A Kid’s First Dress

Emma (right) in her first dress

Emma (right) in her first dress

After never being dressed in skirts, dresses, bows or other frills, our daughter Emma finally got old enough to request to wear the traditional female gear. I recall she was four when she asked her mom, “Can I wear one of those things that you wear that is open on the bottom?”

Our daughter’s mom and I are hardcore feminists, and we were both very passionate that a person should not be stereotyped based on their gender. The practical applications of this principle, when it came to our kids (male and female), was that we were not going to dress them in any gender-typed clothing. The basic rule of thumb we adopted was that the clothing, to be acceptable, had to be both good for the goose and good for the gander.

Since you would not put a boy in a dress or a skirt, frills or bows, we weren’t going to dress a girl in that either. It is interesting to note that in our culture there is no category of clothes (like skirts and dresses) that is associated with males only. It is only the female identified clothing that is associated with secondary or diminutive status and therefore inappropriate for the dominant gender to wear.

So Sally and I were careful to buy gender neutral clothes for both our kids, no football jerseys or military gear for our son Eric and no Barbie or fem type stuff for our daughter Emma. We avoided pink for either of them, though we were okay with blue for both, since they both had blue eyes and looked good in that color.

We did what we could to alert the immediate family about our fashion dos and don’ts, but we still managed to get plenty of clothing for presents for their birthdays from families and friends that did not pass muster. Where possible we returned the offending garb and bought something de rigueur. Where not, we gave it away to some clothing drive. If the outfit was maybe close to acceptable but had one or two offending bows we actually cut them off. I’m sure some of our family members or friends, if they became aware of this mostly secret practice, just thought Sally and I to be the most ascetic of ideologues.

Anyway… all this context to set up our story!
So even though we had our strict dress code for our kids, we both agreed that when they got old enough to ask to wear clothing outside that code, we would assent and let them wear what they chose to wear. Lucky for us our son did not ask us to wear dresses, because that would have really put our policy to the test.

But at age four our daughter Emma brought up the subject of this female clothing item because she had seen other girls her age wearing the “open at the bottom” garment at school culminations and other more formal events. It was a humorous and somewhat surreal moment when a four-year-old girl did not even know the word “dress”, let alone ever worn one!

So true to our promise, Sally took Emma to a local kids’ clothing store, to buy her a dress, hopefully something not too froufrou. Sally, in all innocence (and some naiveté perhaps) shared with the woman working at the store that mom was buying her four-year-old daughter her first dress. Apparently the saleswoman expressed shock at this revelation, that this dearth of dresses for a young female was a de facto denial of her budding gender identity and tantamount to child abuse.

Years later, Sally, Emma and I sometimes recall this incident and have a good laugh at how alien we sometimes feel in conventional society. And still today when we tell the story to some of the people we meet they are duly shocked. “Beam me up Scotty!”

FYI… after her first dress, Emma continued to wear her basic sweats and T-shirt play clothes most of the time and her dresses for certain occasions like school culminations, birthday and holiday parties, etc. She even went through a “fem” phase a couple years later where she wore dresses all the time. Hey… it was her clothing and her choice!

Now at age 19, Emma has developed her own sense of style and dresses with a unique flair for every occasion. She shares with her mom and dad a strong sense that clothing is not about gender identity but self-expression, comfort and practicality.

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