Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Problem With Wearing Socks and Sandals*

A few months ago I bought a pair of soft brown leather kids sandals at a really good price. I was intending on putting them away for my son for the warmer weather, but after trying them on he took a shine to them and wanted to wear them every day. The problem was, it was still quite chilly, so he came up with the industrious solution of wearing socks with the sandals, keeping his feet toasty warm whilst still getting wear out of the shoes.

Now I'm not quite sure how I would react if my husband took up the same fashion statement**, but when my 5-year-old waved me goodbye and wandered off to play with his friends sporting his quirky self-devised ensemble, it warmed my heart. When he was a baby and toddler, Mr 5 would be into anything and everything with no regard for what others thought (as babies and toddlers tend to be!). By the time he was 3 or 4, he was asking me to paint his nails bright pink, red or whatever shiny colour he could find. Lately, however, he had refused to wear anything that may cause him to be "laughed at". One day he literally refused to go to preschool unless I removed his nail polish. Another time he refused to wear a puffer vest because it would "make me look young." (The mind still boggles at this last comment: if you can't look "young" at 5, when can you? Not to mention the irony, which obviously escaped him, that the majority of society are out there trying to look young!)

So the triumphant sandals-and-socks combo with no regard for fashion police preschoolers was a milestone. He wore them for weeks on end, only putting on sneakers when it rained. And, to my knowledge, no one said a word. I think he realised it was unusual, because none of the other kids wore the same thing, and I'm not sure whether his confidence increased because of his daring or just alongside it. Whatever the case: he has matured into a boy who seems to worry less about his peers' attitudes toward such things. He also takes pride in choosing his own (often clashing) t-shirt and shorts combinations and dressing himself (the t-shirts end up being worn inside out maybe 50% of the time). I don't think he will be requesting nail polish again any time soon but at least he can feel confident dressing independently.

After the recent 'leggings are not pants' talk a high profile blogger gave her 5-year-old daughter, I wondered what would have happened if I had sat down my son all those weeks ago and told him that socks and sandals are not a good look. I imagine he would have been confused and probably more than a little despondent. I also thought about the fact that 'leggings are not pants' has been meme'd to death whereas the humble socks and sandals (possibly the male equivalent when it comes to so-called 'crimes of fashion'?) seemed to have escaped the same level of vitriol.

As my husband put it, children (boys and girls) should be able to wear their whatever they want - even put undies on the outside of their pants if that's what they want to do. (As indeed my son did for a time, complete with tea towel pegged to his t-shirt in a home-made superman costume that doubled as daywear).

There are so many unwritten (and written) 'rules' that society applies to us all about what is acceptable to wear, eat, say and do. Kids are part of that society and read the cues all the time. The noise dictating who they 'should be' only gets louder as they get older. That desire to fit in happens all on its own with no need for parental encouragement. Regardless of whether or not it appeals to my aesthetics (or any one else's for that matter), why on earth would I instruct my child that he has to listen to other people's voices rather than his own on this issue? Why would I inhibit his personal choice and freedom just that little bit more? Whether I say anything or not, society will no doubt make him aware of what's 'acceptable' sooner or later. I can only hope it's later, and that when it does, he will retain some of that youthful joie de vivre and inner confidence that allows him to wear just what he likes, without regard for the possible disapproval of others.

*Oh, there isn't one.

**Actually, I am pretty sure I would not love it, but I would only suggest he try to find a similarly comfortable alternative if he asked. Ask me again when we're 70, I'm pretty sure by then I will be cool with it (at least I hope so).