I recently tried to give my toddler a basic lesson in the principles of fashion. It wasn’t complicated: I simply explained that when you have a brightly patterned shirt, it is likely to match best with a solid pant.
This did not compute.
And I totally get it. In her mind, if a top has a flower pattern and the pants have a flower pattern, surely, they match! But usually, they don’t. And this is how my daughter ends up in an explosion of colorful patterns whenever she gets herself dressed in the morning.
Although, of course, I think she looks adorable in whatever she’s wearing, I also wish she’d let me dress her up in the curated outfits I so specifically purchased. Instead, she refuses most of my outfit suggestions and pulls together her own look—and “a look” it is.
I should have known that I’d have very little say in her daily outfits—ever since she was a baby and pulled off all the really cute headbands I bought her. At the age of 3, I haven’t fully given up on my fashion vision for her, but I have learned some things along the way.
If you also have a toddler with their own sense of style and desire to dress themself, here are a few ways to navigate the inevitable mini fashion faux pas.
Let It Go
How fitting that I’ll use the famous words of Elsa here, as my toddler and I fight daily about her wearing her Frozen Elsa dress to school. While I draw the line at wearing costumes to class, I have mostly let her take the lead in her fashion choices. This is one of the elements of toddler life that you can just let them have.
Toddlers have very little say over what happens in their day and we should allow them to assert their independence where it’s appropriate. While I may cringe at what my daughter chooses to wear, she is taking charge of something in her day. While I can’t let her choose all her meals or what her daily routine will be, there’s no harm in letting her choose her outfits.
Though you may be hyper-focused on your child’s clashing outfit, it’s unlikely anyone else is judging you for it. Your kid has personality and is strong-willed, both great qualities. Allow them to celebrate those qualities in their unique fashion choices.
Set Your Boundaries and Stick to Them
That being said above, sometimes, you need to lay down the law. Everyone’s boundaries here will be different, but think about what yours are and then really stick to them. Once you give in once, it’s very hard to go back.
For example, I let my child choose her outfits, but I will not allow her to go to school in her favorite Elsa dress. Some days, this is a battle and it takes all of my being to not throw in the towel and say, “well, maybe just for today it’s fine.” But if I give in that one time, it’s a slippery slope and I know she’ll be wearing that dress every day for the foreseeable future.
Consider your non-negotiables with your child’s wardrobe and be upfront with them so they know the rules. This might include omitting dress-up clothes from outings, only wearing pajamas to bed, and so on.
Make a Plan for Special Occasions
As much as I want to give my daughter independence, I also really want her to wear something cute on school picture day. There’s no shame in wanting your kid to look put together every so often! On those special occasions (like picture day, parties, holidays, family photos, etc.), I make sure to give my child a heads-up that it’s coming and mommy is going to select the outfit.
There will be pushback. Let your child know it’s a special time and they will wear a special outfit, and then as soon as it’s over, they can change and put on what they want.
Involve Them in Shopping
To ensure your child has clothing they want to wear, include them in the shopping process, whether that’s in a store or selecting things they like online. You can even show them how things go together based on the pictures you see online or in the stores and maybe they’ll take a hint and match their own outfits in a similar way.
Don’t Bring Items You Hate Into the Home
As someone who happily accepts hand-me-downs from friends and family, I’ve learned my lesson that you should filter out items you really don’t like before your toddler can set their eyes on them.
I recently brought in a bag of clothes and put them in my daughter’s drawers without going through them first. She came across a pair of pants with holes in them. She now calls them her “holey pants” and asks to wear them every day. Since that situation, I carefully go through all items before they make their way into our home. I’m not super picky, but if there’s something I don’t want to have a fight over later, I simply pass it along or recycle it.
Keep Things Seasonal
If one of your style disagreements with your child happens over what is seasonally appropriate, update their closet so they can only access things they can actually wear at the time. My daughter loves her summer dresses and it’s a major pain point trying to explain why she can’t wear them to school in December. “Out of sight, out of mind” usually works here, so pack away out-0f-season clothes to decrease the number of options available each day.