We Are Both Right

Boy Wearing Little Girl Dress Up Clothes to Preschool? Not Acceptable.


Do feather boas have a place in a preschooler's ensemble? Not at school! ©thiralia/stock.xchng

I’m a mommy blogger on the What to Expect website.  A while back, Heidi Murkoff, author of the What to Expect series, was asked the following question:

“My son loves wearing his older sister’s frilly dress-up clothes and boas. I don’t mind it around the house, but now he wants to wear them to preschool. Should I let him?”

You can click here to see the question and Heidi’s response.

To me, it’s a silly question.  Of course the answer is no.  Maybe not for the same reasons you have, but in my mind wearing any kind of kids dress up clothes to school is inappropriate.  And, while I agree with Heidi in simple terms, I respectfully disagree with her reasons for thinking so.

I like to think of myself as an open-minded mom, and pretty much accepting of just about anything that kids do.  Tommy’s sharing his popsicle with the dog again?  That’s a teaching opportunity about germs.  Toddler dressing up in mommy’s bra and parading out in front of company?  Sweetheart, let’s learn the word privacy today and how it applies to mommy’s underwear.

Kids don’t know any better a lot of the time, so you can’t fault them for being ignorant.  Instead, you teach them what they need to learn, and you do it in whatever way you know how.  The great thing about kids is how spongy they are.  They soak up knowledge anywhere they can get it and anyway it is given to them.  Take social cues, for example.  Many folks (parents, grandparents, teachers, school secretaries, parenting expert-authors, and so on) have clearly defined notions in their heads of what makes a girl and “girl” and a boy a “boy”.  Girls wear pink.  Boys wear blue.  Disobey these societal rules and you just might be a homosexual.

Even in Preschool.

How ridiculous, right?  I mean, who gives a rip if a kid is gay.  So your preschool-aged son (which makes him three or four years old, by the way) likes to play in kids dress up clothes of the “girlie” variety.  Who am I to say that boy faeries don’t wear skirts?  I’ve never seen a boy faerie, how would I know?  Oh, and, he’s FOUR, folks.  His parents have years to go before he starts really worrying them with his wild and crazy sexual explorations.  I’m pretty sure that even the most progressive four year-old child isn’t donning black lipstick and a kilt because he wants to be “alternative” (as we called that style when I was a teenager).  Nah, this wee one just thinks that toddler dress up costumes of the skirt, tutu, and gown persuasion are pretty.

I see no problem in allowing a boy to play in little girl dress up clothes.  The operative word in that sentence is play.  Which (finally) brings me to my point about why little boys shouldn’t wear dresses to school.  We don’t go to school to play.  We go to learn.

Here’s what it boils down to.  School is the beginning of understanding what it means to become a productive member of society.  The end goal of all that schooling is to enable us to figure out what we want to do to become successful members in a workforce.  There are certain behaviors that are acceptable at home and in one’s casual time, and others that are appropriate for school or the workplace.  We go to school to pay attention and learn, not to play dress up all day.

Even in Preschool.

Of course there are political reasons for discouraging little boys from wearing dress up costumes to school, especially if they are of the feminine variety.  Frankly, if those were the only reasons I’d fly a double salute and let my kid wear whatever he wanted to preschool.  But, where I rebel against the stupidity of other adults and their idiotic and thoughtless reactions to seeing a little boy in a dress, I do conform to the principle that a school is an institution much like the workplace.  We should dress in business appropriate clothing at work, and similarly at school.  Should a little boy be allowed to wear frilly kids dress up clothes to preschool?  Well, should he be allowed to wear his pajamas to preschool?  The answer is the same for both questions.  In a word, no.

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Amanda says she doesn’t have a problem with boys wearing girl’s clothing to school (and kind of wishes she could get in on the sparkly tutu action herself!).

Boys Wearing Boas to Preschool? Sure, Why Not?

little girl dress up clothes

Do dresses like these belong in the closets of preschool-age boys? © Kohl's

When I was four, I had two imaginary friends. Marshay, (which at the time, I believed to be the most beautiful name ever) who was a gorgeous girl with soft features and long, wavy black hair and Johnson, who was modeled after the Sesame Street muppet Roosevelt Franklin.

When my son was four, he would name any doll, toy or action figure in his possession “Dit Dit.” He knew other names — he had friends with other names. He liked the way “Dit Dit” sounded, so that’s what everything he owned was called. Until he got a fish. That he dubbed “Straw.”

When my daughter was four, she would insist — insist — on picking out her own clothes. This would result in outfits that included, among other things, snow boots and a tutu, a scarf and a sundress and a pink fuzzy sweater paired with orange shorts and green tights.

I love the preschool years because unlike a toddler, who tends to make decisions soley on impulse, preschoolers usually put a little more thought and creativty into their actions. There is purpose behind what they do. Having said that, kids that are between the ages of 3 and 5 are also some of the most absurd creatures you will ever have the pleasure of meeting.

Some don’t like it when food on their plate touches other food on their plate. They tell jokes that don’t make sense. They dance in the supermarket aisles. They think kitchen utensils are funny (at least mine did). And sometimes they want to wear clothing that isn’t “gender-appropriate” to school.

(Aha! I knew I’d get to the point eventually.)

If my young son ever asked to wear a dress to preschool, I admit that intially it would give me pause — would he be teased? Would he feel strange once he got there? Would the teacher mind? (Although I suspect a preschool teacher, well-versed in the odd behaviors of the under-5 set wouldn’t even blink an eye.)

Ultimately, though, I’d let him, chalking it up to the peculiarities of childhood.

Let’s face it — girl’s clothing is fun! It’s visual and tactile. You can clomp around and make a lot of noise in high heels — not to mention, grab a couple of inches of height over your friends. And dresses and scarves and boas are pretty! And sparkly!

Heck, I’m 36 and there are days I would love to head out to the grocery store in a boa and a sequined top. I wouldn’t because I’d probably get some raised eyebrows and other assorted strange looks (also, sequins make me look pale), but in a way, that makes me sad. As they get older, our kids will have plenty of time to dress appropriately. Can’t we give our little ones a little more time to be little?

When my daughter was in her mismatched phase (one that I’m not entirely sure she’s grown out of), while her looks were likely to draw the ire of Mr. Blackwell, ultimately they were an expression of her growing creativity and independence. So I encouraged and humored her, allowing her to dress as she liked (weather-permitting) and off the store, preschool and other places we’d go, she earning smiles (and compliments) all the way.

So why wouldn’t I extend the same benefits to my son?

And by the way, when my little girl asked to dress in “boy clothes”  for preschool — for argument’s sake let’s say a shirt with cars or trucks on it, or one adorned with a popular sports figure — no one batted an eyelash. So why are we holding our kids to different standards?

The preschool years make for some of the sweetest, funniest memories of all. We should embrace the quirks and eccentricities that come with little kids, because they don’t last for very long. Encourage their growing independence by letting them make their own decisions whenever we can, so when they grow up they turn into funny, self-reliant, free-thinking adults. Our job as parents are to encourage the burgeoning creativity of our little ones, supporting them as they figure out who they are and who they are going to be.

Whether they are wearing a pink tutu when they do it or not.

Would you let your son wear a dress to preschool?


Guest blogger FunnyMum has an interesting take on “cross-dressing” preschoolers, one I hadn’t really considered.