Once your daughter reaches her tween or teenage years, clothing (especially revealing clothes) can become a tricky subject to discuss. Adolescence is a time for her to explore and discover her own identity while likely growing into a rapidly changing body, so how you approach a conversation about clothing needs to be sensitive and kind. Chances are, her choices in clothes are not just about the clothing itself.1
When to Talk to Your Daughter About Revealing Clothing
There is no set or ideal time to talk with your daughter about her clothes; however, starting conversations about creativity and self-expression through clothing is warranted as soon as she begins showing interest in choosing her own clothes. This often occurs in late childhood or the early “tween” years that are commonly referred to as “early adolescence.”2
Incidentally, early adolescence often coincides with school rules and expectations surrounding dress codes. While conversations about dress codes can be difficult, starting them sooner rather than later allows your daughter to look to you as a trusted partner in decision making about clothing, dress, and self-expression.
16 Tips On How to Talk to Your Daughter About Clothing
Talking about clothing may feel awkward, especially if you disapprove of or simply dislike your daughter’s choices, but there are healthy ways to approach the conversation that provide room for you to “join” her where she is.
Ultimately, even if you agree to disagree about her wardrobe choices, it’s your responsibility as a parent to open up the conversation about how she expresses herself through physical dress, when, and for what audience.
Here are sixteen tips to talk to your daughter about clothes:
1. Explore Your Own Values Surrounding Dress
Many people have unconscious biases or opinions about clothing, especially for girls and women. It’s helpful to understand your beliefs in this regard. Before jumping into a conversation, ask yourself how you think girls “should” or “shouldn’t” dress. Question why you feel the way you do and where those values might stem from.3
2. Ask Your Daughter About Her Inspiration
Tweens and teens are bombarded with messaging about what to wear and body image, largely due to its prevalence on the social media teens use. Ask your daughter to show you what she likes, who she’s “following,” and what inspires her to dress the way she does. You’ll learn far more about her than just her clothing preferences, so treat this as an opportunity to get to know your kid.
3. If Offering Feedback, Avoid Labels
You may have a lot to say about your daughter’s clothing, but keep feedback limited to function vs. form, avoiding critical or judgmental labels like “unflattering” or “slutty.” Instead, opt for comments that address the function of the piece (e.g., “It’s 35 degrees outside, so I don’t think a tank top is the right choice for today.”) She may disagree, but your statement is factual.
4. Talk About Body Image & Explore How She Feels About Her Body
Studies show that how one feels about their body will influence clothing selection; in the reverse, clothing choices can also influence one’s perception of their body.4 Talking with your daughter about clothing can open the door to talking about how she feels about her body, her weight, changes happening within her body, and how connected she may or may not feel to her own body.
5. Explore How Clothing Choices Make Her Feel
Especially if it’s a contentious topic, it is likely that your daughter’s clothing choices are emotional ones, or at least ones that elicit “big feelings.” If things get emotional, gently broach the topic of self-concept and explore the possibility of her having struggles with low self-esteem.
6. Broaden the Discussion to Self-expression & Creativity
Adolescents struggle with peer approval and peer pressure daily. Clothing choice is inextricably linked to tweens and teens developing the creative part of their identity in a way that is socially connected (i.e., who dresses how, who has the latest brands, etc.)5 Use this opportunity to ask about the other creative outlets she has in her life or the outlets she would like to develop.
7. Talk About Sexism/Unfairness In Dress Codes
Love them or hate them, formal dress codes exist in many workplaces and schools, not to mention unspoken dress codes that are applied to certain settings or events.6 Your child likely has a dress code at school that may or may not accurately reflect her preferences, body type, or culture. This is a great opportunity to discuss sexism or biases that are reflected in dress codes.
8. Address Time & Place In Making Clothing Selections
Share your expectations about what can and can’t be worn and under what circumstances. Clothing that’s “home appropriate” may not be appropriate for school. Explore and discuss your boundaries, be ready to meet resistance, and determine where you might be more flexible (e.g., athletic clothes to a formal family dinner isn’t OK, but a more two-piece swimsuit to a teenage pool party might be fine).
9. Promote Confidence
During puberty, body shame is at an all time high, so keep the conversation focused on what makes your daughter feel confident and proud of herself, her body, and her identity. Often, she is trying just as hard to figure out her style preferences as you are to talk to her about them. Use the conversation to promote confidence in who she is.
10. Generate Suggestions, not Criticism
Rather than telling your daughter what not to wear or judging what she brings to you, find examples of things you think she would like and that would look good. Nonchalantly share your opinion about items you like so she feels like she can do the same with you. This turns the conversation about clothes into an ongoing, ever-evolving one.
11. Don’t Take Resistance Personally
When talking about clothing with your daughter, you will inevitably dislike items that she thinks are great. Remember, it’s normal to feel “out of touch” or like you have no sense of what’s cool. Don’t take it personally when she resists. Instead, recognize that this is a very normal part of her differentiating herself from you.
12. Beware When Clothing Concerns Bridge Into Body Dysmorphia
Sometimes, when tweens or teens are highly preoccupied with appearance, clothing, and body issues, it’s a sign of body dysmorphia — a mental health issue with no specific treatment. If the battle about clothing selection seems to be more acutely related to your daughter’s self-assessment, it may be time to seek professional help in the form of a counselor or therapist.
13. Decide In Advance & Clearly Communicate Where/When She Is Welcome to Wear Clothing You Dislike or Disapprove of
Rather than engaging in a daily “go change” exchange, have a collaborative conversation about which clothes are appropriate for which settings. This can help you avoid having the clothing battle over and over. Perhaps it’s OK for her to wear shorter shorts when out with friends, but you don’t want her wearing them when visiting her grandparents. Give her autonomy to make some of her own decisions, too.
14. Set a Budget
Decide what you’re comfortable spending on “parent approved” clothing and “not parent approved clothing.” Also, allow your daughter some flexibility within the latter category to purchase what she likes. Giving her that freedom may make her more careful with her spending choices and teach her financial responsibility.
15. Avoid Commentary on Clothes Being “Slutty” or “Too Sexy”
You can have an opinion about your daughter’s clothing, but sharing those particular comments will end the conversation and make her defensive. If her clothes make you think she may be exploring her sexuality or what it means to be sexual/sexy, she probably is. Sexual identity exploration is a normal part of adolescence, and considering how her body looks in different clothing is part of that journey.7
16. Keep the Conversation Playful
Share something that you wore when you were younger that your parents hated, or tell your own story of a wardrobe mishap so she knows it’s a safe, non-judgmental conversation. We all had a “look” that our parents hated when we were teenagers. Remind her that everyone has this experience, including you.
What NOT to Say
When talking about clothing with your daughter, it’s important to create space for the conversation to remain open and nonjudgmental. You may have strong feelings about what she should wear, but know that her testing these boundaries is a very normal part of adolescent development.
When talking about clothing with your daughter, avoid the following:
- Language that is shaming or judgmental
- Any commentary that deals directly with her body, weight, breasts, sexual organs
- Berating or punishing behaviors
More Advice for Moms on Talking to Your Daughter About Clothes
For moms, be careful not to engage in physical comparisons like, “I wish I could wear that.” Though well-meaning, your child needs allyship, not comparison. Through this conversation, you are teaching her to relate on a female-to-female level (given that you both identify as such). Why not make this a positive experience?
More Advice for Dads on How to Talk to Your Daughter About Clothes
For dads of daughters especially, commentary regarding her physical development should be limited to how her body works and functions, not appears. Given that dads have not experienced the tween or teen years as a daughter, their credibility may be limited, so it is best to hold to pragmatic, non-judgmental discussions.
How to Handle This Conversation as an Adult
Conversations with your daughter about the way she chooses to dress can be uncomfortable. They may even bring up your own unresolved issues surrounding body image, appearance, or shame. Therapy can help with those uncomfortable feelings or messages. Find a therapist through our online directory.
Additionally, parent coaching can help you prepare for this conversation. If warranted, family therapy can help with any difficult or unproductive dynamics.
Talking to your daughter about clothes can serve as an entry point into her world. It gives you physical data to explore together and draw upon creatively. By treating this conversation as one that is “joining” vs. threatening, you can encourage your daughter to explore self-expression through clothing in a way that is safe and falls within certain boundaries.