Perhaps they have participated in a march already – or have worn a cap or a pin supporting a candidate or a cause. These are powerful expressions of belonging – publicly sharing their ideas and commitments. It is also a vehicle for standing apart and expressing individuality. Art in real life – on the edge.
- In 2018, millions of people marched in Washington and in cities all across the country and around the world. They were protesting – coming together to voice their concerns about women’s rights and other causes. Many wore pink hats as a signifier of what they believed.
- Do you think this is an effective way of getting people to pay attention?
- Would the march have been as effective without the hats?
- How do you think people decided whether or not to wear one?
- Do you think they worried about their choice?
- If you see someone wearing one today, do you think you understand what that person believes about women’s rights?
- What do you think happens when people spot strangers wearing a pink hat just like them? Do you think they might go over and say hello?
- What if you just like pink hats? Can you still wear one even if you don’t agree with the cause?
Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery – it’s the sincerest form of learning. George Bernard Shaw
What Is Most Important About What You Wear?
Make up cards listing criteria. Some suggestions:
- Fits well
- Everyone else is wearing something like it
- Expensive brand
- Supports the activity you’re doing
- Don’t keep wearing the same thing
- Other ideas
Ask your child to put these in order of importance to them. Do they think others would order them the same way?
Consider making up a few sets of cards so the family can do it at mealtime and then discuss where their choices are the same or different.
Ask relatives to go through the exercise when they visit. Ask grandparents if the rules have changed for them since they were little?
Are There Rules About Hair?
The purpose of these discussion ideas is to explore with your child the role cultures play in defining hair style expectations.
- Help them appreciate that sometimes people’s hairstyle tells a story of belonging.
- Explore differences between styles for men and women? Why do they think they evolved that way?
- Explore global differences.
- Discuss hair in your childhood. Did you have favorite haircuts? check out old pictures? Ask grandparents about their hair histories? Any favorites?
- Explore ways people make their styles unique. Color? Clips? Braids? Dreadlocks? Bangs?
- Notice a billboard or media images – any trends for men? Women?
- Why do they think trends keep changing?
- Explain that some cultures, countries and religions have specific expectations about how people should wear their hair. Many faiths have rules. Sikh men and women don’t cut their hair. Native Americans.
- Explore hair guidelines or expectations in your faith and those of your friends.
- Are there any expectations at their school? Do any kids get teased for how they wear their hair?
- Does a person’s choice of hair style tell us something about them?
Give your young child a choice between 2 items of clothing. Once a decision is made, ask …
- Why do you like this one? For today?
- Are there times you think this is perfect and other times you think something else would be better?
- Can you show me some clothes you don’t really like. Tell me about why you don’t like them.
You be the judge?
Have you heard people criticize others for how they look? Why do you think they do that?
Do you think it’s okay?
Let’s think of some ways to respond when someone starts criticizing a friend? What do you want the person criticizing to know about how you feel about the situation? What do you think their response will be?
Why do people and horses wear shoes?
What Can You Tell?
- What can you tell about someone based on what they are wearing? Make a list together.
- What CAN’T you tell about someone based on what they are wearing? Make a list together.
- Can you think of reasons to treat anyone differently based on how they look?
- Might there be kids at school who are being left out of fun things just because of how they look? Is there some way you could help?
It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes.
Henry David Thoreau.
Cliques & Styles
These conversation topics can build your child’s awareness of all the ways people send signals to one another about what they like – and who they like.
- Can you tell me about any cliques – or groups of kids who tend to hang out together?
- Do you have a group of friends you like to hang out with? Do you eat lunch together?
- How would you describe your friends in this group? How would you describe people in other groups? What things do you think they have in common?
- Your child knows there are differences. Describing those differences can be challenging.
- You might get them started by using words from your generation – clean cut, preppy, metal, flirty.
- Are there any groups that dress very differently?
- Sometimes people even walk in ways that show that they belong together. Have you ever noticed this?
- Sometimes people change and like to join new groups. Have you ever had to do that? Was it easy to do or did it get complicated?
Go Ask Grandma
Encourage your child to “interview” family and friends who grew up in another era – or another country – to explore their connections to clothing.
Help your child plan the questions, such as: Favorite articles of clothing when you were a child? Did your mom make you wear something you didn’t like? Do you have any pictures?
Perhaps they could put the interviews and pictures together into a book.
That Looks Uncomfortable!
Sometimes people like to wear clothes that are super-big and bulky. Can you think of reasons why?
- There are times when people wear clothing that seems uncomfortable – wearing pants so low they might fall off – or wearing very high heels – or having tongues pierced.
- Why do you think we are sometimes willing to do that?
In the News
Use any “looks” based on news articles to initiate a discussion. Stereotyping – such as the hoodie issue. Ethnic differences – how do they feel about the way North Korean leader, Kim Jung-un is ridiculed for his looks? The latest plastic surgery headline. Comments about women politicians’ hair. Why is so much time spent on Red Carpet fashion?
Companies pay millions of dollars creating and advertising new trends – the “must-haves” of the season.
Why do you think they are always telling us that what was cool yesterday doesn’t work today?
Why do we believe them?
Walk a Mile In My Shoes
Cut out pictures of different kinds of shoes with your child. Put the pictures (or just the words) in a stack on the table.
- Fuzzy slippers
- Cowboy boots
- Cast (like a broken foot)
- Clown shoes
- Elf shoes
- Baby shoes
- Ski boots
- Work boots
- High heels
- Wooden shoes
- Other ideas?
Take turns turning over a card and acting out what wearing them would look like. See if they can guess. The lesson is about exploring the nexus of fashion and purpose.
What do think are the advantages and disadvantages?
How would you feel if you had to wear uniforms?
How do kids show their individuality while they are wearing a uniform?
How do kids show they belong to a group without uniforms?
Our appearance is a powerful communication tool, sending messages to every sighted person.
Mention a tattoo you noticed – and share your observations and thoughts.
Have you seen any interesting tattoos? What do you think of tattoos? Why do you think someone would want a permanent image – and not just a temporary one? Have you heard of anyone who had a tattoo and then regretted it?
Explore the images on this website: 11-ancient-tattoo-cultures-from-around-the-world
Do you think you would ever want to get a tattoo?
Why do you think so many talented performers like to dress in strange and/or highly distinctive ways? Identify a few (Sia? Lady Gaga? Others?). Does their image communicate something special about them?
Stock Paper Haircuts
Cut out 6″ – 7″ ovals in a stack of cover stock paper. On each sheet paste a variety of hair shapes or hats in construction paper, felt or yarn. (Don’t forget the clowns!)
Hold one of the styles in front of a mirror – and have your child see what they look like. Even if some of them are silly, say what you like about it. Why do you think people don’t have purple hair like this?
For fun, take their picture with their favorite looks.
Shirts That Do the Talking
Team Shirts: Lots of people wear shirts emblazoned with the names of their favorite teams. What might it tell you about them? Is it about loyalty?
Favorite Band shirts: Do you think people who wear musician shirts really listen to those groups? What other reasons could there be?
Brand Name Shirts: People often wear shirts with brand names. Why do you think they like those shirts? What might it tell you about them?
Just Plain Shirts: Some people prefer to not wear messages. What might it tell you about them?
Clean as a Whistle
Grown ups know how important it is to be clean. If we are dirty, germs and icky things can get into our skin, eyes and mouth. So one of the first things we notice about someone is if they look clean.
Have a discussion about having clean and shiny parts so people won’t worry about getting germs.
- Face and hands
- Smelling clean
Have them decide which is the best order to clean themselves before going out in the morning.
Can you think of some ceremonies where what you wear is important?
Why do you think weddings look like they do? Graduations? Religious ceremonies?
Are there rules for how to dress for school dances? Why?
Whether it’s a woven bracelet at camp or a necklace with a locket, we adorn ourselves with items that carry special meaning. Have a conversation with your child exploring the role jewelry can play in our lives.
Do your friends wear jewelry? Have they talked with you about it?
Go through any items you have that are special to you.
Are there differences between the jewelry men wear and that worn by women?
Have a conversation about how important it is to you that they be comfy in their clothes. Play clothes are their everyday clothes. They don’t have to be careful or worry about getting dirty.
Sometimes we want to wear clothes for a nicer kind of time, like parties, or going to church. We call these dress clothes.
Have a project together where you go through your and their closets and dressers. Decide which clothes are play clothes and which are dress clothes.