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A Parent’s Guide to Surviving Teen Fashion

Maybe it was the moment Lisa’s 15-year-old daughter, Stacy, arrived at school wearing black patterned tights, a sequined mini skirt, and a Cookie Monster tank top. Or perhaps it was the time Stacy decided that a turquoise prom dress and a gray hoodie was the perfect outfit for a trip to the mall.

But, somewhere in between mismatched converse sneakers and neon leg warmers, Lisa began surreptitiously donating her daughter’s most offensive articles of clothing to Goodwill.

“She had so much weird stuff that she actually never really noticed,” Lisa says with a laugh.

Coping with Questionable Fashion Choices

1. Have a sense of humor.

Fortunately, Lisa diffused most of these mother/daughter clothing clashes with humor. “I told myself I was lucky to have a daughter who was so comfortable in her own skin,” Lisa explains.

“In high school, I was always trying to hide my body in over-sized clothing. I’m glad my daughter is so comfortable with herself and her style.”

2. Help them think about how they want to be perceived.

It might have been a different story, though, if Stacy’s creative expression involved low-rise jeans that exposed her backside or tight tank tops that accentuated her cleavage. Yet, many moms are dealing with their daughters caving into the latest rages. How do you deal with teen fashion without encouraging your teen to dress in ways that you find unacceptable?

“It’s definitely a hard conversation to have,” says Sacramento, California, stylist Karri Grant, who works with both teenagers and adults on clothing choices. “Teenagers are really trying to express themselves, and as a parent, you don’t want to hurt their feelings.”

But, at the same time, teens need to understand they are living in a world that often judges people on first impressions. “I tell my daughter, ‘When you get dressed, think about how you want other people to perceive you,’” Grant says.

This is a problem that Tracy, a Midwestern magazine executive and mother can definitely relate to. “The other day, my 14-year-old daughter and I were headed out to run some errands,” Tracy says. “She comes downstairs with a tank top on and skinny jeans. What’s more, half her bra is hanging out of this tank top. It’s about 20 degrees outside. And, she decides to wear a tank top,” she says exasperatedly.

3. Engage in open conversations about fashion.

Therapists don’t recommend screaming or criticizing in such cases.

“When you give a quick critical response, you’re putting an immediate kibosh on any future conversation involving clothing issues,” says Ronna Posta, a licensed clinical counselor in Beachwood, Ohio. “It will just cause defensiveness.”

A better approach is to start having open conversations with your children about fashion.

“One of the best things for you and your daughter to do is to watch television shows together and have some open conversation on what teenagers are wearing,” Posta adds. “You can share your opinion on what you think that clothing is saying about the person.”

Also, go shopping with your teen to help point your daughter toward clothes that flatter her body without being too revealing or, if that doesn’t work, let her shop on her own, then show you what she’s purchased in the privacy of your home. And if there’s still division—like, over the fit of a pair of pants—New York City stylist, Marissa Rizzuto, suggests trying to swallow your concerns.

“Girls are way harder on themselves at that age. If your daughter feels confident and comfortable, let her wear it as long as it’s age appropriate,” Rizzuto says.

Tracy agrees. “I try to have an open mind, but age-appropriateness matters to me. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t want my 14-year-old wearing sexy, revealing clothes. Is she happy about that? Not always. But that’s the way it is.”

4. Focus on assets besides appearance.

However, the most important thing to let your teen know is that life isn’t all about appearances. “You want to let your child know that what’s going on inside you is just as important,” Posta says. “Ideally, parents need to be complimenting these inner qualities way more than appearances.”

And, parents should take heart. Teenagers often outgrow these sometimes questionable trends from our parental point of view by college. Even Stacy, the former 15-year-old with a flair for the dramatic, has subdued her style a bit. “She’s applying for internships now, so she’s started realizing that some of the funky things she likes to wear aren’t professional,” Lisa says.

Recently, Stacy even bought a formal, charcoal gray, tailored skirt for the first time. “The first time I saw her in it, I said, ‘Who are you and what have you done with my daughter?’” Lisa says.

Clearly, a lot of the tussle over clothes is between teenage girls and their mothers. But boys can pose challenges in this department too. Like low-sagging pants. And then there’s cleanliness. Some teenage boys don’t seem to notice—or much care—what state their clothes are in.

“My 16-year-old will let all his dirty clothes pile up on the floor until he has no clothes left. Then I am sure he wears clothes from his dirty laundry pile,” laments one mother, who like so many others interviewed by Your Teen prefers to remain anonymous.

But some teen boys can also be as fastidious as girls when it comes to what they wear. And that includes stealing from their siblings to create just the right outfit. “My boys are close in age and size so they take each other’s clothes without asking! Seriously, I thought only girls fought about clothes. But my boys are no different.”

Rebecca Meiser

Rebecca Meiser is a freelance writer in Cleveland, Ohio, and frequent contributor to Your Teen.