“But I only want to wear dresses!”

If you were to overhear the arguments that go on in my house every morning, you’d think I was parenting a teenager with actual fashion sense. Not an almost-three-year-old with bizarre Disney-fed ideas of what princesses wear.

After 2.5 delightful years of taking out an outfit and having her put it on, we have regrettably migrated to self-selection – a process that involves my daughter choosing her most restrictive, unwieldy, playschool-inappropriate dress, refusing to put shorts or leggings under it, and insisting on a headband.

(Not clips. Not a ponytail. A headband. A device that cannot hope to adequately restrain 2kg of curls, nor remain on the head for more than half a minute.)


It’s weird.

The princess obsession is weird, because I birthed a little tomboy. Seriously.

She’s always dirty, grubby, ‘jelly-flopping’ into the pool, climbing trees, getting paint on her face. She’s into kings, cowboys and pirates. She likes trains. And she prefers to engage in all of this behaviour while wearing a tutu. Toting a handbag. And concentratedly smacking her lips to spread her ‘lip-thtick’ more evenly.

It’s impractical.

You and I both know that the best outfit for a preschooler is a cotton T-shirt (that is sufficiently patterned not to show stains at the neck) and a pair of shorts, with rubber sandals. But my littlie wants to wear high heels to school. Every day!

Yes, yes, I’ve put my foot down about the heels (no pun intended). They’re a death-trap in any event. But I’m losing on the dress mania. Largely because, at 7am, I just can’t summon up the energy to fight about it. Chiffon? Fine. Whatevs.

What’s the craziest thing your child has worn to school? I want to know.

It’s boring.

My daughter has gorgeous clothes. Funky, awesome kiddie chic. Collected with the utmost dedication, from all over the world, by her grandmothers. But she wants to wear one of the same four dresses every day. And woe betide us all if the cursed (more-than-a-bit-too-tight) polka dot rokkie is in the wash.

It’s dangerous.

She definitely ‘boems’ more than the average toddler, coming home with an assortment of bloody scratches, awful grazes and terrible bruises that makes my heart ache. And I blame the stupid dresses. How can you run, jump, climb, slide and swing in a friggin’ bubble skirt, without killing yourself or someone else?

It’s sometimes awkward.

I don’t know how to explain to my daughter that it’s not cool to have your panties show when you bend over. That T-shirts aren’t dresses. That bikini tops aren’t school wear. She’s 3 – I’m not ready for the ‘inappropriate clothing’ conversation.

What words do I use? How do I put it? Or doesn’t it matter?

It’s not just me.

Thank the lord for My Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler, a Pinterest account that has me in stitches, often, about the mad things we allow/force our kids to wear. It makes me feel better. Because at least my little madam doesn’t want to wear leather, roller-skates, a Mohawk, a fascinator or a bustle. Yet.

If you have tips on how I should manage her ensembles, I’d love to hear them. Before tomorrow morning, please, when the sartorial battle resumes.

This article was originally written for Jozikids by Tiffany Markman in 2014.

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Tiffany Markman

Tiffany Markman

Tiffany Markman is a copywriter, speaker, trainer and mom. She was South Africa’s Freelance Copywriter of the Year in 2020 and one of the world’s ‘Top 50 Female Content Marketers’ in 2021, but she's still working on securing an award for her Mommying. She likes her coffee strong and black, her paragraphing short and tight, and her apostrophes in all the right places. Visit her website.

20 Responses

  1. Ah…the beauty of long-sleeved dresses my love 😉 or a long-sleeved top underneath a summer dress…she's such a princess, just like her mama hehe 😉 xx

  2. points 1- 3 I have tried and failed my almost 5 year old is far to smart, will def try point 4 🙂

  3. OMW! hahahha my daughter is almost 5 and the war rages on 2 years later, she is also a tomboy doing it all in a tutu I thought I was the only one, I have given in and made it the teachers problem as apparently she listens to them and not me, shorts, tights, warm top and shoes are in her bag and she goes to school shoeless with wild unbrushed curly hair in one of the 4 approved (by her)dresses (while the other 26 sit in her cupboard gathering dust) I have to ensure that one of the 4 are always washed and ready to be worn, not looking forward to winter not sure how I am going to work around the summer dress in winter issue – eeek

  4. How about going to a shopping centre dressed as Martina Navratalova from the 70's?

    I needed to get to the shops urgently one Friday after work and when Joss asked "What must I wear" I stupidly answered "Whatever"… Don't judge me, I was hectic and alone at the office.

    I got home, called from the kitchen that we needed to go and well Jocelyn walked out sporting the following:
    Blue Skort
    Smurfette "Pa slaan vir ma" vest t-shirt thing
    SHOCKING PINK anklet takkies
    My light pink hair band that I use when I put make-up on…

    Needless to say, I did grocery shopping AND went to the Ocean Basket with her looking like that.

  5. My daughter has a specific dress style. Tights and overlapping shirts. Or shorts with and character tshirts. I see the confidence she oozes whenever she wears what she chose what she wants to wear

  6. I have no tips – just that it will pass. My daughter now 22, going into a well paid job despite assuring them she will be 'doing her masters' overseas soon (so doing well) refused to wear anything except a stripy shirt and shorts (not a matching pair) and her aristocat broekies for a good six months. Only the advent of winter and a shopping trip with her choosing each new warm item ended it. The beautiful clothes of the first grandchild never got worn…She is still determined, individual and wonderful in all ways…

  7. That's so funny. I'm finding the exact same thing. Except my semi-rule is to I make her leave anything she won't carry herself in the car – and bring one small thing with her. (I have HUGE handbags and always have, but they get $%@&^ heavy.)

  8. My daughter is 3 and a half and I was so happy when I could get rid of the nappy bag and wear my own handbags out. Now my daughter wears everything when going out which includes a crown, handbag, ballet shoes, jewelry, watch etc. As soon as we get to a restaurant she takes off everything and I have to somehow fit it in MY SMALL handbag. So now its back to the nappy bag for me! But I LOVE every moment of it.

  9. Hi Tracy. Your solutions #1, #2 and #4 are absolutely brilliant, and each one will be duly road-tested in this house. Possibly even from tomorrow! Thank you. I particularly like #1 (I am an absolute kugel) and #4 (we are running out of cupboard space for Her Majesty). However, #3 I have already tried and failed. She doesn't fall for that, and informs me that leggings are not part of the outfit *she* has in mind. 'Pants don't go under dresses, Mom. Only under tops. You wear panties under dresses.' Like I'm a moron. Oh well.

  10. 'Doing it myself' takes five times as long, and I have to bite my tongue not to hurry her along or worse, just do it for her myself. But they're so delicious, aren't they?

  11. One of the reasons I so love writing for Jozkids is the awesome moms who write back to me. You guys are so fantastic, and are raising such divine interesting little personalities in your children. Reading your comments, and seeing the tips, is an absolute treat. Thank you!

  12. I am so glad I am not the only one, my little girl is 4 years old and started dressing herself…" I am old enough mommy I can do it myself" you would think I have a full grown teenager in my house. she wants to wear dresses and skirts and they don't even have to match as long as she is wearing a dress or skirt that she can spin around in, and don't even get me started on heels, I cannot clean my spare bedroom closet when she is around for one reason only…heels might be falling out…!! you know that plastic little heels that looks adorable in the packaging and everybody is buying for her birthday I think my child has "lost"3 of 4 pairs of those… I love my child too bits but I am feeling she is growing up too quick…I just wish for the days I could still hold her and dress her myself not even wanting to ever hear the words again…"mommy I am big enough to do it myself"

  13. I thought all that advice I gave, went in one ear and out the other. Thanks for using it. Love you to the moon and back. Mummy(:

  14. I am so not a girly girl and I was convinced my daughter would come out of me wearing knee high doc martins and dungarees and lo and behold…I gave birth to an absolute princess! As soon as she was able she wanted nothing to do with my choices and only pink and frilly would do. At least your daughter still puts on knickers. many's the party we have gone to when I take one horrified look at my daughter on the trampoline and gone umm whoops! Today she is 10 and goes to a small school where the only uniform regularities are tied back hair, practical shoes and plain tops. The bottoms seem to be free for all and she has come up with the most amazingly creative styles of leggings under shorts, shorts under skirts and knee high takkies (so the shoes did catch up with my birth plan)..I have caught her on occasion slipping her wedges into her school bag.(that's her father..def. not me). I look back on photos of her at play group and I realise there is such a short window of individualism before they have to conform in the big world. So, I say, little Markman- go forth and conquer that wardrobe.

  15. Hi Tiffany
    I honestly can relate to what you are going through, although I have to say, you should count your lucky stars. I have a daughter born in January, so unfortunately a Capricorn she is. When she was old enough to walk, and she was walking on her own by 11 months, I was not allowed to choose her clothes for her. She would go to her cupboard and choose what she wanted to wear for the day. How do you explain to an 11 month old baby that she could not wear what she had chosen?
    However, here are a few things that I tried and they worked for a while.
    1. Princess dresses are for Princess tea parties at home in the afternoons. Dress up with her and have an afternoon of bonding (sometimes you just need to find the time)
    2. Have a friend over for a play date, and explain to her that she has to keep her "best wear" for the play date when her princess friend comes to play. This also works for family members. Let her dress up for visits.
    3. When you choose dresses for her, just buy some leggings with the outfit and explain to her that they are all part of the same outfit (this only works when she isn't with you though)
    4. I made up a little imaginary fairy who looks after poor children. When she sees that clothes are becoming a little tight she comes in the night to take the smaller clothes to children who need/don't have clothes. You will be surprised as how differently children look at things when they think magic is involved.

    By the way I have 4 children, 2 daughters and 2 sons. My mom always used to say to me, "Enjoy them when they are young, there are small problems with small children. The older they get, the bigger the problems become" Boy was she right!!!

    Good luck with your little princess. Just know that it is a phase and she will outgrow it. Also I believe that children are not born to fit in with the "norm" and "practical". They are all born to stand out, because that's what God wants for everyone of us.

    Thinking of you.

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