It’s a Mom Thing: Shopping with daughters

Shopping is a challenge!

“I am going to get married in track pants,” she says defiantly. I don’t know what surprises me more. Her sartorial choice or the fact that she has even considered marriage.

By Sathya Ramaganapathy

We are attending a wedding this weekend and I am going through my older daughter’s rather limited wardrobe, looking for an outfit that will suit the occasion. All I see are faded track pants, shorts and T-shirts, and a few simple cotton salwar kameezes. As expected, there is nothing appropriate. “Let me buy you a new outfit,” I tell her. She has long outgrown the few pattu pavadais and party dresses that she had, having hardly worn them at all. Her wardrobe could do with some new additions. Besides, I like the idea of shopping.

“Amma, I’m quite content to wear what I have,” she says quickly, wanting to get out of shopping for any fancy clothes. She has no patience for the clothes or the shopping.

“But none of these are appropriate wear for a formal wedding,” I tell her.

“Why do I have to wear something formal or fancy? Why can’t I wear something comfortable?” she asks.

“Why do you think fancy clothes are not comfortable?” I parry, rather weakly. I am not entirely convinced myself that such a utopian world exists.

This discussion about comfort versus style is an oft-repeated one between my older daughter and me, but I am quite surprised by what she says next.

“I am going to get married in track pants,” she says defiantly.

I don’t know what surprises me more. Her sartorial choice or the fact that she has even considered marriage. Remember she is a pre-teen and currently, all things romantic are “ewww!”

“Track pants? Pyjamas?”

“Yes. When I get married I will make that the dress code for my wedding. If other people can insist on formal or fancy wear, I can also insist that my guests come dressed as per my choice.”

That’s my older daughter. Always looking for comfort when it comes to clothes.

Later, when I narrate this conversation to the husband, all he has to say is this: “Think of how much we will save on her trousseau budget.”

I sigh. I wonder why I bother. The husband is the least bit interested in all things sartorial. I guess that’s where my older one gets it from.

All this talk of weddings and pyjamas suddenly reminds me of an interesting titbit I had read a while ago.

“Did you know this bit of trivia about Nirvana?” I ask and the husband perks up at the mention of rock music. “Did you know Kurt Cobain got married in his pyjamas, green ones, no less?”

“Really?”

“Yes. We should make sure the older one doesn’t get to hear about stuff like that,” I tell him.

So, of course, he tells her. Immediately. She is delighted. A rock star who got married in his pyjamas. What better validation could an almost-teen ask for?

“Apparently the bride wore a beautiful satin and lace dress, but he wore pyjamas. He said he was ‘too lazy to put on a tux,’” I tell her, hoping to curb her growing enthusiasm.

“Amma, it does not matter what you wear. What matters is who you choose to marry,” she says loftily.

“Whom you choose to marry,” I tell her.

“What?”

“Whom, not who.”

“Amma, that’s not the point,” she protests, now irritated. It’s fun to have fun, especially when it is at the expense of your kids.

“Well you know, that marriage ended in less than two years,” I tell her, changing tracks. I know it’s a cheap shot and beneath me, especially considering how it all ended tragically because of his death. But one needs all the ammunition one can get when dealing with precocious pre-teens.

“Ok, Amma. I will remember that. Do not get married in green pyjamas. Any other colour will do,” she deadpans, her good humour restored.

Not wanting to spoil the good mood, I decide to shelve the shopping idea. Instead I go over to my wardrobe to see if I can find anything appropriate for her. She has just recently begun to fit into my clothes. Thankfully we find a silk fuchsia pink kurta with a pair of cream coloured leggings that is elegant enough for my liking and comfortable and non-fussy enough for hers.

Having resolved one problem, I move on to my younger daughter. And I come up against yet another one. Only this time it is of the exact opposite nature. She has way too many options and is unable to decide what to wear. Indian ethnic or western formals? If the former, then a North Indian salwar kameez or South Indian pattupavadai? Paired with matching bangles or bracelet? If western, then a flowery pouf dress or a white satin A-line one? Should she wear it with a shrug or go sleeveless? Will it be cold? Will there be mosquitoes? Choices, choices.

That’s my younger daughter, the clothes horse. She can often be found standing in front of her bursting wardrobe mulling over the million dollar question: “What shall I wear?” One might think it unfair that my two daughters’ wardrobes are in such contrasting states. But my younger daughter likes clothes. She likes shopping for clothes. What’s more, she has an older sister from whom she inherits hand-me-downs, especially the fancy ones, often in pristine state, sometimes even with the price tag still on them. For obvious reasons, these hand-me-downs do not include track pants.

My younger daughter has always enjoyed dressing up. Pattu pavadais, frilly party dresses, salwar kameezes, she adores them all. When she was younger, she had a white satin and tulle gown, with a delicate pin-tucked bodice and a wide purple sash, which was her absolute favourite. She wore it all the time. That it was not practical, for work or play, did not bother her. Comfortable? Not really, but it was great to twirl in and that is all that mattered.

We finally settle on a dress, the flowery pouf one, worn without the shrug, and paired with a bracelet. I can’t wait to see what shopping for her wedding trousseau will be like.

Talking about shopping brings me to our biannual shopping expeditions. We usually shop once before the school year begins. This is the really easy one. Their school does not have any uniforms. The children are expected to wear simple, comfortable clothing: track pants with T-shirts and salwar kameezes. We usually walk into one store, pick up plain track pants and T-shirts in as many colours as the store stocks. We pop into the next store to buy fabric. Bold, bright colours for my older daughter and dainty floral patterns for my younger one. The local tailor takes care of making simple salwar kameezes with the fabric. That’s it. We are all set for school.

And then there is Diwali. This is a more elaborate affair. We usually go shopping for new clothes a week or two before Diwali. My younger daughter and I, all excited. My older daughter and the husband, reluctantly and resignedly tagging along. The former armed with a book and the latter, his smartphone, to help pass the time. My older daughter wants to just get it over with. So she walks into the shop, looks desultorily at a few clothes, decisively picks one, tries it on and the deed is done. My younger one, on the other hand, is happy to traipse through many shops, trying on clothes, till she finds one, or two or three that she likes.

This year, for Diwali, my younger daughter wants a dress. Surprisingly, at the first shop we pop into, she spots something right away. A midnight-blue polka dotted dress. It is love at first sight. It is also very expensive.

So I hesitate. I don’t ponder too much if the older one asks for an expensive dress. Firstly, this event is unlikely to happen since she is rarely interested in extravagant clothes. But on the off chance that she does pick an expensive one, I usually rationalise the purchase saying that the younger one can also wear it. Two for the price of one. But when the younger one asks for an expensive dress, it’s harder to rationalise. Cousins who I could potentially hand it down to are all too young and I do not have the wardrobe space to store them till they are old enough to wear them.

“Where will you wear it?” I ask.

“Amma, I can wear it whenever we go out,” she says eagerly.

“Why don’t we check out a few other shops? Look at some more options before we decide,” I say, trying to buy some time.

“But I like this one, Amma.”

“Are you sure you will wear it?”

“Yes!”

“It is an expensive dress and I don’t want to waste money on something that you’ll wear just once. You must wear it often,” I insist, before giving in to the inevitable.

“She’s buying you the dress, but it comes with a free lecture!” quips my older daughter in an aside to her sister. They share a smile.

The joys of shopping with daughters.

As my younger one grows older, she seems to be getting more and more influenced by her sister. While she did buy that dress for Diwali, she does not dress up as often as she used to earlier. Increasingly, she seems to be showing a preference for track pants and T-shirts, like her sister. Now an evening out inevitably starts in tears. One or both of my kids end up angry or upset. And it’s all thanks to me and my disapproval of their decision to wear faded, worn-out track pants to a fine dining restaurant. My friends tell me that the situation will change soon enough. That in no time at all the kids will be teenagers and they will want to wear mini shorts and halter-neck tops.

Then I will be the one in tears, angry and upset.

(Excerpted with permission from the book It’s a Mom Thing: Kickass Parenting by Sathya Ramaganapathy, published by Rupa Publications.)