Ick, those baggy clothes

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  March 5, 2010 06:00 AM

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My 16-year-old daughter wears jeans and large, bulky sweatshirts to school every day (as do most of her friends).  Her father thinks she looks like a boy and should dress more fashionably in order to "fit in."  I think that day will come on its own and she should be able to dress in what's comfortable to her. Am I off base?  Thanks.

From: Sox Mom, Sudbury

Sox Mom, you are so NOT off base.

There are so many reasons why some girls prefer the baggy look. One of them is that their bodies are changing almost on a daily basis. They look in the mirror at night, wake up in the morning and look in the mirror again and see a different looking person. Sometimes that's imagined, but sometimes it's very real. The baggy look is very forgiving -- a way for them not to face the changes which can make them feel a range of emotions, from, "I'm so ugly!" to, "I'm not ready to grow up!" I am sympathetic; the baggy look can be frustrating to parents (just try to take this girl shopping to find "something new"!) on so many levels.

A girl's body image is formed in many ways (the media; peers' comments and attitudes, parental attitudes about weight), many of them discussed in my post yesterday and in some insightful readers' comments. And by the way, this isn't limited to girls; boys have issues with body image, too.

My advice really is to stop talking about what she wears; it's likely only making her feel worse. But I'm not saying you should stop talking to her about how she feels about her body, or how you -- mom & dad -- felt about your bodies as you were going through your teen years. There's a wealth of material available on this subject (check out Sharon Lamb's & Lyn Mikel Brown's writings. Including a column I've written that I hope my producer will be able to find and offer here!!

Keep in mind also that some girls never develop an interest in clothes and, I should add, grow up to be perfectly happy human beings. And some develop a precocious interest in clothes that never goes away. Honestly, I'd rather have your problem!

You mention that her dad wonders that if she had better clothes sense, she might have more friends. So here's a thought on that: is this perceived lack of friends her issue or her dad's? Is it possible she has friends, just ones who are equally unstylish? If she's not unhappy with her wardrobe, her body or her friends, dad needs to back off big time. If she is unhappy and the clothing is one symptom of that unhappiness, then I suggest getting professional help.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.


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17 comments so far...
  1. The dad should thank his lucky stars his daughter prefers to cover herself up rather than wear spaghetti strapped belly shirts and shorty shorts. Maybe Dad could show his love and support by getting her a new sweatshirt in a pretty color. If she finds a color that brightens up her face, she might be more open to branching out a little. But, honestly, dad, if she's got good hygiene, don't worry about the bulky clothes! One other thing to consider, some boys can be real pigs, and maybe she doesn't want to draw attention to her changing body for fear of vulgar comments in the hallways. And one last thing, and I mean this in all seriousness, and I hate to say it, but you're sure she's not pregnant, right?

    Posted by chilly March 5, 10 07:33 AM
  1. The day will come. I wore baggy jeans (refused to wear girls jeans, only oversized boys), sweatshirts, old button-downs, etc., when I was that age. My BFF was (and is!) a clotheshorse and always looked fabulous. I just didn't care -- too focused on school and homework to take the time to prepare outfits. I had plenty of friends and was very successful, both academically and socially.

    Fast forward a decade later. My style improved slowly in college (still stuck to jeans and hoodies most of the time) and now I'm fashionably business casual every day. Some of my co-workers envy my classic style and all's well. So rest easy.

    Posted by Ariel March 5, 10 08:23 AM
  1. She'll likely take an interest in clothes and dressing up a bit as she gets older -- especially in college when girls start going to parties and clubs. I dressed in baggy jeans, guys t-shirts and sweatshirts all through middle school because I was so self-conscious about my chest size and my body in general. I was incredibly skinny and tall with a huge chest and I didn't want to draw attention to it. In high school I had to wear a uniform so that drew me out of my fashion shell for a bit. Then, once college came and I had a boyfriend my outlook changed... I wanted to look girlier and show off my bust and curves for him. Dad should definitely be happy that he has this problem and not the opposite problem! My poor brother is currently dealing with a 14 year old who wants to dress and look like a 21 year old.

    Posted by MC March 5, 10 09:23 AM
  1. Oh and I forgot to add... definitely don't call her out on it! I'm so glad my parents let me discover myself and didn't force me to conform. It only makes teenagers want to rebel if you bring attention to it. Good luck!

    Posted by MC March 5, 10 09:24 AM
  1. My daughter is a clotheshorse, but many of her friends prefer to wear baggy clothes. It's safer that way. I agree with chilly (post #1) that it is important to make sure she's not hiding something, such as pregnancy or an eating disorder, but if you're sure that's not the case, she will outgrow this!

    Posted by Ashley March 5, 10 09:26 AM
  1. I was going to say pretty much the same as Chilly ...at least she isn't sl*tting it up!!!!

    Posted by jd March 5, 10 09:28 AM
  1. If the biggest problem your kid has is wearing ugly jeans, you've got it pretty good.

    Posted by di March 5, 10 09:43 AM
  1. I commend the student who wants to wear comfortable clothing that allows her to be physically active when necessary. There is no reason for her to be dressing in the garbage that is so common in media. If she has found a group that has similar ideas, so much the better.

    And the mom should have a good stiff word with the dad in private. WHY is HE trying to make her dress more sexy?

    Posted by Irene March 5, 10 10:03 AM
  1. I totally agree with everyone here, especially about the points where Dad needs to keep his mouth shut! If my Dad ever told me I needed to dress "better" in order to fit in, I think I would have cried and then always would have thought I wasn't measuring up to his standards. NOT the thing a teenage girl needs to have added on to everything else, most notably physical changes to her body. And yes, boys can be jerks and say very hurtful things that can seem to stick for years and years. So let your daughter dress how she wants; it doesn't sem to be inappropriate, she's clean and going to school. I came home from college once during my sophomore year wearing my Dad's flannel shirt and had my too long hair parted right down the middle. Not a good look, but nobody said anything (to my face, anyway!). And now I am shopping at Talbots. It will get better.


    Posted by South Boston Mom March 5, 10 10:52 AM
  1. Wait, if she is wearing the same clothes as "most of her friends", then isn't she already fitting in (not that friends should match anyway)? So not only does Dad not like her clothing, is he saying he also doesn't like her friends?

    As long as she is not wearing anything that is inappropriate, leave her alone. She sounds like a normal teenager. Many teenagers wear baggy clothes to be comfortable. I did when I was a teen, as did most of my friends.

    Posted by miakate March 5, 10 12:05 PM
  1. Dad thinks she should dress to "fit in"? But she DOES fit in, as LW points out in the first line -- with HER FRIENDS! Dad should get off her back. There are a lot worse things she could be doing than wearing baggy sweatshirts. LW, I encourage you to stand up for your daughter on this one.

    Posted by anita March 5, 10 12:33 PM
  1. Dad wants her to dress more fashionably so that boys like how she looks -- because she is already dressing in a way that makes her comfortable, and she is fitting in just fine as her friends dress that way too.

    So dad is trying to send his daughter an awful message: boys won't like you as you are, and you need to dress differently for them. Your comfort is not as important as boys liking how you look.

    Give dad a smack in the head for me.

    Posted by jlen March 5, 10 01:17 PM
  1. oh boy. When I was 16 I had a boyfriend who wanted me to wear more "fashionable" clothes. A typical outfit for me at that time was baggy jeans, a thermal shirt and then a short sleeve shirt on top of that and skater shoes. I told him to take a hike. I dressed similar to your daughter, had friends, and had straight A's in high school. Now that I am in a professional career, I dress in more of the "classic" look that another poster noted. Usually nice dress pants, blouse and/or sweater. I think as long as she isn't pregnant and has good self esteem/grades, well how cares how she dresses? I can see this would be a problem if she was dressing this way on job interviews, really looks are a first impression there, and that should be impressed upon her. However, changing the way you dress just to "fit in"? No way!
    My sister was the total opposite of me. She'd come home with tube tops and those pleather type pants, my dad would send her back to the store to return that crap in the blink of an eye. Any thongs of hers that showed up in the laundry, got tossed by him. :-)

    Posted by am March 5, 10 01:39 PM
  1. I agree with everyone else so far, but want to point out that it may also be slightly homophobic - "you look butch and aren't trying to attract boys". The LW might want to consider if that is part of the dynamic. The solution is the same, I think. Stand up for your daughter and tell Dad he's way off base.

    Posted by Lizzie March 5, 10 01:40 PM
  1. P.S. I should add that, in addition to laziness and just not caring, one of the reasons I wore such baggy clothing is that I developed a very well-endowed bosom -- and I just wasn't comfortable showing 'em off.

    Posted by Ariel March 5, 10 01:53 PM
  1. I was one of those girls who never got into clothes. I still don't care - I would wear jeans and a t-shirt or turtleneck every day for the rest of my life if I could. I dress up in conservative (boring) clothes when necessary for work or church. I own maybe 4 skirts, that I rarely wear. Yet somehow, I attracted several boyfriends and finally a husband. Yes, even when I had Sinead O'Connor buzzed hair in the 90's and wore flannel shirts (they were comfy, and I hated my hair). Sure there were a couple of people who were convinced I was a lesbian. But so what? It screened out the jerks. If I guy is only interested in me when I am dressed up, then I don't want to bother with him anyhow.

    Posted by bms March 6, 10 09:45 AM
  1. i agree you should let them and get on with it. it is all natural behavior. i am a teenage girl who did that at her age. i think it is normal. just talk to the girls.

    Posted by Keziah March 8, 10 09:02 AM
 
17 comments so far...
  1. The dad should thank his lucky stars his daughter prefers to cover herself up rather than wear spaghetti strapped belly shirts and shorty shorts. Maybe Dad could show his love and support by getting her a new sweatshirt in a pretty color. If she finds a color that brightens up her face, she might be more open to branching out a little. But, honestly, dad, if she's got good hygiene, don't worry about the bulky clothes! One other thing to consider, some boys can be real pigs, and maybe she doesn't want to draw attention to her changing body for fear of vulgar comments in the hallways. And one last thing, and I mean this in all seriousness, and I hate to say it, but you're sure she's not pregnant, right?

    Posted by chilly March 5, 10 07:33 AM
  1. The day will come. I wore baggy jeans (refused to wear girls jeans, only oversized boys), sweatshirts, old button-downs, etc., when I was that age. My BFF was (and is!) a clotheshorse and always looked fabulous. I just didn't care -- too focused on school and homework to take the time to prepare outfits. I had plenty of friends and was very successful, both academically and socially.

    Fast forward a decade later. My style improved slowly in college (still stuck to jeans and hoodies most of the time) and now I'm fashionably business casual every day. Some of my co-workers envy my classic style and all's well. So rest easy.

    Posted by Ariel March 5, 10 08:23 AM
  1. She'll likely take an interest in clothes and dressing up a bit as she gets older -- especially in college when girls start going to parties and clubs. I dressed in baggy jeans, guys t-shirts and sweatshirts all through middle school because I was so self-conscious about my chest size and my body in general. I was incredibly skinny and tall with a huge chest and I didn't want to draw attention to it. In high school I had to wear a uniform so that drew me out of my fashion shell for a bit. Then, once college came and I had a boyfriend my outlook changed... I wanted to look girlier and show off my bust and curves for him. Dad should definitely be happy that he has this problem and not the opposite problem! My poor brother is currently dealing with a 14 year old who wants to dress and look like a 21 year old.

    Posted by MC March 5, 10 09:23 AM
  1. Oh and I forgot to add... definitely don't call her out on it! I'm so glad my parents let me discover myself and didn't force me to conform. It only makes teenagers want to rebel if you bring attention to it. Good luck!

    Posted by MC March 5, 10 09:24 AM
  1. My daughter is a clotheshorse, but many of her friends prefer to wear baggy clothes. It's safer that way. I agree with chilly (post #1) that it is important to make sure she's not hiding something, such as pregnancy or an eating disorder, but if you're sure that's not the case, she will outgrow this!

    Posted by Ashley March 5, 10 09:26 AM
  1. I was going to say pretty much the same as Chilly ...at least she isn't sl*tting it up!!!!

    Posted by jd March 5, 10 09:28 AM
  1. If the biggest problem your kid has is wearing ugly jeans, you've got it pretty good.

    Posted by di March 5, 10 09:43 AM
  1. I commend the student who wants to wear comfortable clothing that allows her to be physically active when necessary. There is no reason for her to be dressing in the garbage that is so common in media. If she has found a group that has similar ideas, so much the better.

    And the mom should have a good stiff word with the dad in private. WHY is HE trying to make her dress more sexy?

    Posted by Irene March 5, 10 10:03 AM
  1. I totally agree with everyone here, especially about the points where Dad needs to keep his mouth shut! If my Dad ever told me I needed to dress "better" in order to fit in, I think I would have cried and then always would have thought I wasn't measuring up to his standards. NOT the thing a teenage girl needs to have added on to everything else, most notably physical changes to her body. And yes, boys can be jerks and say very hurtful things that can seem to stick for years and years. So let your daughter dress how she wants; it doesn't sem to be inappropriate, she's clean and going to school. I came home from college once during my sophomore year wearing my Dad's flannel shirt and had my too long hair parted right down the middle. Not a good look, but nobody said anything (to my face, anyway!). And now I am shopping at Talbots. It will get better.


    Posted by South Boston Mom March 5, 10 10:52 AM
  1. Wait, if she is wearing the same clothes as "most of her friends", then isn't she already fitting in (not that friends should match anyway)? So not only does Dad not like her clothing, is he saying he also doesn't like her friends?

    As long as she is not wearing anything that is inappropriate, leave her alone. She sounds like a normal teenager. Many teenagers wear baggy clothes to be comfortable. I did when I was a teen, as did most of my friends.

    Posted by miakate March 5, 10 12:05 PM
  1. Dad thinks she should dress to "fit in"? But she DOES fit in, as LW points out in the first line -- with HER FRIENDS! Dad should get off her back. There are a lot worse things she could be doing than wearing baggy sweatshirts. LW, I encourage you to stand up for your daughter on this one.

    Posted by anita March 5, 10 12:33 PM
  1. Dad wants her to dress more fashionably so that boys like how she looks -- because she is already dressing in a way that makes her comfortable, and she is fitting in just fine as her friends dress that way too.

    So dad is trying to send his daughter an awful message: boys won't like you as you are, and you need to dress differently for them. Your comfort is not as important as boys liking how you look.

    Give dad a smack in the head for me.

    Posted by jlen March 5, 10 01:17 PM
  1. oh boy. When I was 16 I had a boyfriend who wanted me to wear more "fashionable" clothes. A typical outfit for me at that time was baggy jeans, a thermal shirt and then a short sleeve shirt on top of that and skater shoes. I told him to take a hike. I dressed similar to your daughter, had friends, and had straight A's in high school. Now that I am in a professional career, I dress in more of the "classic" look that another poster noted. Usually nice dress pants, blouse and/or sweater. I think as long as she isn't pregnant and has good self esteem/grades, well how cares how she dresses? I can see this would be a problem if she was dressing this way on job interviews, really looks are a first impression there, and that should be impressed upon her. However, changing the way you dress just to "fit in"? No way!
    My sister was the total opposite of me. She'd come home with tube tops and those pleather type pants, my dad would send her back to the store to return that crap in the blink of an eye. Any thongs of hers that showed up in the laundry, got tossed by him. :-)

    Posted by am March 5, 10 01:39 PM
  1. I agree with everyone else so far, but want to point out that it may also be slightly homophobic - "you look butch and aren't trying to attract boys". The LW might want to consider if that is part of the dynamic. The solution is the same, I think. Stand up for your daughter and tell Dad he's way off base.

    Posted by Lizzie March 5, 10 01:40 PM
  1. P.S. I should add that, in addition to laziness and just not caring, one of the reasons I wore such baggy clothing is that I developed a very well-endowed bosom -- and I just wasn't comfortable showing 'em off.

    Posted by Ariel March 5, 10 01:53 PM
  1. I was one of those girls who never got into clothes. I still don't care - I would wear jeans and a t-shirt or turtleneck every day for the rest of my life if I could. I dress up in conservative (boring) clothes when necessary for work or church. I own maybe 4 skirts, that I rarely wear. Yet somehow, I attracted several boyfriends and finally a husband. Yes, even when I had Sinead O'Connor buzzed hair in the 90's and wore flannel shirts (they were comfy, and I hated my hair). Sure there were a couple of people who were convinced I was a lesbian. But so what? It screened out the jerks. If I guy is only interested in me when I am dressed up, then I don't want to bother with him anyhow.

    Posted by bms March 6, 10 09:45 AM
  1. i agree you should let them and get on with it. it is all natural behavior. i am a teenage girl who did that at her age. i think it is normal. just talk to the girls.

    Posted by Keziah March 8, 10 09:02 AM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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