Sometimes I long for the days when I’d bring home a couple bags of clothes from the mall, plop them onto my daughter’s bed, and handily close that shopping chapter until the next season. Outfitting a pre-teen adolescent girl is an entirely different story.

It’s loaded with potential pit falls and firestorms, many of which have to do with, in the eyes of my daughter, how frustratingly little her mother or school administrators know about fashion. I knew that going into it, so it was with great trepidation that I approached the Towson Town Center Mall with my daughter last Saturday. In our favor, we arrived before the crowds and scored an amazing parking space, which seemed like good karma. But whether it was enough to overcome the obstacles that lay ahead I couldn’t say.

Our task was seemingly simple: purchase some casual clothes for the spring season that she could wear to school. Grab a couple of t-shirts, some shorts, and call it a day, right? Wrong.

The clothes had to pass muster with my daughter, of course; but they also had to pass the dress-code test implemented by my daughter’s middle school and heavily enforced by an administrator who seems intent on ensuring that her 12- and 13-year-old charges would be welcome in a convent: no see-through shirts, no tank tops with too-thin straps, and no short shorts. If you’ve frequented any stores lately where adolescent girls like to shop, you’ll empathize with the challenges inherent in these pre-requisites.

Initially, it looked like we were doomed to come home empty-handed. In just about every store we entered, we were bombarded by racks of neon-colored shorts that would barely cover your butt, let alone pass the requisite dress code “fingertip test,” in which the tips of your fingertips, with arms straight down at your sides, must not reach below the hem of the shorts. A lot of the shirts were paper-thin, dipped dangerously low in the front, or bore barely-there straps. We walked in and out of several stores, defeat creeping in.

Desperate, I suggested to my daughter that we try the one store which catered to adolescents that I’d always avoided: Abercrombie. I just could never get past its overblown images of sultry-looking teenage models in the store-front windows; the knock-you-out pungent odor of cologne—or is it perfume?—that hits you when you walk through the doors; pulsating music blasting through the store; and lights so dim it’s hard to see what’s for sale. Walking into that store made me feel like I’d landed in some bizarre, teenage discoteque.

Once I got past all the hype, I found myself pleasantly surprised. The clothes were cute, and many of them, especially in the “kids section,” met the dress code pre-requisites. We found Bermuda shorts that my daughter actually approved of; a skort with an overlay of eyelet that was downright adorable, and a shirt she could wear to school without hiding under a sweatshirt for fear of being slapped with an out-of-dress code detention. That didn’t negate how annoying the atmosphere was, however, and I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

Feeling rather triumphant, I shared my success story later that day with a neighbor whose daughter is a year older than mine. I was feeling satisfied, almost smug. Not for long. The woman nodded knowingly, then shared with me her daughter’s latest shopping escapades: scouting out sexy bras with her gal pals at the mall. Great, I thought. It does get worse.

Elizabeth Heubeck

Elizabeth Heubeck is a Baltimore Fishbowl contributor and local freelance writer.

4 replies on “A Rite of Passage: Clothes Shopping with Adolescent Daughter”

  1. I was on that same shopping trip a weekend before. I somehow got out with NO shorts that met my daughter’s standards and so I was lucky enough to get a THANKS MOM, when she found an Old Navy bag on her bed one afternoon full of a number of shorts, that she actually approved of. WHEW!!!!!

  2. Yes, it does get worse. I spent HOURS shopping for pants with my 12 and 15 year old daughters recently. Everything is “skinny jeans” – meaning even the slimmest girl will be peeling off her pants when changing. It’s not that I’m trying to put them in smocking-dresses or Garanimals either. There’s just not much available that doesn’t look like Daisy Duke shorts or hooker attire. WHY are they being so sexualized at 12?!?!?

    1. At the same time I am glad my daughter feels good in her own skin. She wears this stuff full of confidence. At least that is how it seems. I remember being very self conscious about what I wore, even if it was the “latest fashion”.

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