Dressing for Joy: Embracing My Preschooler’s Style

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My preschooler dresses like the most effeminate, rainbow, sparkly unicorn girl you’ve ever met. But he’s not a girl—he’s a four-year-old boy who’s just dressing for joy.

He fell in love with bright colors and tie-dye around his second birthday, and he’s never looked back. He exclusively asks to wear tie-dye clothing, rainbow jackets, colorful striped knee socks, and sparkly pink or red shoes. He likes his fingernails painted in rainbow colors. His one piece of masculine attire is his backward baseball cap, and overall, the look is pure joy! Most days, he walks around looking like a participant in the Indy Pride Parade, and quite frankly, I love it!

He’s not making a statement. He’s not gender-fluid. Big, bold patterns and colors just match his personality. He’s loud and fun and the life of the party. He’s just dressing for joy. And logically, his preferences make sense to me. Rainbows, unicorns, and bright colors do seem more exciting than the dinosaurs, robots, and patternless options his brother largely prefers.

So, we are encouraging his choices every step of the way. There is no agenda—just joy. Most adults smile when they see him coming. His exuberance is contagious. But some adults ask if he’s wearing his sister’s hand-me-downs. Some adults ask if I think that he’s gay. Some adults seem genuinely confused by his less-than-gender-normative fashion.

He’s recently taken things a step further. He’d like to have a “dress for a boy.” We’ve discussed with him that while it’s less common for boys to wear dresses and it’s not likely he will see many other boys in them. He insists he’d like one so that he can twirl. So, after multiple requests, he and I picked one out at Target—a yellow sundress adorned with multicolored happy faces. It was consistent with his style—just one step further.

As parents, my husband and I are navigating this on the fly, and it shows. We are trying to thread a needle here. We want to both encourage self-expression while also managing the way the world may react to him.

However, preschool feels like a safe space in which to push boundaries. Very few in his class wear matching anything. And none of his friends make negative or questioning comments about his bright pink coat. But how do I prepare my bold and confident preschooler to continue this march of joy beyond preschool?

I refuse to take a defensive stance and dampen his joy out of fear. Instead, we regularly discuss “style” in our home and help give his older brother the language to express his preferences outside of gendered color choices. As in, “that bright pink hat isn’t my style, but I understand why he likes it!”

In many ways, I’m jealous of his freedom. Like Phoebe from FRIENDS and her wild running for fun—what if I throw all the fashion rules out the window and dress for joy? I hardly follow all the rules, to begin with. It’s been years since I traded heels for comfortable Keds, and the Kirkland brand seems to be calling my name for more than groceries these days. But joy? I haven’t dressed for joy in a long time. Maybe since I was a child.

I’m so grateful that we’re living in an age of inclusivity. My child can identify what he likes, wear what he likes, and love who he likes. And I am not too old to learn from my child about finding joy. So, don’t be surprised to soon find me in the boldest options that my budget will allow. Why not? If my preschooler can pull it off, I can, too!



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