As an teenager of the 70’s I vividly remember mini skirts, headbands, “cut-offs” and fringed leather jackets, not to mention the stinky “afghan” long coat that my father let me buy from a street vendor on a visit to New York City. The afghan coat had some sort of fleece material lining (that may not have been washed since it was removed from the sheep) with a rustic leather exterior and extra fleece at the wrists and neck. It was basically a sheepskin worn inside out from the way a sheep wears it. I must have done some sort of sell job that only an eldest daughter could do to a father. There would be little opportunity to wear the coat, given that we lived in New Mexico at the time.

With 20/20 hindsight, I find some of the fashions of the 1970’s rather appalling. I can only imagine what my parents thought when I left the house in a dress that was either so short that even the smallest movement risked exposure, or so long and flowing that anyone walking near me was as likely as I was to trip on the fabric trailing on the ground.

Every generation of teenagers has a fashion statement that somehow asserts their personality and uniqueness and yet conforms to the current teen fashion of the day. Teenagers often spend too much time and money shopping, borrowing or trading clothes and grooming themselves. Fashion is extremely important as teenagers work to define themselves, build self esteem, and gain the acceptance of peers. It is often devastating to a teenager if they are ridiculed for a fashion “blunder”.

As teenagers choose clothing, accessories, hair styles, tattoos, piercings and make-up to define themselves they are heavily marketed to by social and mainstream media. Teenagers commonly identify with high profile musicians, comedians, or athletes as they are trying on a variety of identities. To do so, they experiment with the physical appearance, see how they feel in it- then they may keep the look, tweak it or completely give it up. Parents watch this process often with horror, thinking of the money spent on clothing, etc. that has gone down the drain. So what is a parent to do?

There are a few health related issues regarding clothing that can help parents decide on whether or not it’s worth the discussion. If your teenager is wearing multiple layers of oversize clothing they may be hiding extreme weight loss that could be the result of an eating disorder. Dressing in minimal clothing on very cold days is fine for the indoors, but should the teenager end up outside for a long time there is the risk of hypothermia or frostbite. Vaginal infections or “jock itch” can be caused by bacteria that thrive in environments that are warm and damp resulting from pants or shorts that are too tight.

From a legal perspective, students can be disciplined at school for wearing clothing that doesn’t follow the dress code. Some schools don’t allow certain colors, types of clothing, or caps that have been associated with gang involvement. Though the school policy doesn’t prevent teenagers from joining gangs, the clothing communicates to peers “who” the teenager is. It is important for parents to be aware of gang activity in your teenager’s school and neighborhood, as well as what type of clothing including colors identifies a person as being in a gang. Tragically, teenagers have lost their lives by dressing in gang-identified attire, either on purpose as a “pretender” to be cool or accidentally.

In general, parents need to choose their battles. Decide how important this particular battle is. Remember when your teenager was 2 and he wore his Batman cape and mask from Halloween until St. Patrick’s day, then abandoned it? Chances are some of the most tooth grinding (for you) fashions will eventually be abandoned.