Finding summer clothes to suit women and girls can be a struggle, as a P.E.I. mom found out recently.
Carrie and her best friend went on a shopping trip from P.E.I. to Moncton to find clothes for herself and her daughters. The first mission was to find shorts.
But after one look at them, Carrie realized she would be sure to get some second looks picking up her children in her new “mom shorts,” which were ripped, frayed and butt-boosting cheeky jean shorts.
“How can they label these jeans and shorts as mom jeans? It was mind-blowing, to be honest,” she says.
Then on to the bathing suits.
Here, Carrie saw a display of six mannequins, and only one didn’t have half her bum hanging out.
“I would not want my young preteen and teen wearing this in public,” she says.
“How does a parent tell a child to wear a modest bathing suit when that is on display at a large shopping centre?”
Carrie had never been more disgusted than she was with her latest shopping adventure. It’s not the stores’ fault, she says, as they are merely carrying the latest styles. But it frustrates her to see cheeky jeans, the half-sweater crop styles, and Playboy clothing themes.
Then there are the “boy” t-shirts that make statements like “future leader” and the girl ones that say “gonna marry rich.”
All she is looking for is good quality clothes, at decent prices, and bathing suits that cover your bottom.
At first, Carrie couldn’t understand why her teenaged daughter liked to get her t-shirts and sweaters from the men’s section, but now she understands.
Inconsistent sizing is another problem. Even for herself, she says when she holds up sizes 12, 14 or 16 beside each other, they are exactly the same size.
Her daughters notice this too and are conscious of the size on the tag. For example, she says, her youngest daughter can still fit in an extra-large kids’ size but doesn’t want to be seen wearing something with XL on the label. So instead, she shops in the women’s extra-small section.
“So, exactly, what is fashion teaching our children?” asks Carrie in despair.
‘Difficult’ to meet basic requirements
Charlottetown’s Céline White also feels frustrated when shopping for her daughter.
“I find it difficult to find clothing that they like, that’s appropriately covering their body, especially for warmth – we live in Canada after all – and that lasts the crazy number of times that they go through the wash. All that whilst trying not to pay an exuberant amount for them,” she says.
She also prefers to shop locally because of being burned too many times with online sizing.
White says the clothing quality is so poor that she cannot pass them down from one daughter to the next.
“I never realized before…how frustrated I really am about this,” she says.
With a loath for wasting, White now figures out what is salvageable of her daughter’s clothes. She has learned to adapt by teaching herself to sew. Now she can sew seams back up – not what she calls pretty, but functional.
“I find it difficult to find clothing that they like, that’s appropriately covering their body, especially for warmth – we live in Canada after all.”
— Céline White
Candance Dumville, from Charlottetown, P.E.I., also feels frustrated about the clothing industry for preteens and teenaged girls.
She has, however, concluded that it is never going to change. So, she too, has adapted.
“I take my daughter’s leggings and jeans that she has worn through the year and cut them into shorts that are comfortable for her and what I think is appropriate to wear out or to school,” she says.
Dumville’s daughter is tall and quite thin, so her pants still fit in the waist but get short in length. Plus, she is pretty hard on the knees of her pants, so it’s a perfect opportunity to cut just above the knees and then she has shorts for the summer.
Although she isn’t great at sewing, it doesn’t take long to stitch the legs where it’s cut so that they don’t fray.
This is also a good solution for families who don’t quite have the income to keep buying new clothes, adds Dumville.
Carrie, who has been a single mom for most of her 26 years as a parent, has also gotten creative with clothes to both save money and to find styles she says are more appropriate.
For example, she suggests looking in clearance sections, waiting for sales, and shopping in thrift stores.
For basic t-shirts, Carrie suggests buying them at Michaels or Dollarama and then getting tie die kits, markers, diluted bleach spray and letting the kids get creative and decorate their own. Get tank tops to wear under shorter shirts or buy a bigger t-shirt and gather it to one hip with cool scrunchies.
When pants get too short, Carrie suggests turning them into capris, or even adding some crochet-type lace to the bottoms. She also suggests buying boys’ sweatpants or jeans in thrift shops and cutting them into shorts.
‘Appropriateness’ vs ‘policing’
Despite the frustrations parents may feel with the fashion industry geared towards preteen and teenaged girls, many parents argue we need to be careful not to police girls’ bodies. There is a fine line of “appropriateness” versus “policing,” suggested one mother.
“Do you want to find longer shorts because that is truly the style you prefer, or do you think and feel the current style is unacceptable for some reason?”
Another thing to consider is just what “school-appropriate” clothing means for those early days in September or the hot days in June. Many parents feel the only dress code that currently applies is not wearing clothing with hate speech on it.
Young teens struggle so much with body image and the idea of their clothing needing to be appropriate only adds to the complicated relationship they have with their bodies.
“Clothing should be a personal choice; if you are comfortable in it, wear it,” says an impassioned mother.
Jenny Wright, an activist, educator, and counsellor who works between Halifax, N.S. and St. John’s, N.L., says it is deeply distressing that we are still fixated on dress codes for girls and women — and, by extension, for trans and gender diverse people who are also targeted by dress codes. She points out this attitude is simply not applied to boys and men.
“Constant surveillance and control over girls’ bodies allows for their bodies, or parts of their bodies, to be objectified, sending the message that they can and should be treated like sexualized objects,” says Wright. “When girls are objectified and sexualized, men then learn that they are entitled to their bodies.”
Instead, Wright says as a society we need to be very clear that girls are not responsible for how boys view them and that their clothing choices are not responsible for boys’ inability to focus or learn.
Girls and women’s bodies are never invitation for harassment, sexual abuse, and unwanted scrutiny, she adds.