When I was a child, my mom would take me shopping several times a year. We would generally go before school started, before Easter Sunday, and then in early June for some summer clothes. I honestly don’t remember the shopping for summer clothes, but I really want to think we shopped more than twice a year. I do remember Mama would take the sewing machine out every summer. She was a school teacher and rarely taught during the summer months so she and my sister would spend that time making shorts for me to wear. Now that I am writing about this subject I think maybe she shopped for herself a lot more than she shopped for me. I guess she worked and I didn’t. Therefore, she could spend her money how ever she saw fit.
When she took me shopping she would announce, “I will buy you school clothes and ‘Sunday go to meeting’ clothes.” Even when I shop now, I can hear her proclamation. The selection of school clothes also came with stipulations that would make you think my mother invented the idea of school uniforms. She would basically buy me blue slacks, khaki slacks, jeans and an assortment of shirts that I could mix and match with the slacks. I often joke about “Garanimals” because I remember when the Sears Department Stores carried them and we shopped at Sears. The concept was that you could mix and match the clothes with tags depicting images of the same animals. I be danged if the concept of mix and matching clothing in my wardrobe didn’t become a life long theme. I am so scarred. She always said I was “too practical,” but right now I’m thinking that she is responsible for creating and nurturing that practical part of me.
By definition, “Sunday clothes” meant a dress or suit (with a skirt) ONLY, stockings or tights, and a long coat to be worn with my Sunday clothes in the fall and winter. The only time my mother ever approved of me wearing pants to church was after I was very grown with a husband and two children and she came to visit us in the mid west during the winter. In general, the Sunday clothes were considered “dressy” and worn on Sundays, to meetings that required business attire, weddings, or funerals. We also wore dressy clothes to special occasions like high school and college graduations! I am so frustrated seeing people wearing shorts, baggy pants, slides, ill-fitting outfits woven with varying amounts of spandex, dresses so short and tight that you can see their business when they walk, and denim to graduation ceremonies or commencement exercises. There’s a reason these events are called ceremonies and commencements, people. They are not parties or socials. Wow!
Some things in life are big deals and major opportunities. We have become so relaxed that we forget to make a big deal out of the things that are big deals. We must teach our kids that some moments and opportunities deserve our respect. Additionally, we have to impress upon them that the way we present ourselves during those moments can speak volumes about our level of honor and respect for the accomplishments and achievements those moments represent. High school graduation is not a given any more. How do I know this you ask? I know this because school districts are staging campaigns to encourage kids to return to high school. I know this because school are suspending and expelling kids from high school in greater numbers than we used to see. We also know that college costs are high and being a young adult on a college campus these days can be challenging. As a result, students and their support circles can attest that receiving a college diploma is no easy feat. Hence, we should celebrate and acknowledge these ceremonies in a way that is special and different from going to the mall or a ball game.
I used to wonder why dressing up for church was such a big deal to my mom. Mama would make me wear a skirt to church on Saturday’s when we had choir practice. I remember trying to leave the house one Saturday in shorts (and they were not hot pants). Mama asked, “Where are you going? I thought you had to be at church for rehearsal?” “I am headed to church,” I replied. She followed up with, “You need to put on at least a skirt if you are going to church.” I said, “But Mama, it’s Saturday!” Silence filled the air. No more comments or questions. You may step down, Miss Cooper, your Mama is done with her line of questioning and she has dropped the mic and walked away. “Dang. For real?!” read the thought bubble over my head. I was smart enough to use my inside voice for that comment because I knew that a debate with my mother was not a consideration. I returned to my room and changed into the casual skirt that she bought for me to wear for occasions like this one. I went to church to rehearse with the other well-dressed teens at my church that Saturday afternoon.
I was a little more relaxed with my kids and their church attire. I didn’t require my daughter to wear frilly, itchy slips under her dresses and my son didn’t have to wear a tie every week. When we had Sunday football, they even got to wear denim and football jerseys to church. However, I did make it a point to impress upon them that there were times that demanded a change from their every day school wardrobe. I remember when the kids were in middle school we had discussions about appropriate clothing for school. I told my kids that I wanted teachers to believe that they were students coming to class serious about learning and not looking like students with a mission to play and goof around. I worked hard to encourage them to select clothing that was trendy, but classic and collegiate. In order to make sure that their outfits would blend well at school, I bought the popular footwear, the trendy jackets and outerwear, and pieces of jewelry to compliment the looks.
My son was in middle school when the baggy, saggy pants trend began. “Lord, help us all!”, I said with my outside voice. There was no way in heck he was gonna sport that look and fit the description of every suspect on the police radar. The conversation with him focused on the first impressions he would make on teachers and law enforcement based solely on his clothing. My boy was a smart one. He figured out how to use my concerns about his safety and reputation to take his wardrobe to a new level with designer collared shirts and handsome, crisp, trendy tees. So, for all of his teen years, he would let me know when his gear was on sale. He would work to figure out my budget so that he could figure our how many shirts or pairs of shoes he might acquire during the shopping trip. He knew that I was a sucker for good math and good analytical skills. His ability to consider my concerns about his safety, his academic reputation and my budget were rewarded with a few more designer pieces to compliment the jeans and slacks. I bought him nice kicks, trendy hats and collegiate looking outer wear. I am thrilled that he still appreciates stepping out looking like he cares about presenting himself in a way that announces that he is serious and confident about who he is and what he is about to do. Balance and compromise, even in the wardrobe, can encourage your kids to listen to you and to trust that your objective is really about their safety and success and not about impacting their ability to blend with their peers. My mother’s lessons on choosing clothing that fit my body well and fit the occasion are still considerations for me every day. Give your kids the gift of understanding that our wardrobes often speak for us and about us. The choices we make about what to wear and when to wear it can relay messages about how we feel about ourselves as well as demonstrate our ability to exercise good judgement and respect for the special moments that bless our lives.