Tutus as a Fashion Statement by Maureen Eich VanWalleghan


Self expression is so important for children. I think everyone agrees on that, mostly. So when it comes to clothes what are reasonable boundaries for self expression? My five year old girl has just received a pair of little high heels. She has play ones, but these new ones she told me “have the right kind of bottoms that can go outside.”


Last night it was a mommy / daughter play date with some new friends. Mommies had margaritas and daughters played dress up. As the evening wore on it became a mini fashion show of changing clothes and shoes. Once the little white high heels found their way onto my daughter’s feet, the shoes never came off. As the other little girl is a year and a half older, she had out grown the princess shoes. At the end of the evening the shoes were given as a gift along with a camisole top and a two big garbage bags of clothes.


Whew, what to do now? I have usually sorted through gift clothes and picked out what was acceptable to me and passed along the rest. We have a “grow into” box where things that are too big go and I also deal with clothes seasonally. Wow, but now I have a daughter who wants to participate in the process. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…how to manage self expression?


At school even though there is no uniform, there is a strict dress code of no jewelry, no clothing with advertising or words, no light up shoes and no open toe sandals. I am happy with dress code. Clothing that doesn’t fit within the dress code become play clothes, but that area is wide open. This morning while I was showering and thinking about how to manage all this new clothing I kept thinking about what one of my former gallery artists once told me in conversation—long before I had child—that her mother let her wear a tutu everywhere. I don’t remember the conversation or the context of the conversation, but that comment and it’s visual image stuck with me. Horror may have been part of my initial reaction, but also attraction.


I am personally attracted to clothes and I believe that clothes define the tribe one lives in. Finally after eight years, I gave away 15 black skirts from my NYC days. Since moving to Arizona I had not worn one even once. I run with a different tribe and black in the desert shows the dirty immediately upon leaving the house.


Having taught high school I am very familiar with the need for self expression in the teenage years. And I remember clearly the clothes I loved and the clothes I wanted, but my mom did not permit. So now where do I stand as a mother? I also keep thinking about the book entitled My Princess Boy, which some of you may know. As a society there are a lot of rules about self expression, gender and what is appropriate for children, boys and girls. I can’t help but wonder about all the judgement surrounding Suri Cruise—a famous little girl, who wears high heel shoes—and her mother, Katie Holmes. Or even Shiloh Jolie-Pitt wearing all boy clothes. (I admit to surfing People and US Magazine late at night.)


I think I want to be relaxed and let these new clothes function like the temporary tattoo phase. At one point around three years old my daughter wanted to have tattoos everywhere and all the time. I told my husband that we should just go with it because if we do she will just grow beyond it and of course she did. Always the forbidden becomes larger that life—a trap I don’t want to fall into or perpetuate. I am hoping that I can go with “wearing a tutu all the time” and be that mom who let’s the self expression of a five year old not be defined by all the adult rules about what is proper. We’ll see how I do…

  1. 6 Responses to “Tutus as a Fashion Statement by Maureen Eich VanWalleghan”

  2. Bravo for you!! Let your daughter wear what she wants now…it will lead to less power struggles later!

    I STILL pick out my 7/almost 8 year-old son's clothes. He has zero interest and would be content to wear the same clothes day after day. When he hits 10, I stop picking out his clothes. Less laundry for me to do!!

    By Cara Meyers on Jun 4, 2011

  3. If it's any comfort my daughter chose her own clothes from the age of 3 when she informed me jeans were 'not smart'.In those days of course it was easier as girls didn't want to look like Paris Hilton and understood heels were for play time ( so bad for developing feet!)My daughter is now in her 20's and always looks a million dollars, is confident in her dress and her choices.

    By Von on Jun 4, 2011

  4. Out of nowhere my 2.5 y/o suddenly insisted on wearing only dresses, would freak out if I tried to get her to wear pants. She would put one over another and refuse to take either one off, leading to some interesting looks. Even her pajamas had to be nightgowns, good thing we had some hand-me-downs at the ready. Previously no interest at all. Now after about a month she's calmed down a bit and is willing to accept some variation. We think it's because of a girl at daycare who always wears tutus. We also decided to go with tolerance, and just enjoy the show.

    By Diane on Jun 5, 2011

  5. Diane she is of course at that age when she has probably noticed there is a difference between boys and girls and it is given outward visibility by clothes.She's becoming aware of her girlness!!Fu n times ahead!

    By Von on Jun 5, 2011

  6. Self-expression may be important for children, but even more evident when they reach puberty. This perhaps is the reason why many fashion trends for them are statements put into clothing.

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    By Jessa on Nov 18, 2011

  7. As parents, it is our responsibility to support our children to whatever they want to do whether its a new hobby or choosing wholesale clothing to wear. The key is to set a fine line. As long as they are within that line, you can let them do what they want.

    By Yzahe Jelle on Dec 14, 2011