We all have one — that dreaded yearbook photo featuring braces, fluffy bangs, a bad perm and a tie-dye T-shirt. The teen years can be an awkward stage, especially when it comes to fashion and style. So how can you help your teen better express themselves? Four fashion bloggers weigh in on how to help teens find their own fashion sense.
Let teens experiment with fashion
For stylist and fashion blogger Christine Bibbo Herr, the teen years were a time of fashion experimentation.
“For as long as I can remember, I always loved fashion and never really stuck to one style,” Bibbo Herr says. “I spent a lot of time experimenting with new trends or playing around with the funky looks in the ’80s, like tie-dye and studs.”
Instead of conforming to a particular look, Bibbo Herr preferred to try different styles depending on the situation or her mood.
“At that age, you’re still trying to define yourself, and for the most part I wasn’t ready to be categorized into a specific personality,” she says. “So there would be days when I felt strong and loved wearing my leather bomber jackets and distressed jeans and boots. Then there would be days I would go for a more feminine look and was just as happy mixing things up with high-tops and fun belts and accessories.”
Let them make mistakes
For many teens, the high school years are full of more fashion “don’ts” than “do’s.” Beauty and style writer Aly Walansky can attest to that.
“When I was a teen, I was very overweight. I tended to hide in my clothes, using the (very misguided) tight jeans and big top approach. The result? I probably looked bigger than I was!” Walansky says.
Walansky, who describes her typical high-school outfit as “almost all black,” says she’d rather forget several of her teenage fashion phases, including teased bangs, her Blossom hat and the menswear fad.
Bibbo Herr recalls a few of her own trendy teenage moments.
“I think the whole Madonna look with the multiple bangles and tying your hair up with tights always brought a sense of fun,” she says, “but I would probably love to forget ever having tried the MC Hammer-style parachute pants!”
According to blogger and fashion consultant Cara Chace, there are some trends that should never be repeated.
“Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, I experienced the bad home perm, lots of neon, slap bracelets and those circle/knot/tie thingys you’d put the corner of your T-shirt through — all trends better left in the past.”
Let them be an individual
As Walansky and Bibbo Herr point out, the teenage years are a time for fashion experimentation. Unfortunately for Chace, she didn’t get that opportunity while growing up.
“I was the second girl of my siblings growing up, and as such was relegated to the curse of the hand-me-downs for most of my formative years,” she explains. “The problem with that was my sister and I were (and are) like night and day with completely different styles.”
While Chace’s sister gravitated toward the “ballerina/flowers/lace look,” Chace found herself attracted to more rock-and-roll styles and a Katharine Hepburn look.
Don’t freak out
If you’re worried about your teen’s new goth wardrobe or miniskirt obsession, take a deep breath. There’s a good chance your teen is experimenting with fashion as they search for themselves.
“Teenagers are at that stage when they’re trying to define themselves, so I wouldn’t stress too much if they’re trying out looks that you’re not sure are right for them,” Bibbo Herr says. “Chances are they will change their minds more times than you can count.”
Before you forbid your teen from wearing something, think twice. As Bibbo Herr points out, “The more you forbid them things, the more likely they are to do it.”
Instead, she suggests looking at fashion as a way to let them be creative and use their imagination.
“You can use it as a way of bonding closer with them by trying to understand how they want to express themselves and find fun ways you can share in the process without strictly imposing what you want — either through shopping or helping them with their wardrobes. That way they get to do what they want and you will have some way of setting boundaries if the look goes too wild or too far. It’s great to be able to express yourself through fashion and have fun!”
Encourage fashion discovery
Helping your teen find their fashion sense can do wonders for their confidence, too. Host and fashion blogger Jessie Holeva recalls how finding her own style has made her more self-assured.
“I grew up without being able to afford all the ‘cool clothes’ and labels that everyone coveted. I’d wear fake designer bags, buy anything on sale if it was from a certain store, and my style wasn’t mine,” she says. “Since blogging, I’ve been able to play more with fashion and try out new things without worrying I stood out. Now, I own the fact that my favorite necklace is from Forever 21, and I’d rather shop my friend’s closet than drop lots of cash to wear something only a few times.”
Walansky learned a lot about style from her teen years, too. “I now know how to dress for my body — and know what looks best on me (and what doesn’t) — and the importance of simply wearing clothes that fit.”
Chace says her style has also evolved since her teen years, though she hasn’t forgotten her past, either.
“[My style] evolved to blend my rock-and-roll look with classic shapes and tailoring (such as slouchy T-shirts with pencil skirts and heels),” she says. “While I occasionally enjoy the girly look, my style is still distinctly ‘me’ with roots in my teenage style rebellion.”
By participating in your teens’ fashion discovery, you’ll play an integral role in building their sense of self and self-expression.
As Walansky points out, it’s also important to let them have their growing pains.
“Just like we’ll date the bad boys before the right one comes along, we’ll ‘date’ a lot of really bad styles before we find the one we love!” she says.