Why It's So Hard to Shop for Clothes With My Teen Daughter

Admittedly, some moms may think this is actually a good thing.

young woman in blank black t-shirt on white with shopping bag

Photo by Getty Images

Photo by Getty Images

My teenage daughter has a shopping problem. She doesn’t like to shop and that’s the problem.

(I’m sure parents of spendthrift teens across the nation are at this very moment poised to fire off “Count your blessings!”-style quips in the comments section. But, please, bear with me here.)

Style has been a lifelong passion of mine. Not designer labels or high fashion glossies, per se; I mean style as pure personal expression. I’ve been cultivating looks since preschool, back when I would weigh in with strong opinions about the Healthtex and OshKosh attire my mom set out for me.

In 1990, I — alongside my mother and sister — spent weekends boldly foraging through clearance racks and outlet malls. I imagined myself as a Sassy magazine covergirl in the making and, as such, I needed to dress the part. My 13-year-old allowance went toward marked-down Esprit separates, broomstick skirts, vests, colored tights, embroidered Mary Jane slippers, chunky jewelry, boho hats and still more vests.

Fast-forward a few decades: ‘90s retro fashion reigns supreme and I now have a 13-year-old of my own. The thing is, while my love for shopping remains intact, it’s clear I did not pass the retail-fiending gene down to my daughter. I’d come to the conclusion that she’s just indifferent toward clothing altogether.

Believe me, I’m not one of those tragic forever-young “fun moms” that Amy Poehler played in “Mean Girls.” I don’t need to live vicariously through my daughter via mini skirts and crop tops that I can no longer pull off. I just wanted to share the fun of those Saturday sprees and delight in watching her put together funky creations of her own. Instead, I buy basics for her while I’m out running errands, then glumly hang the shopping bags on her bedroom door.

She’s perfectly content with her school’s white top-khaki bottom dress code (a uniform that’s a no-brainer for her, but a bummer for me). Outside of school, she puts clothing together in frumpy, conservative ways that belie her young age. She’ll opt for the top that makes her feel coziest, the pants in her favorite color, mismatched animal socks and whatever shoes happen to be closest to the door ... regardless of how all those things look together. She buttons her shirts all the way up to her windpipe and tucks them in, prim Sunday school-style. She’s the “mousy” to my teenage “sassy.” The Urkel to my Blossom.

By now, you’ve probably diagnosed me as one of those moms who’s unwilling to accept the fact that her child simply has her own distinct tastes and interests. Well, you’d only be partly right there. The other part of my problem is … I’ve only now realized that I’m turning out to be just like my mother!

For every one of those nostalgic mall outings I recall fondly, there’s a style-related fight I’m simultaneously suppressing. See, while I was clomping around through the early ‘90s in my chunky boots, overalls and piled-on accessories, my mom was urging me to wear a nice turtleneck sweater and sensible Liz Claiborne purse instead. Now it seems her relatively conservative aesthetic skipped over me and embedded itself in my kid.

The final blow in this whole trans-generational sartorial siege hit me about a week ago. I was getting birthday brunch at one of those hip hole-in-the-wall cafes where the menus require glossaries. As I joined the block-long queue, I looked around and noticed that all the trendy twenty somethings were dressed … like my daughter. I was surrounded by awkward-looking mom jeans (the irony!), drab normcore shirts, dad caps and intentionally ugly shoes. Instead of celebrating turning one year older, I felt like I’d actually aged a decade!

After a lifetime of feeling certain I had my finger on the pulse, I was struck by the sudden realization that I just [gasp] didn’t get it anymore. Being the kind, sensitive soul that she is, I guess my daughter just didn’t have the heart to tell me.

Like my mother before me, I’d been trying to give my rising style star a makeover that she didn’t need. I had completed the transition from maven to “capital-m” Mom and I never even felt the change was upon me. It’s a definite blow to the ego.

On the bright side, it’s comforting to know that I have more in common with both my mother and my daughter than I thought. Plus, I don’t have to wage wardrobe wars with my teen over cheek-a-boo shorty shorts and midriff-baring shirts, which is a relief.

I’ll just have to learn to stay in my lane for now. And in a few decades, when she starts experiencing her own aesthetic shift, I’ll have a few wardrobe gems ready to pass down to her.