Dress The Kid But Not the Parent? Bad Idea

Over the weekend, my daughter and I performed in our dance studio’s annual production of “The Nutcracker.”  It’s a big production – 100 dancers, handmade costumes and sets – and we’ve been rehearsing since September.  So imagine my annoyance after each performance when I saw a lot of audience members dressed in t-shirts and jeans, like they were going to the park to walk their dog instead of to the theater to see a ballet.  Oh, there were a few little girls in beautiful Christmas dresses, but by and large, they were the only ones appropriately attired.  Dress the kid but not the parent?  Personally, I think that’s a bad idea. Nutcracker


As a parent myself, I understand the desire to give my children more than I had.  It’s fun to “dress them to the nines” for special occasions, particularly when they’re little.  But dressing them well while neglecting our own appearance sends a dangerous message:  that the child is more important than the parent.

I have a couple of problems with that:

First, regularly funneling most of the household resources to one person creates resentment.  It can also instill a sense of entitlement for the one getting all the stuff, and let’s face it:  no one likes a brat.  So be VERY careful about depriving yourself to spend lavishly on your kid.  Distribute resources equitably and raise a more considerate, level-headed child.

Secondly, always walking around like a washer woman can really chip away at your self esteem.  You’re ignored, passed over, and generally treated with no respect.  But then again, why should you be?  If you don’t respect yourself enough to ditch the baggy sweats and faded t-shirt and present yourself as a vibrant, interesting woman, why should anyone else?  Dress and act like a lady and you’ll be treated as one.

Finally, we are our children’s role models.  If we don’t show them how to work, dress, and function in polite society, who do you think is going to?  You can’t just tell them; you have to show them by example.  Otherwise they’ll turn to television, the Internet, and their friends — and you may not like the results.

Consider this:

Fashion designer Carolina Herrera grew up among the landed aristocracy in Caracas, Venezuela, where she learned how to dress and act from her mother.  But it was a trip to the Paris couture shows at age 13 with her grandmother that instilled a sense of artistry about fashion.  Carolina went on to become an internationally best-dressed socialite before being coaxed into designing clothes by Diana Vreeland in the early 1980’s. Carolina Herrera
Fashion designer Vera Wang also had the benefit of growing up with a well-dressed mother who bought couture.  After years of figure skating with her friend and competitor Peggy Fleming, Vera landed a job at Vogue in the mid-70’s.  When Vera got engaged in her late 30’s, she had trouble finding a wedding gown suitable for an older first-time bride.  So she had one made — and all her fashion friends promptly swooned with delight.  The Vera Wang wedding dress line soon followed. Vera Wang
Like the others, the late makeup artist Kevin Aucoin also found fashion inspiration by watching his mother.  Fascinated by how Mrs. Aucoin would transform her face with makeup every day, Kevin started experimenting on his sister with makeup in his early teens.  By his early 20’s, his reputation for artistry was well know. Kevin Aucoin

Why do I mention these?

Well, you know that safety speech flight attendants give just before each flight, when they tell you something along the lines of, “In the event of decreased cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop.  Put your mask on FIRST, and then help your children or others in need of assistance?”  It’s because if you’re the caretaker and you don’t get the lifeline YOU need, you’ll be useless to help those in your charge.

So be VERY careful about indulging your child while depriving yourself.  Put that figurative oxygen mask on yourself FIRST by eating right, dressing well, and getting plenty of “you” time so you can lead by example and raise your children effectively into happy, contributing members of society.

Need more help on how to dress?  Download a copy of Wardrobe Magic to see how easy building a go-anywhere-in-a-flash wardrobe can be. Wardrobe Magic


  • Marti

    Reply Reply December 17, 2009

    I am the same situation you are except that my daughter now trains the soldiers and angels and dances more advanced roles. I started as a party parent but am now the full time GRANDMOTHER! (GRR). I love seeing the girls dressed in their party best, but alas, the days of dressing for the theater among adults seems to have gone away with the passenger pigeon. In our house a lot of times the reverse is true. I have taken my kids to the theater so often that it is no longer a special occasion, I dress, but they don’t. Since they are now teenagers, its a battle that I generally lose. I had thought that this was unique to my geographic area.

  • Anita

    Reply Reply December 17, 2009

    This is a very good reminder.

  • Julia

    Reply Reply December 17, 2009

    How true this article is.

    A further point: if I buy a lovely expensive outfit for myself, I will wear it for years. If I buy an outfit for my daughter instead, she will wear it only this year, and then grow out of it.

  • Sharon

    Reply Reply December 17, 2009

    I wonder if people think about the fact that failing to dress up for any performance is, quite simply, disrespectful. The performers are working their hearts out, and all you bother to do is slap on some sloppy clothes? I also have a problem with people wearing torn jeans to church services and funerals(!) It is a real slap in the face of the people who worked so hard and those you wish to honor with your presence.

  • Lori Cooper

    Reply Reply December 17, 2009

    Excellent article. My girls were also in the Nutcracker this year, and as usual, I dressed up to attend their performances. When I was getting dressed, my youngest asked why I needed to be “so fancy” since I was not going to be on stage. I told her it is important to show respect to the performers, as your other reader commented above, and that it feels good to dress up for something special.

    I am going to include a link to this article on my blog and Facebook page.

    Thank you, Diane!


  • Jennifer

    Reply Reply December 17, 2009

    Ironically, I was just having a conversation along the same lines with a friend of mine. I had noticed that for family portraits, especially at the holidays, parents were dressing their kids up beautifully and they only wore jeans. It looks odd and inconsistent, especially in a photo where there is no movement and the subjects are the sole focus. In general I think our culture has become so casual we’ve forgotten that dressing up is for everyone, not just the elite. I’m in my mid 30’s and am a stay-at-home mom. I don’t have much to get dressed for at this stage, but I miss dressing for work and social events, and I’ve always wished I lived in an era that had a bit more “style” to it! I guess it just has to start with each of us making a point of it on our own, and eventually maybe we’ll start to see the tide turn. Happy dressing!

    • Paula C.

      Reply Reply December 18, 2009

      Jennifer, I agree with you!
      Living in a small rural town, the dress up code seems to be a new pair of jeans. I want more – not over the top, but something up leveling the norm, that has individuality. Almost makes me wish to live in the city – almost.

      Even though I work in a casual enviornment & recreation based industry, I decided to ditch the “fresh from the gym” look and dress to shine; adding heeled boots, tailored jackets, scarves and some jewelry to the day shift wardrobe

      The new look still fits in the office and slowly, I’m seeing little dressing changes in the other female staff. Somebody just had to go first, I guess.

  • Michele k

    Reply Reply December 17, 2009

    Great article!!!

    I was at my childs Christmas concert… he’s in kindergarten and to my surprise only the principal of the school had a suit on. TOOOOO many of the parents were ultra casual. I fear if we don’t show our children respect when they diserve it (for hard work) then what are they really learning from us and where will they end up in society. However, just to let you know, I held up my end of the bargain – Sparkly gold top so my son could “see me” too!

    Thanks Diana.

  • Francine Huffman

    Reply Reply December 18, 2009

    I fully agree with you, Diana. It’s digusting to see anybody attend a theatre performance in jeans and a tee-shirt! How lazy have we become?

  • Mary

    Reply Reply December 18, 2009

    great article, agree wholeheartedly, hate seeing sloppy people, who cannot understand respect and discipline for themselves and everyone else. Thanks

  • Belinda

    Reply Reply December 18, 2009

    A great article! The same thoughts have entered my mind over the past few months. Last night, I attended my children’s school Christmas program. Some parents were nicely dressed. The rest looked like they were yard sale shoppers! I understand being tired from a long day and holiday stress ( I was exhausted myself!), but it seems as if many people are just not taking any pride in themselves. A few months ago, I attended a Broadway play in New York. For a Saturday night production, I was amazed at the casual attire. A formal gown was not needed, but sweatshirts, torn jeans and dirty sneakers?

  • Cathie

    Reply Reply December 18, 2009

    Diana, I so agree with you! I went to a high school a few years ago to assist a man who was giving a lecture on the bad effects of street drugs to the students. I was totally shocked at the dress code of the TEACHERS! The teacher in our classroom looked like a ragbag hippie. There was another teacher there who was in a T-shirt and jeans and not even really nice ones; she looked like she was going to paint her kitchen. Their grooming was pretty bad too. They had NO presence, no look of authority. How could they get any respect from the kids? The teenage girls there were dressed casually but most had some sense of style. I’m sure they thought the teachers just demonstrated that they had no life. I’m so glad when I went to school that I had teachers who wore suits, nice clothes, had good grooming and looked like they knew what they were doing!

  • Kate George

    Reply Reply December 19, 2009

    This is such a true article. I completely agree with the “dress better, feel better” philosophy. When I dress up, even if it’s just pairing a nice sweater and accessories with a dressy pair of jeans and heeled boots to go get groceries, I look good, have an instant attitude boost, and get tons of compliments.
    I’ve even had older gentlemen come up to me in the grocery store and thank me for taking the time to look nice in public, which offers sharp contrast to the pajamas or sweats public dress code so popular with the young adult /teen crowd today.

  • Gloria

    Reply Reply December 27, 2009

    I am so happy to see that I am not alone in disliking the trend of going sloppy to everything. I have attended funerals where even the family members were in jeans, dirty boots, and t-shirts with slogans on them. Also weddings where jeans, and t-shirts were worn by the guests. School functions, banquets, church, nearly everything is casual, and I hate it. I dress up anyway, and I do stick out like a sore thumb sometimes, but I feel good about the way I look, and pity those who are clueless, and show no respect to the occasion.

  • josi

    Reply Reply December 30, 2009

    This article reminds me of a situation where we were invited to 2 events. The guests were roughly the same attending both events. In the first evening I came with my two daughters (then 8 & 14) and we had enjoyed and spent some time considering what to wear on this occasion. We arrived and fellt so overdressed, especially when so many eyes looked at us with amazement. Next evening, we attended again and dressed differently but still well-dressed. And see there, we were no longer alone!…:-). A few mothers and kids had dared -not -to come in casual, sporty, too cosy clothes. I have been told that they simply had not thought or not dared considering being smart on this occasion.

  • ann

    Reply Reply January 9, 2010

    I read with interest Mother’s that dress the little ones and fail to dress themselves. While I understand that women should definately take care of themselves, my pet peeve is women who take great care in their appearance and fail to dress their children appropriately. Shame on them!

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