Dress For Success: An Argument for Kid’s Self-Dressing


465Readers, this guest post comes from Laura Barr, a dear friend and someone I find completely inspiring.  She is the kind of mother (of four!!) who empowers and encourages, and I find myself feeling refreshed and inspired after each chat.  Laura is an educational consultant with e.Merging here in Denver and has an M.A. in early childhood and elementary education.  She recently started a very fabulous blog where she covers everything from how to deal if your child is waistlisted for their top-choice school, to creating an intentional (and sugar-free) easter basket.  Her blog is one of my must-reads.


I believe that parenting is an “art” and that we, as mothers, are artists.  When we choose nursery colors, the music and literature to which our children are exposed, the textures, patterns and fabrics of their clothes and blankets, we model aesthetic and artistic beauty. A rich “palette” in the home environment models options for children to “paint the portrait of their lives.”

When my first daughter Lexie was born I loved dressing her.  We didn’t have money to spend on expensive clothing so I scoured thrift shops for the softest, most colorful and unique clothing that I could find.  I discovered fabrics bursting with sunflowers, dresses with deep reds and oranges and exotic patterns. Almost daily, her clothing inspired people on the streets to stop and compliment us.  Every morning I relished in the fact that I was not just a parent, but a “designer.”

Then, Lexie turned two. As she transitioned to more independence and exerted her self will, my “design” career ended and Lexie’s took off. As an educator, best-practices told me that I would have to take a step back and allow her to take responsibility.   As many parents do in a time of “crisis”, I reflected on my own childhood and how my mother dressed me.  That’s when I remembered Garanimals.

Garanimals is a children’s clothing store that was born in 1972 out of the "idea that there is a positive Screen shot 2011-04-24 at 4.29.23 PMconnection between how children dress and how they feel about themselves.” As the 1960’s attitude towards children began to shift from an “authoritarian” parenting culture to a more “collaborative”  parenting culture, the idea of this store was to provide an opportunity for children to pick and choose their own clothes.  Each piece of clothing was identified by a colored tag.   If you picked a blue tag in the pant section you then would go to the blue tags in the shirt section and voila!  An outfit was born.   The founders of Garanimals were brilliant, and their philosophy invited parents of the 1970’s to re-examine parenting norms. As we enter the 21st century, the Garanimal philosophy is more relevant than ever as parents seek tools to raising independent and responsible children.

The Benefits of Self-dressing:

1.   Self-dressing encourages creative thinking and self expression.

2.   Self-dressing supports fine and large motor development (i.e. reaching, zipping, tying, buttoning).

3.  Self-dressing teaches cause and effect. (If I choose not to wear a coat in winter, I might feel the cold. Perhaps tomorrow I will choose to wear my coat! )

4.  Parents who allow self-dressing choose a “collaborative” parenting style, building relationship skills around compromise, articulation and self-awareness.

5.  Self-dressing promotes development around basic concepts of color, shape, size, opposites, left and right, and spatial awareness.

6.  Self-dressing develops children’s tactile and aesthetic sensibilities of patterns, fabrics and color palettes.

The Move 2008 283 As my two year old's favorite words became, “I can do it all by myself!” I had to constantly bite my tongue as pink polka dots were paired with yellow stripes.  Over time I began to notice that as she began choosing the colors and patterns to express herself, she was also practicing creativity and risk-taking while gaining a sense of pride and accomplishment.  Children are ready for self-dressing when they both show the desire and have the motor skills to do so.  For those children who are more laissez-faire about self-dressing, I suggest giving them several outfit options so they begin choosing and making decisions for themselves.

Growing independent children is no easy task. However, there are simple tips I can give you that, after practice, will surely result in a happy, healthy and collaborative start to your morning.

Tips for Successful Self-dressing:

•    Shop one season at a time:  Buy all of your basics at one store, for one season, for one child at a time.  Lay out your choices and make sure that no matter what your child chooses, it will work for you!

•   Girl Basics:  t-shirt, jeans, Leggings, flowy skirts, striped and polka dotted tights.

•   Boy Basics:  t-shirts, jeans, mid length skateboard pants, corduroy pants, jeans (roll them at bottom)  long sleeve t-shirts, original socks and capes.

•   Specialty Clothing:  Splurge (or scour) for specialty clothing that captures personality of your child.  I love stripes with patterns, and polka dots with anything! 

•    Elastic Waist Lines:  Potty training will happen easy and early if your child wears elastic waist lines that are loose and comfortable. 

•   Give the outfit some flare with BOOTS! They are easy to get on and off and the look good with just about anything (Including nothing!)

•   Red Shoes ARE a must for both boys and girls.

•   Hats, Sunglasses and Scarves:  What more can I say?

Kids.ella birth.day 015  Nov 2008 001

As we choose our clothes each morning we are making a statement about ourselves to the world.  Doesn’t it make sense that we would want our children to learn how to do so? Allowing our children to take risks, to be cold, to wear clothes upside down and inside out is the cheapest and easiest way for them to gain a sense of self-identity.


Alexis is now sixteen years old and is my top fashion consultant.  She always has relevant comments on my attire and I often find myself in her room “borrowing” her great finds.   We often collaborate around what to wear, and her siblings always have advice and input.  She has developed a great eye for fashion and I am certain that my willingness to "let go" has helped her develop all of the skills she needs to dress for success.

Thanks to Lilly, Chloe, Vivian Mulqueen and Meara McBride (our little girl models)!


Thanks, Laura!!  And psst:  Garanimals is still being sold at Walmart!




  1. I completely agree with nearly everything here, except our rule is if it is cold out clothes must cover your elbows and knees (long pants and sleeves). Otherwise, it’s just preschool who really cares if she matches. BUT if we have an important event MOM gets to choose clothes.
    I have two girls and my youngest gets a lot of hand me downs. I’ve found Gap to be good for lasting quality and their color palette stays the same year to year (so we can mix and match old and new)
    My kids make some “interesting” fashion choices. Right now we’re learning about matching colors…

  2. This is going to be a very hard lesson to me to learn. But it’s such unbelievably sound advice, and I hope I can teach my little man how to think of clothes as an extension and expression of his personality. Even if what he “matches” will make me cringe sometimes. There was a FANTASTIC article in Esquire last year from a similar slant, of a father teaching his boys to shop and dress (http://www.esquire.com/style/how-to-shop/shopping-with-kids-0909?click=main_sr). If you have a son, take a look…
    Great post–thanks!

  3. I am glad this topic came up. My son (3) dresses himself everyday. He always wears some sort of sports jersey, and often more than one “layered” on top of the other. Oh, and the jerseys are not toddler sized, they are for 8 and 9 year olds so they look like dresses! He only likes two pairs of shorts, so I do a load of laundry just about every night to keep his pants clean. For awhile I was a little annoyed that he passed up his closet full of Gap and Nordstrom, but when I watch him pretending to be a quarterback, an outfielder, or a goalie I remember that it is only a few short years that he can wear this stuff and it’s “cute”.

  4. Thanks for the little history on Garanimals clothing. I only discovered the brand recently, as my MIL frequently buys it for my toddler. I’ve fallen in love with cute simplicity of the styles and extremely durable fabrics. For the first time in my life, I’m sad that there is no Walmart near me!
    Now I’m going to check her tag colors when I get home!

  5. I love this post! My 3 year old son has gone to preschool in Mardi Gras beads and a pirate hat when the fancy strikes him. He loves attention grabbing prints and works them like nobody’s business 🙂
    Last week, my 10 month old reached into her closet as we stood looking for an outfit and pulled out a dress. I’m not sure if she’s already showing a preference…but I did let her wear it. Why not? She’s stimulated by pretty colors and patterns…the next day, she did it agin.

  6. Amy – That link is AWESOME! I was cracking up reading it – thanks for sharing! I posted it to our Facebook page. 🙂
    Dontcha think we should start a feature of hysterical toddler fashion? An “All I Needed to Know About Style I Learned From My Toddler”?

  7. What a wonderful thoughtful and articulate post. I would just say that you left out the most important Tips for Self Dressing – constantly remind yourself that how your child looks when self dressing reflects well on your parenting regardless of how mis-matched she/he may be.
    We have recently extended self dressing and self expression to hair. Hot pink temporary hair dye is sitting on my counter as we speak. Would not be my choice, but it is what she wants and it’s temporary. I love that she is creative and confident enough to want to be different, even at bot quite 5.

  8. My daughter is 2.5 and picks her own clothes most days, then I help her dress. I used to give her several options, now I usually just say “pick out a shirt and pants or a shirt and skirt”.
    My only rules are:
    * No pants for church on Sunday – dress or skirt only.
    * It must be clean.
    * It must be weather appropriate (jackets or sweaters can be worn over short-sleeve shirts, tights can be worn with a dress or skirt… now that it’s getting warmer, sometimes it’s a struggle to get her to take OFF the extra layers).
    When she wears nothing but pink, I cringe… when she wears a pink t-shirt with a red sweater and green pants, I sigh… but I want to make sure she has the confidence to express herself in her clothing choices. I am sure she will be more stylish than I am, in the long run.

  9. This is a great post! I love your spin on what it is to dress for success…for kids.
    I appreciate the depth and heart of what you’ve written here. You obviously have given this subject a lot of thought and it’s great that you’re sharing your knowledge with others. You’re truly making a difference in the world. Keep doing what you’re doing!
    To your magnificence!

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