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How to dress a 5 year old (and not lose the will to live)

My daughter, Beatrix, is nearly 6. Until recently she has been most compliant with dressing, liking most things I put her in, and generally just being a pleasure to dress. But then it started. She has an actual opinion on the clothes I put her in; how very dare she! I’m joking of course, it’s to be expected. But it can feel a tad annoying given that there’s essentially nothing wrong with the clothes, apart from the fact that she now thinks them baby-ish (just because she’s had them a while).

It’s hard though isn’t it? How do we dress our little girls – and boys for that matter – nicely, dare I say stylishly even, when they’d really honestly rather be clad head to toe in unicorn emblazoned (or Paw Patrol – delete as appropriate) pink items from head to toe? Because it’s not just girls that go through this “actually I will decide what I wear” phase, of course. In our house it is Bea that’s more fussed about what she wears; Arthur, her 8 year old brother went through a similar phase but as long as his clothes are comfy and fairly plain he’s down with them.

We’re just back from a family holiday to the Greek Islands, where the hotel guests were mainly British and Scandinavian. I could spot the Brits a mile off. It was so easy. Same for the Scandis. Why? Because of how they dressed! Leaving aside how incredibly well put together the parents – and grandparents – were for just a moment… the kids were simply and stylishly dressed too – every day and in every situation – they looked gorgeous. I started to take mental notes of what it was that made them look so simply and effortlessly put together. Whilst British kids played with slogan tees and garish colours on; theirs ran around with stripes, plain cottons, and more classic attire.

You may well read this and think, oh sod off, let kids choose what they want to wear and who cares – and that’s totally fine – I admire your ability to give them the freedom to truly express themselves. But if I’m honest, I do kind of want the kids to look stylish and nice – and for them to still like what they are wearing. And I just can’t get on board with most of the things they’d choose – especially Beatrix – if it was all down to her! I have to have some input, if she’s going to look nice and stylish, but still a kid. It’s a balance, like all parenting.

After the holiday, we came home and, after an epic meltdown when trying to dress her for a meal out, I realised Bea didn’t like lots of things in her wardrobe – also that she didn’t have many dresses for summer which is what she wants to wear most days. The next day I did a quick, inexpensive summer shop for her and she’s very very happy with what I got – importantly (I think), I am too. Win, win.

This got me thinking of all the things I would advise a friend on shopping for and dressing a 5 year old.

1. Don’t take them shopping with you

Going clothes shopping with the kids is a nice idea in theory, but by taking them with you looking for clothes for them – if you want to have some control – you potentially face 2 1/2 hours of Brexit-like negotiations over whether she can have that pair of fluro sparkly Monster High clogs. By going on your own you can be in and out in 25 minutes and also squeeze time in for a Costa.

2. Don’t buy expensive things

As much as I love expensive, gorgeous, boutique kids’ clothes, whilst they are in this fickle phase, for me anyway, it’s just not worth buying expensive clothes. That said, if you happen to find something online or in a store that you both love and agree to then why not. But in this sense of grabbing a wardrobe top up whilst they are in a fussy phase sense of shopping, it would be madness in my eyes to spend £75 on a dress they may hate in a week. My faves for kids’ shopping at the moment from a cost perspective are Tu at Sainsbury’s and H&M. Boden Kids is all beyond gorgeous (they seem to nail the fun kids’ clothes that parents will also like thing) and worth considering in the sale when you can get some great bargains.

3. Keep it simple

What I noticed about the Scandi kids was their simple colour palate. It was so clear, once I had clocked it. Their parents had a formula and they stuck to it. Navy, white, a splash of red, lots of stripes. No slogans, no characters. It seems a bit cruel in writing, but that’s why their children looked stylish. Like most secrets to looking good, it’s all in simplicity. The kids must just get used to being dressed in simple colours and patterns. One night a particularly gorgeous mother sat having dinner with her sun opposite, about 5 himself. He was dressed in brown leather sandals, navy shorts, a white shirt with a pale beige jumper slung over his shoulders and also had on a pair of dark thick rimmed trendy glasses. He looked like an architect! Whilst we giggled at how incredibly grown up he looked – maybe even a tad too grown up. I couldn’t help but admire their style too.

4. Think about their current wardrobe and the gaps that need plugging

On this recent shopping trip, I wanted to find some inexpensive, girly, daytime dresses that wouldn’t bring on nausea every time she put them on on my part. On holiday I quickly realised that she had too few dresses – I had stocked up on tshirts and shorts but she kept asking to wear the same pale blue dress with seaside things on. It was filthy so I had to buy a little all in one from a Greek shop. Pink, of course. (With pom poms on though – this is a trend we both love so that’s fine). When I went shopping, I knew I was looking for summer dresses. And, mainly, I didn’t get distracted.

5. Compromise

Now, Bea is not going to accept such a lack of colour or flamboyance as the Scandi kids, so I try to stick to a bit of pink (she’d dress in pink head to toe given the chance), mixed with some other ice cream tones and stripes, for example. Some denim and navy basics work too. She and I both love floral – especially a bit of 60s or 70s inspired floral too, so that always gets picked up if it’s on offer. I don’t mind the odd rainbow or unicorn or character (see t shirt above, Tu at Sainsbury’s), as long as it’s not too much. There are lots of things out there at the moment that are really nice and colourful without being too sickly.

6. Have a try on session at home

We had a little try on session when I got back, and she was overjoyed at everything. Phew. If that’s not the case, then don’t get too annoyed. If they fuss over the slightest thing – Bea hates any seams on the inside that will bug her – so even if she mentions something now it’s going back, as we have lots of things she said she liked at the time, only to refuse because of fussy uncomfortable seams a few days later.

7. Keep receipts

Do not chuck the receipts! Keep them all maybe for a few days until you are sure they will wear the things.

8. Suggest combos – but let them choose

A lot of the stuff above is about shopping for a 5 year old, but when it comes to them dressing themselves, if you are have shopped well, then you should be happy with it all. Then it’s up to them what they wear. Even the thought of this I find stressful – control freak? Me? Nooooooo. I lay things out in a fun fashion-y way and even two or three options – not for mucking about, but, say if you are going to a party or a restaurant. And then she can she select what she thinks. Ultimately she may well scrap what you have suggested and go for the weirdest combo ever. This happened the other day and I said in an exasperated voice (awful I know) “oh Bea, that’s a really… strange… outfit choice!” She wasn’t happy about my opinion, let’s just say (a wintery sparkly party skirt with a striped t shirt and pink sandals). But in the restaurant I thought how haphazardly nice she looked. Kind of like a stylist would put together, in fact. So I was wrong. I told her so, apologised for my overly forthright opinions, and she was very pleased.

9. Respect her decision

In the past I have been rubbish at this, and we have had little arguments over what she has wanted to wear. It’s terrible, I should just let her make her own mind up. Just like asserting their right not to like Brussel Sprouts, this is all normal. They are people in their own right and deserve to have some agency and make their own choices. Deep breath. Let them wear that red cagoul with the red shorts and red top to play out. It’s *totally* fine.

10. Let them enjoy fashion

Of course, you may well have kids who simply do not care how they dress, but Bea in particular loves fashion, as I do. So let them express themselves and look a bit ridiculous sometimes. Let her play with your lipstick, put on some of your old necklaces. It’s the stuff great family photographs and memories are made of.

Check out my Pinterest board on Little girls’ style

Have a gander at what I bought on a recent shopping trip to Sainsbury’s for my little girl:


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