“Muuuum, I need a shirt with more colours on it! It’s for Crocodile, Crocodile and I don’t get a turn because I’m always wearing the same colours – grey, blue, black…” my seven-year-old son gestures to a pile of clothes on his bedroom floor. I paw through them with him and he’s right – how did we end up with so much navy blue?!
Two days later my four-year-old daughter wonders why she doesn’t have a shirt with a dragon on it.
“I’ve got my pony shirt and my giraffe shirt and the shirt with the flowers but no dragons,” she says sadly.
Obviously, just because children want a certain type of clothing doesn’t mean I need to act on that. But their comments, made days apart, got me thinking.
We start so early distinguishing children as male and female and I’ve often thought a baby wearing a flowery pink headband is the most painful thing in the world! All babies under one look more like potatoes than anything else and attempting to make your potato look like a girl potato feels especially futile.
That being said, we still need to dress our kids and striking the balance between what parents want, what kids want and what is practical and affordable can be a headache.
In the case of my son, a trip to a few local department stores confirmed my suspicions – if he wants to wear brighter colours, we will have to shop in the girl’s section.
I notice that big box stores label their kid’s clothing not as ‘boys’ or ‘girls’ but as kids clothing, as though they expect the items will be interchangeable between the genders. But I admit I feel kind of funny about the idea of actively choosing girls clothes for my son, like I’m breaking a big rule.
At seven, the shapes and styles of the clothing commonly worn by girls and boys are apparent and I also wonder if he would wear the leggings and shirts cut tight so common among girls his age – he’s already learnt that male clothes are comfortable.
And if colour is the priority, the girl’s section is still fairly limited – a pink, purple and peach palette prevails.
If my kids and I want to mix it up a bit and buy a green shirt with a purple dinosaur or red pants with strawberry print, without ordering from across the world and paying adult prices, what are our options?
A search for children’s clothing stores in About Regional territory leads me to ‘Chilli and Willow‘ in Bateman’s Bay.
Owner Yasna Gilligan is an interior designer and is passionate about colour, texture and print.
When her clients started having grandchildren, she saw a gap in the market and turned her hand to designing and making kid’s clothes, some of which are still made locally and some in a small factory in Indonesia.
“Children are the same as adults in that colour gives them inspiration,” Yasna explains “as a designer, I use every tool at my disposal to make the item interesting. When kids come into the store, you see it on their faces, they love it here and they don’t want to leave.”
Yasna sees a shift towards gender-neutral clothing for kids.
“You can put babies in black now!” she exclaims “but when children are older, they are very honest about what they like and don’t like. I often give children clothes for free when they come in and fall in love with something – it’s not always what the parents like.”
Letting children express themselves through their clothing is an important aspect of identity, according to Yasna, and has the benefit of limiting struggles between kids and adults about what is an appropriate clothing choice.
“Of course, when it’s cold, they must wear something warm but other than that sort of thing, why make a child wear something they don’t like?”
On that note, I’m off to find my daughter a dragon shirt and my son something from the girl’s department.