Fashion face-off: Should you let your kids dress themselves for school?

Elliott Dash, left, and his older brother Oliver Dash pose in their favorite outfits: "Ghostbusters" suits.

As a “Ghostbusters” fan, Andrew Dash, a 32-year-old urban planner in Pittsburgh, shared the films with his two sons, Oliver and Elliott, now 8 and 6.

The boys quickly fell in love, so in 2010, Dash’s mother, Vanessa Dash, surprised the boys with “Ghostbusters” outfits—aviator suits that she covered with patches so they looked exactly like what the characters wore in the movies.

Soon, the boys wore nothing else, donning the costumes when they went to the grocery store, visited with friends and family, or played in the yard.

Because the suits were long-sleeved, Dash wouldn’t let them wear them on hot days and after a bit of grumbling, they’d agree. The boys wore their suits faithfully for years—until they grew out of them (Oliver’s lasted for two years and Elliott’s lasted for three).

“Imaginative playtime is so important for kids that age, and I was happy that they had the vehicle to create their own adventures,” writes Dash in an email. “Dressing up is part of playtime for us.”

Wearing a costume can be fun, but when a child insists on wearing a tutu everywhere or insists on hobo chic, it can become a dilemma for the parents.

Amy Baumgardener’s 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter Lily insists on wearing long dresses with T-shirts and shorts underneath. She mixes and matches her prints and colors, and tops off her outfits with crowns.

“Sometimes I am like, ‘Oh my gosh, you look like you got off the streets.’ [But], she is just testing things out,” says the 34-year-old teacher in Pittsburgh. “She rocks it. She just thinks it is amazing. I guess her confidence will take her far.”

“She is very, very confident and I love that.”

Experts have a few ways to help children pick their own clothes that appeal to mom and dad, while still maintaining a child’s independence and style. 

Michele Borba, parenting expert and TODAY Moms contributor, says children as young as 3 can pick out their own clothes, but parents should set parameters. She recalls a mom who organized her children’s closets by play and school clothes so her children understood what clothes they could wear when.

“The tutu or superhero costume is only for play. Set it up by drawers so it reduces the nag factor in the morning,” Borba advises. 

Patrick D’Amico goes shopping with his mom in an Iron Man costume.

Renee D’Amico, 37, of Center Valley, Pa., often shops at Target with “Darth Vader” —her 5-year-old son Patrick, who loves the villain and dresses like him. (He's also enjoyed dressing like Thor and Iron Man from "The Avengers.") She doesn’t ever battle with him about his school clothes because he wears a uniform.

And while uniforms reduce the struggle, Borba recommends that parents check the school’s dress code to illustrate to strong-willed children what attire is proper.  

But Amy McCready, TODAY Moms contributor and founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, cautions that what’s appropriate for mom or dad might differ for the child. You might cringe when your daughter pairs pink and red, but she might love it.

“Parents have to ask themselves: What is the most important thing? Is the most important thing that [my child] looks cute?” she says.

“Or is it that she develops autonomy and has some say so in the world?”

Kids might feel like the only thing they can control is their clothing, making it more important for them to be able to choose for themselves.

Both experts agree that sometimes children form attachments to clothing because it serves as a security blanket.

“Certain fabrics are more comfortable and feel soft to the touch. Sometimes … they develop these fixations,” McCready says. “As a parent you go with the flow.”

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