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My Young Daughter's Style Embarrassed Me

I love cute kids' outfits as much as anyone else. In fact, I might argue that I love them more than most people, since I have a whole Pinterest board devoted to collecting gorgeous pictures of perfectly styled kids.

I'm also someone who designs and sews kids clothes. So you might think that my child is one of those well-dressed and carefully accessorized children. My 4-year-old daughter loves dressing up and has a strong sense of style herself. Unfortunately, our ideas of what's stylish are about as different as night and day.

When Yuki was a baby, we loved that we could dress her however we wanted to. We were practical parents, we didn't put her in any ridiculous outfits. But at least she matched most of the time. We preferred gender-neutral clothes and even alternated between typically "boy" or "girl" outfits, because we're stereotype rebels like that.

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I started making clothes for her when she was a toddler. I loved putting together fun outfits, dressing her like a mini-me and sometimes even buying a new pair of shoes to complete "a look."

Around the age of 2, my daughter started asserting her clothing preferences. She refused to wear pants that were not "stretchy," meaning no jeans or corduroys or pants made of woven fabrics. Leggings, athletic pants, sweat pants were all approved. I mean, I get it: stretchy pants are comfortable. She was a toddler! She wanted to move freely. How could I argue with that? But after awhile, shorts and skirts were banned. Button up shirts were added to the "no" list. Trying to get her into any of the clothes that were not pre-approved was usually a disaster involving a tantrum (by her), and pleading (by her and/or me) and finally surrender (usually me).

Her idea of matching was a polka dot shirt with polka dot leggings and a polka dot jacket.

When Yuki was 3 years old, we had another kid. Just getting all of us out the door with any clothes at all was a feat, so stopping to argue about what Yuki was wearing was not going to happen. I counted on her to be able to dress herself, so I could get the baby and myself ready in the meantime. Most days she would put on a shirt and some yoga pants and we'd be good to go.

But then her style started evolving.

She became obsessed with layers. One time she came out wearing four shirts over a dress. Her idea of matching was a polka dot shirt with polka dot leggings and a polka dot jacket. She loved wearing mismatched shoes. It seemed like outfits were either all one color or every color of the rainbow. There were some truly amazing ensembles. But they made me cringe.

Why did it bother me so much? Was it my pride? My vanity? My need to control my child's appearance? I had to seriously confront my issues.

I wanted my children to look like all the gorgeously dressed blogger children I saw on Instagram. I was jealous of the parents who could dress their kids in whatever they wanted without an argument. I wanted to look at candid photos and not be embarrassed by ridiculous outfits. I wondered how it reflected on me, if my kid looked like she had just rolled through a basket of laundry and out the front door.

As our girls grow up, my wife and I have made a conscious decision to teach them to be in control of their own bodies.

But I also wondered, what's the harm in letting my child look like, well, a child? There are so few things that 4-year-olds are in control of. Parents and other adults decide when they eat, what they eat, when they sleep, when they go to school and sometimes even when they pee! So if I could let this one thing be hers, perhaps it would empower her, and give her a creative outlet and a safe way to express herself.

Yes, I think there should be conversations about what is appropriate dress. But should I really be spending energy on the color of her socks? Wasn't I just being shallow? Isn't it what's "on the inside" that counts?

As our girls grow up, my wife and I have made a conscious decision to teach them to be in control of their own bodies. We feel that they should determine what they do with their bodies and when and how, not anyone else. And I believe that clothes are an extension of that. It isn't my job to control my children, but it is my job to teach them to make the best decisions for themselves.

While I may have a whole new slew of issues that I face when my daughters are 10, 14 or 16, for now I've chosen to embrace, and even celebrate, Yuki's creative outfits. I created a space on Instagram for parents to share their own child's self-chosen ensembles, so that we could see what "normal" really looks like for kids.

And also so we could have a little chuckle.

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Thus the hashtag #realkidsrealclothes was born. Because for every perfectly styled and modeled outfit we see on social media, there should be dozens, if not hundreds, of wild and funky, wacky and awesome kid-chosen outfits.

Because real kids, wear real clothes and I'm OK with that.

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Images by Cherie Lockwood

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