Dressing to Join the Crowd, or Not

Marco dressed like he is on the photo on the right for the Tour de Menlo bike ride, and he rode a very strong 60 kilometers! I'm very glad he didn't dress like the kid on the left (photo: magricycles.com), even though he and I were the only people there wearing ordinary, non-biking clothes.

My oldest son, Marco (7), and I stick out when we go to certain sporting events. We look quite peculiar, out-of-place, there.

Last weekend, we joined in a local bike ride for charity called Tour de Menlo. We wore plain shorts and jerseys with tennis shoes, while everyone else wore expert bicyclist clothing – those special tight shorts with padding in the crotch and tight synthetic shirts, often smothered wall-to-wall with advertisements. Many people also wore those biking shoes that make people look downright foolish when they walk.

In addition, at a recent San Francisco Giants home game, we wore nondescript jeans and jerseys, while the majority of other people there wore Giants’ gear – black and orange jerseys, hats, etc.

Dressing like everyone else, or not, is a choice that has a profound effect on anyone’s frame of mind, especially that of a child. The twist in these cases is that we were wearing everyday clothes, but the people around us were wearing specialized uniforms of a sort – i.e. clothes that they don’t wear every day.

I’m absolutely not a joiner, so I have no problem dressing differently than everyone else. However, by taking him to these events with ordinary attire, I might be making Marco feel embarrassed or self-conscious.

I don’t think that’s the case. He’s never complained about not dressing like everyone else, but he has asked me something to the effect of, “Why are all those people dressed like that?” I like that. I want him to think about this issue, not just avoid it or let it pass by.

Here are the subjects I’d like him reflect on after these experiences:

  1. materialism: Buying and wearing special clothes for specific situations is often unnecessary and wasteful. No doubt, he noticed that he rode the 60 kilometer bike ride (yes!!!) better than many grown-ups who had all those fancy clothes on. I think we’re fools for allowing ourselves to be manipulated by sports apparel manufacturers into thinking that we need different clothing for every single activity in which we engage.
  2. conformity: Does he want to do what other people do to “fit in,” or does he want to make decisions on his own? I admit that this is a much more difficult question in later years, when peers exert a strong conformist influence, but it’s very valuable to have him reflect on this question deeply before those years.
  3. appearance and identity: To what extent should people use appearance to announce who they are to the world? Of course, all people judge others to some extent, at least initially, based on appearance. However, the key for children is how they handle those initial judgements. Do they make conculsions once they form an initial impression based on someone else’s appearance, or do they remain open and curious about the other person? When we place too much emphasis on our children’s appearance (clothing, dieting, etc.), we reinforce the notion that their appearance is who they are, and that the appearance of others defines them as well.
  4. spontaneity: It’s difficult to be spontaneous in life if you feel inadequately dressed whenever you switch activities. Marco and I often take long bike rides and hike or play ball sometime between parts of the ride. We couldn’t do that if he had biking shoes on. We often stay out for many hours, or even all day, switching activities often. It’s an irony to me that Nike’s slogan is “Just do it!” For me, that means “Forget about all your inhibitions and do what you want.” That’s difficult to do when you think you need to change clothes every time you make a new decision to “just do” something else.

What do you think? Do you dress your kids in different uniforms for different activities, or are you a fan of simple, multi-purpose clothing? How important should having the “right” clothes on be for children?

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