We’ve all seen them at the mall: the chairs, couches, or even ledges in stores, occupied by moderately grumpy men on their phones who have been unwillingly dragged shopping. You might smile at the sight of these poor fathers, brothers, and boyfriends miserably slumped in these seats. You may even praise them for coming; shopping is clearly out of their comfort zone.
Many fathers go clothing shopping with their children, but usually the mothers are in charge of the kids’ clothes. Whether it’s because women tend to enjoy shopping more than men, or because society expects them to take on that parenting task, they’re usually the ones with kids’ clothes shopping on their to-do list. But why should clothing still be so mother-controlled? This needs to change.
As an 18-year-old young woman, I have a unique relationship with my dad, both in our closeness and in his participation in my clothing choices. My dad is often the first person I seek out for advice, whether it’s about sports or boyfriends. I love talking to my dad, and he has always taken a deep interest in my life. When my mom wasn’t available for an important clothes shopping trip, my dad’s lack of knowledge was outweighed by his enthusiasm, and we would always have fun — even if no purchase was finalized without a picture texted to my mom. And whenever I choose clothing for important occasions, I do “fashion shows” for my mom and my dad.
Fathers need to become more active in clothing shopping to show their children non-stereotypical gender roles. By taking more control of clothing shopping, children learn to not associate only women with household chores and childcare. This shapes kids’ ideas about what is normal, but it also benefits other areas of the father-daughter relationship: my father’s involvement in my clothing made me more comfortable turning to him for more stereotypically feminine concerns, bringing us closer.
But perhaps most important, by not being truly active in the clothing selection process, fathers are missing out on important moments with their children, and daughters, especially. When I tried on my prom dress, it was perfect — I was the Cinderella of my childhood dreams. But my mom and I debated buying the dress, as it was more money than we wanted to spend, until we sent a picture to my dad and he replied with “SAY YES TO THE DRESS!” My dad’s text helped create the perfect dress moment, and it only would have been more perfect had my dad been there. Even years later I still reflect on that happy moment.
My dad’s active involvement in my clothing shopping and beauty process truly strengthened my relationship with him. By showing interest in an area that didn’t really come naturally, I knew my dad really loved me, especially when he’d excitedly give me his opinion on the 17th dress. And as my dad was accustomed to taking interest in my activities, we never ran out of things to talk about in the awkward teenage years. Our close relationship has remained a constant in my life.
Some of you may argue that you have your own ways of bonding with your children. This may be true, but clothing shopping relates to many exciting life moments and milestones in ways that few other things do, whether it’s picking out a prom or wedding dress or choosing a new look during back-to-school shopping. By shopping with their children, fathers are involving themselves in crucial identity development.
And you don’t have to know anything about fashion. (Most older kids have an idea of what they like and don’t, anyway.) If you’re uncomfortable being the decision-maker, go shopping as a family or be the “paparazzi” and send pictures to someone else for approval. What matters is that you are there for the important life moments and that you are showing your child that you want to engage in their interests, even if they aren’t in your usual realm.
I would love to see fathers engaging with their children instead of sitting in chairs on their phones at the mall. I want to see dads teaching sons how to put together an outfit and comparing their favorite brand of athletic shorts, or laughing with their daughters over a ridiculous skirt and helping them find their size in the super-cute pair of jeans. I can’t wait for these dads to enjoy these newfound special moments, just like the ones I shared with my dad.
Kaitlin Henry is a freshman studying nursing at the University of Pennsylvania. She enjoys bonding with her father through hallmark movies and spontaneous singing on chairlifts.