Kids' Clothes as a Form of Self-Expression

As adults, we know full well how much clothes matter. What we wear and how we look determines how others see us, no matter how accurate they might end up being about our true personality. Only too often, as this fascinating video essay by School of Life points out, their judgment doesn’t quite get us right. Other people guess wrongly about us, and clothes give us a great if not the only chance to correct their wrong assumptions and to clear up misconceptions.

Through our clothes, we emphasize the things that might be attractive about us to other people, and hide or enhance the parts of us that we’re still working on. We know as grown-ups that this isn’t just a make-believe activity, nor a superficial or shallow endeavor. What we wear makes up a huge part of who we are, helping other people, especially those who are new to our lives, see us for who we are and treat us well.

Culture of childhood

The same is true for children. While childhood is a good time to start teaching kids the importance of good grooming and style for when they grow up, it’s also a crucial time for developing their most important social skills and their understanding of other people. And this is something they learn through other kids, within what psychologist Peter Gray calls the “culture of childhood”.
In this article for Psychology Today, Dr. Gray reveals just how rich the social lives of children are and how much of this figures into their development.

You would notice how your child’s tastes in clothes and music, for example, have a lot to do with what other children she or he knows and likes, in contrast with yours. Children, he says, are biologically designed to pay attention to the other children in their lives, to try to fit in with them, to be able to do what they do and to know what they know.

Children and clothes

More importantly, he points out that the reason children enjoy spending as much time as possible with other children is that they are more likely to learn the most valuable lessons in life from them, and from interacting with them. This makes it extremely important for children to have the freedom to express themselves in whichever way they would like, not only with their talents and skills, but in the way they present themselves as well. While they might end up putting on mismatched outfits or combinations that aren’t exactly to your liking, they will develop a richer sense of how to express the best things that they know so far themselves.


Childrenswear brand Tootsa makes an interesting point about the recent movement towards gender neutral clothing for children. As this blog post on Tootsa points out, the need for children’s clothes that either boys or girls can wear emphasizes that children shouldn’t be restricted by their gender when it comes to what they choose to wear. Rather than forbidding girls to wear dresses, or outlawing pink, what the demand really means is encouraging the creativity of children and allowing them the ability to express their thoughts and still-developing self-identity.

Encouraging independence

Beyond self-expression, letting children choose what they wear simply makes a lot of sense. Children, after all, thrive on being independent, and this is a part of their character that’s worth cultivating early on. The idea, this article on Huffington Post suggests, is to build on this gradually—neither limiting their choices nor giving them too much. Seeing the parts of their behavior—and the culture they move around in as children—that look a lot like the ones we find in ourselves as grown-ups could enable us to determine the parts of their lives where they need our complete guidance (and where they need the space to figure things out).

After all, the fun in being a parent lies in seeing them not only grow up, but also grow out of (one hopes!) the things they should.