As a mom of three, part of my job is to buy clothes for whichever kid happens to be in the midst of a growth spurt. Right now it’s 9-year-old Kate, who will probably be another inch taller by the time you finish reading this column.
Last weekend, Kate and I went to the mall to find shirts and pants. With the weather warming up, she wanted some shorts, too. As we walked through several stores, I felt a quiet rage growing in my gut, just like it did last Spring and the one before that. I’d hoped that by now the fashion pendulum would have swung back the other way – away from the kind of shorts that are just a whisper away from a butt cheek.
Instead, the rash of “shorty-shorts” has spread from the teens and tweens departments to the sections intended for girls as young as Kindergarten. Not only does the fashion world want me to “drink the Kool-Aid,” they’re also trying to convince me that the Kool-Aid is as wholesome as water. One pair of ultra-short denim cut-offs had a promotional sign hanging over it that read “Short and Sweet.”
Short and sweet? Um, no. Sweet is not the s-word I’d use to describe it. The word sultry might work. Or how about slightly creepy? Perhaps the most accurate s-word for it is “sick.” There’s something wrong about R-rated shorts on girls young enough to write letters to Santa.
Maybe I’m just a big ol’ prude. Maybe I’m channeling my inner Church Lady. But when my daughter gets dressed, I want her to look like she’s headed for third grade, not to the set of Solid Gold.
I asked a store clerk if she had something a little longer, and she said, “Oh, yes. Every year we have mothers who ask for longer shorts, and we do have this one style over here.” She led me to one rack of white denim shorts that came down to mid-thigh.
That was it. One option. Meanwhile, over in the boys and men’s departments, there’s not a pair of shorty-shorts in sight. Instead there are comfy, loose-fitting, knee-length athletic shorts. It begs the question: If shorty-shorts are so “sweet” on little girls, why aren’t the boys wearing them, too?
There are plenty of good moms and dads who don’t think this is a big deal. But what might not be a big deal today has a way of snowballing with time. If parents put a stamp of approval on shorty-shorts for a 9-year-old, what is she going to wear when she turns 15 and wants to be shocking? A sheer body stocking, maybe? I don’t want to find out.
Despite the frustration, there’s at least a hint of hope because, according to that sales clerk, I’m not the only mother asking for a more modest option. The fashion world might not know it yet, but some of us are trying to turn our girls into strong, kind women – not successful exotic dancers.
So to all my fellow parents who are with me in the trenches, thank you for searching for something respectable in a sea of shorty-shorts.
Thanks also to dance teachers who refuse to put performers in midriff-baring outfits just because all the other dancers are doing it. Throwing a few sequins on scraps of spandex and calling it a “costume” doesn’t make it right.
Thank you to the school principals who enforce a dress code that demands decency. And thank you to the few stores offering clothes that are cute and fun but don’t cross the line into “sassy and sexy.”
Without all of you, I might consider packing up and heading for Amish country.
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.