How to get your daughter to dress age appropriately

From the time girls are young they are conditioned by society to value the fancy dresses in Disney princess films, and as they age to pay attention to the clothing of the latest pop sensation, music video vixen, and/or child, preteen, and teen movie star. And rarely do girls want to be their own age, but they aspire to be as cool as someone slightly older than they. This is why book characters tend to be a couple of years older than their reading audience. 

When a ten-year-old sees a music sensation singing on stage in booty shorts, a tank top with a push-up bra, and high heels, she, too, wants to grow up and look that good…though sometimes she’s in too big of a rush to get there. But it isn’t just celebrities’ or cartoon characters’ clothes children admire. PBS Parents says to consider the clothes you and your daughter buy for her dolls or Barbie. Would you be comfortable with your daughter wearing that outfit?

iMom says the best time to talk to your daughter about modesty and self-worth is early. The website ( says, “Sit down with your ten-or eleven-year-old and tell her when she will be allowed to use makeup, wear heels, etc.” By setting standards earlier your daughter will know what to expect and what you consider appropriate. Approach the subject with positive words, such as “you are beautiful” and “exceptional” and “by dressing too sexy you are disrespecting yourself. “

When shopping with your daughter, PBS Parent says to listen to what your daughter wants without offering criticism or saying “no” right away.  “She might want the clothes in order to fit in, feel powerful or be popular. Try to make these issues the focus of the conversation, not whether you like the sexy t-shirt or the low-rise jeans," advises Lyn Mikel Brown, professor of education and human development at Colby College and co-author of Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes.

Don’t pick out the clothes for your daughter if she is in elementary school or older while you are shopping. Empower her to make choices by making suggestions such as “that’s an amazing color on you” or “I just saw this in Seventeen or Vogue.” Or offer counter suggestions to clothes you aren’t comfortable with while explaining why a particular item would send what you consider to be a negative message; this allows her to make a choice within limits you set.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions (in a curious, non-threatening way). By asking questions such as why do you want this top, skirt, etc. (or why do all of your friends want it) you are helping your daughter with her critical thinking skills and encouraging her to be a smart consumer, and you are letting her know you value her opinions. Questions such as “Why…”, “What would you think if you saw your classmate in this?” or “What would (fill in the boy’s name) think if he saw you in this?” get your daughter to think of clothing from another perspective.

If your daughter is looking at a pair of low-cut jeans, a belly-baring shirt, or something you consider risqué, ask her what kind of message she is sending to people by wearing that outfit. Children in middle school and up often don’t understand—but need to start to—the effect their attire can have on others. You need to be honest without trying to shock your child or without being dramatic. Writer William Browning, parent of two children, says “to not only love them as your children but to respect them as miniature adults. Teenagers are in the transition stages from children to adulthood and they want to be respected by the adult figures around them and that means you, parents.”

If your child is attracted to something you consider questionable, remember that you can take clothes that are more immodest and help your daughter make them more modest by layering them. Baby tees look cute under some sundresses, and tank tops can be layered one over another and paired with shorts or jeans. Short skirts can be worn with leggings or tights, weather permitting.

And if all else fails, you can always try what one parent did. When her preteen daughter tried to leave the house looking Beyonce-sexy, my friend started to dress like a teenager. When her daughter asked her why, she replied, “You’re trying to wear clothes I should be wearing so I figured I could dress like you.” That immediately stopped the inappropriate clothes battle. Parents hate to be embarrassed by their kids, but preteens and teens loathe being embarrassed by their parents.


Jill L. Ferguson is a freelance writer, author, artist and national speaker originally from Pittsburgh.