So I recently came upon an article titled My Son Wears a Dress and That’s OK with Me. In it, a father explains his two-year-old son’s penchant for wearing dresses like his four-year-old older sister.
Every morning my four-year-old daughter, Sydney, drags a chair into her closet and plucks a dress off of the rack. I try to lean her in other directions—“Why don’t we try shorts today?”—but Sydney’s stubborn. And I think she deserves the freedom to choose what she wants to wear.
My son, Asher, is two. I grab shorts and a T-shirt out of the drawer and dress him, because he still has trouble dressing himself. But he figured out how to undress himself, and pretty often that means he’s ripping off his clothing and screaming “dress” over and over again. He climbs on to the chair in the closet and tugs at one of Sydney’s dresses — “This one.”
So most days my son is dressed like Sofia the First, or some Disney princess, or — my favorite — rocking a multi-colored Ralph Lauren spaghetti strap sundress. Taking all social mores out of it, he looks good in dresses. And on an 80-degree summer day in LA, it’s probably the most practical choice.
I want to use this post as a jumping off point to discuss my own children’s clothing. Like Sydney, Sally prefers dresses to shorts or pants. And her sense of style is quite eclectic. In fact, at her preschool graduation last month the director told the assembled parents that Sally’s sense of style and her diverse array of dresses would be missed next year, right before shaking Sally’s hand and giving her her diploma. And Bobby? Not unlike Asher, Bobby wears dresses as often as he wears shorts.
I haven’t written about this mainly because it’s much less interesting without pictures, and I blog under a pseudonym, which means no pictures. But Bobby looks pretty much just like Asher in the picture above when he wears dresses, so that should give you something to go on. But why, you ask? Why does Bobby alternate between dresses and shorts? Well, I’ll tell you.
At first it was practical. We didn’t have very much in the way of little boy shorts, but we had plenty of little dresses. As soon as it got warm and our supply of thrift-store pants ran dry we began pulling dresses over Bobby’s head any time there were no clean shorts to be found. Bobby didn’t seem to care either way. In fact, Bobby seemed to prefer dresses, as it took less time to dress him and he sees time spent getting changed as time wasted.
Then it became comfortable. Putting Bobby in dresses is easier for an array of reasons—they’re easier to put on, easier to find (no need to make sure shirt and shorts match), and easier to change a diaper in. Pretty soon, they’ll be easier to potty train in. And then there was the light in Bobby’s eyes when we put on an old dress of Sally’s with a foofy tulle skirt. The kid stared at it, and then reached down and touched it, in awe. Bobby doesn’t fight shorts, but he’s not completely impartial when it comes to dresses.
At first I thought my husband Sean was merely humoring me, being okay with Bobby’s dresses. But then on a morning when it was Sean’s turn to dress Bobby I came upstairs to find Bobby in a dress. I turned to Sean. “Putting a dress on him is easier,” he said with a shrug. Sean doesn’t have any value attached to his son dressing in pants. He doesn’t care. He loves the kid dearly and is immensely proud of little achievements, but none of this has anything to do with what he wears.
The first time I took Bobby to daycare in a dress, I was nervous. But you know what? No one batted an eye. I suppose to some it may appear that half the time Bobby goes to school as a boy and half the time he goes as a girl, but no one has raised a word of criticism. We take Bobby out in public in his dresses too. It’s not a statement. It’s not some sort of revolution. It just is. And seriously? I’m not surprised that we haven’t had any blowback. We live in a fairly hippie college town, and I’ve seen other boys in dresses, too.
Some time back, we cut Sally’s hair fairly short. It was easier that way, and she was completely on board. But also, any time we took Sally out in shorts or pants, people assumed she was a boy. Waiters brought her Batman coloring books. People called her “buddy” and referred to her as “he” and “him.” Since she’s been growing her hair out again, this has happened less often, but just last week it happened again—apparently loose hair with a Doctor Who t-shirt that hangs to the knees says boy. As for Bobby, I haven’t been able to bring myself to cut his baby hair, which is wispy and falls around his ears—and increasingly says “girl” rather than “boy.”
I’m no stranger to people gender-switching my child. It happens in odd ways, too. Last fall I took the two of them to the park in the evening, each in their pajama sleepers. Bobby was wearing a pink and purple sleeper handed down from Sally, from before I switched to buying her gender neutral pajamas. Sally was wearing a red and blue sleeper, which was the closest I could find to gender neutral at Walmart. Everyone would be perfectly justified in thinking Sally a boy and Bobby a girl—as I’m sure everyone did.
In those moments, my biggest problem is figuring out how to respond. Oh, I really don’t care, but do I correct them? The easy answer is no, and that’s the answer I’ve always chosen. But what then? I once took Sally and Bobby to an open gym at the local YMCA. Another parent asked my kids’ names, and I told him—Sally and Bobby. His next comment let me know that he was assuming that the older was Bobby and the younger was Sally. I didn’t correct him, but I worried that he would see me calling them correctly and realize he’d mixed them up and then feel embarrassed. Perhaps I care too much about embarrassment.
Frankly? Provided the kids’ clothing is clean and activity-appropriate, I don’t care what gender my children’s clothing says. At the same time, I’m not going to use my children to make some sort of a political statement. I don’t put Bobby in dresses to make some sort of point, and when I visit the grandparents I leave his dresses at home. I would like to leave my children’s clothing choices up to them. Sally wears mostly dresses because that is what she prefers. That’s fine by me. Bobby has expressed no preference yet, and wears whatever we put on him. As that changes, I will respect his preferences. It’s not about using my children to satisfy some sort of agenda. It’s about removing the walls and letting them make their own choices.
At the moment, Bobby’s as likely to be in a dress as not. They’re practical, they’re comfortable, and they’re easy. Frankly, I can see why little boys his age didn’t start wearing pants until about a hundred years ago. It’s so much easier this way.