Teenage Drama: Dress Shopping with Mom

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I can still remember the day, some 12 years ago, like it was yesterday. I simply pulled the hand-sewn, smocked, long white dress from the closet of my then-toddler daughter, asked her to lift up her dimpled arms over her head, then gently pulled the beautiful baptismal gown over her head and quickly buttoned it up her back. Sometimes I long for those days, when getting my daughter to wear a special occasion dress that we both agree on was a snap. Wishful thinking. After all, she is 13.

These days, our shopping trips typically go something like this. We walk into the junior department of a store, usually one that is dark and pulsating with bad techno music, and my daughter adopts somewhat of a frozen stance.

Then I, desperately scanning the racks for something that won’t make my 13-year-old look like a complete slut, pick up a few select items of clothing and ask her what she thinks.

After what seems like minutes, her face will scrunch up and she’ll say something like this: “You think I am going to wear something that hideous?”

Shopping for formal attire is an even bigger chore.

On a recent shopping trip—amid the plunging necklines, cut-out backs, and super-short hemlines that lined the racks—I managed to pull out a few dresses I thought were somewhat appropriate for a 13-year-old.

After a long blank stare, my daughter responded: “You have no clue what people my age wear these days.”

Then she proceeded to tell me that she has no intention of wearing a dress that is lacy or shiny or has a bow of any kind or one that ‘comes up too high’—as in the neckline. That narrowed our choices down to about three dresses, each of which she flatly rejected.

Needless to say, we came home empty-handed.

Feeling deflated, my daughter retreated to her iPad to search online for a dress. I took a temporary hiatus from the whole affair. But, finding myself at a department store without her a week later, I spotted a dress I thought was perfect. It was a sophisticated gold color, with a swingy skirt and a scalloped edge along the hem. The top was sleeveless with a shimmery neckline. I would have died to wear it, if I had the legs of a 13-year-old.

As a backup, I put on hold a simple, ice blue sleeveless dress with a scoop neck and a tasteful overlay of lace. I know, I know—she says she hates lace. But I thought maybe she would overlook it. I took a few pictures on my phone, back and front of the dress, to show her later—and to demonstrate to her that I did, after all, know a thing or two about dress shopping for young girls. I should have known better.

She vetoed both of them.

I’ve never been a quitter, but I’m seriously considering giving up. Just throwing in the towel. I simply cannot see an otherwise peaceful resolution to the standstill that has wedged its way between my 13-year-old daughter and me when it comes to clothes shopping—and, now that I think of it, an increasing number of other subjects. A potential truce can only come, I’ve decided, if I admit defeat.

But I’m not the sort to be trumped by a teenaged girl. Nor will it solve the problem at hand: that my daughter is incredibly particular about what she wears; that we disagree on what girls her age should be wearing — is strapless really necessary at 13? — and that she has nothing suitable to wear to an event that is right around the corner.

Which brings me back to that amazing day over a decade ago, when I helped my daughter into her first “gown,” told her she looked beautiful, and delighted as she spun around for me. Maybe, if I’m lucky, by the time my daughter is ready to shop for a wedding dress, our tastes—and tempers—will align once again.



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  1. Let your daughter pick out three items, then introduce her to the art of negotiation. It’s a capability that will be invaluable the rest of her life.

  2. absolutely brilliant write-up, and I live this daily! You’d think that we never did have tween and teen years ourselves! There are little victories to be had – we came home from Marshalls with some good selections – after about 2 hours of marathon trying-on, and vetoes on both sides. Hang in there, Mom!

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