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'My Kid Has No Fashion Sense'

Photograph by Getty Images

Dear Catherine,

I hope you can help me out with something. Lately, I've started to worry about my 11-year-old daughter's sense of style. Every time I suggest that she may want to reconsider an outfit, I feel like dragon-mom. But, the kid needs help. I don't understand how French mothers do it. Guidance, please!

Uneasily,

Monster Mom

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Dear Monster Mom,

With two daughters, I have come up against this issue quite a bit. I don't want to make my girls self-conscious or squelch their burgeoning inventiveness by declaring that a getup is atrocious. I also don't want them to think that appearance is everything. Bad outfits are almost always preferable to shallow people.

But, I have been truly embarrassed to be seen in public with my kids after they dress themselves. (There, I said it.)

When I started looking at the way many French parents approach dress with their children—especially daughters—I realized I wanted part of my job as a mother to be style councillor. Precious few people are born with an innate sense of style. For most of us, it takes work. When we tell our kids that they look fantastic in neon mesh over their pajamas, we aren't doing them any favors.

It's no coincidence that chic and vogue are French words. People in France—at least Paris—are serious about their ensembles. I've seen mothers brusquely insist that their kids change after emerging in a slightly mismatched outfit (which, by the way, I thought was exquisite).

Go through her closet together and weed out some of the more gauche pieces in her wardrobe.

The irony is that, in comparison to a lot of the French families I interviewed, my kids had a lot more clothes. The French clothes are just a bit (read: a lot) better looking.

So, the first thing you might want to do is take a look at the materials your daughter is working with. Think quality, not quantity. Go through her closet together and weed out some of the more gauche pieces in her wardrobe. (I have to remind myself to do a sweep of my own closet occasionally as well). At the moment, I think there are three different T-shirts under my roof featuring dogs dreaming about cupcakes, and this is when I'm trying to to keep on top of things. Obnoxious shirts seem to multiply like gremlins in my house. If your girl is reluctant to give up clothes that really need to go, perhaps planning a special shop to replace them will soften her up.

Another tip is to set a good example. I've noticed that when I make an effort to pull my appearance together, my girls—ages 7 and 9—often follow suit. I try not to make a big deal about it, but these days, without any prodding, we rarely go to a dinner party, performance or even the movies looking like schlubs.

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Finally, you needn't be a witch about it, but don't be afraid to express your real opinion about your child's style choices. It's particularly difficult for parents who rarely criticize their kids to censure something as seemingly frivolous as clothing. But, as a French mother once told me, the window of time when you can do this isn't very wide. Get in there while you can. All bets are off in the teenage years.

Here's something to listen to for inspiration.

Go mom!

Catherine

Have a French (or any nationality) parenting question for Catherine? Email her at mommecs@bermanbraun.com.

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