WE were late. We were rushing to leave. I was closing the door when she dropped her bag and announced: “It’s no good. I’ve got to change.”
This was my five-year-old daughter.
Her parents are not overly concerned about personal appearance. Vanity largely passed us by. If it’s clean, my wife will wear it. I’m not so fussy. I can find my clothes just using my sense of smell.
So the fashion-conscious fastidiousness is not a product of my daughter’s DNA, but her age. In her idealistic, sanitised world of princesses and cartoon explorers, she has to be practically perfect in every way. She’s a mini-Mary Poppins except that Julie Andrews only wore a few outfits in a couple of hours.
My girl gets through outfits in a matter of minutes.
Her bedroom is a blizzard of blouses and falling frocks. She’s usually got her head jammed in her dress-up clothes box like a rabbit stuck in a burrow and throwing dresses over her shoulder.
Disturbing her while she’s rifling through her dress-up clothes box usually ends with a Snow White costume in the face.
Her bedroom floor is filled with discarded dresses, crumpled costumes, tossed T-shirts, shorts, socks, hair-bands and princesses’ plastic tiaras.
Singaporean public service banners always claim that ‘low crime doesn’t mean no crime’. It does in our apartment. No self-respecting burglar would bother ransacking my daughter’s bedroom. She does it herself whenever she’s picking a dress.
For the first-time father who believes that a good fashion sense begins and ends with a pair of matching socks, the metamorphosis has been startling. Gone are the days of sartorial simplicity when she wore whatever her sleepy father pulled from the wardrobe.
I blame myself. I should’ve seen the signs.
In the beginning, the conversations were concise and comfortably one-sided in my favour. “You’re wearing that,” I’d order gruffly, irritated that I was making selections from a girl’s clothes rack at such an ungodly hour. “OK, Daddy,” she’d answer sweetly, pulling a pair of leopard-skin jeans over a rainbow-coloured vest.
Everyone was happy. My daughter dressed and run into the living room. My wife screamed and redressed her and I went back to bed.
And then, there were mutterings of dissent. Suddenly, my clothing selections were greeted with “I don’t like that one, Daddy” or “I don’t wear teddy bears anymore, Daddy” or “Those are Mummy’s socks, Daddy. You’ve put them in the wrong drawer again.”
So in a fit of petulance, I fatally replied: “Well, if you’re such a big girl, wear whatever you want.”
A naive fool, I had inadvertently handed my daughter the rope. In that moment, I hanged myself.
Never grant carte blanche to a little girl when it comes to her wardrobe. In the past, my clothing choices were met with polite rejection. Now she cries: “Are you serious, Daddy? You think I’m going to wear that to a birthday party. My friends will be there, Daddy. I’m going to look so silly. Do you want me to look silly, Daddy? Do you? Do you?”
And with that, she flicks her hair back and flounces out of the bedroom, finding Mummy to remind her how little Daddy knows about modern fashion (like she needed reminding.)
That’s not to say my daughter knows what she’s talking about. She’s not Donna Karan. She’s five-years-old. She’s not a child prodigy of fashion. She doesn’t follow conventional rules. She’s a dedicated follower of the farcical.
She never lets common perceptions of good taste to get in the way of her imagination.
Her latest look includes a pair of plastic Cinderella high heels – which make more noise than an obese horse in jazz shoes – along with her mother’s ill-fitting gym vest, polka-dotted leggings and a pair of red-framed reading glasses that her grandmother left behind.
She wants to go out in public like this.
Now I would never seek to temper my daughter’s creative impulses, but I don’t want social services to take her away from me either.
Indoors, she wears whatever she likes. Outdoors, we compromise a little. Partly because she knows she can’t wear her mother’s gym vest over her school uniform, but mostly because those plastic high heels take us three hours to walk anywhere.
Still, the subtle transformation from timid toddler to confident, independent fashionsta has been an entertaining, if occasionally exasperating, spectacle to behold.
Secretly, I’m rather proud of my little Lady Gaga. She’s making creative choices for herself and preening like a peacock. She wants to walk tall.
But I’m still hiding the plastic high heels.
About the Author: Neil Humphreys is one of Singapore’s best-selling authors. His works include Notes from an Even Smaller Island (2001), Scribbles from the Same Island (2003), and Final Notes from a Great Island (2006). Be My Baby (2008) chronicled his journey to parenthood and was his first international best-seller. His most recent Singapore book, Return to a Sexy Island (2012), was a No.1 best-seller and turned into a TV series. His illustrated book series – Abbie Rose and the Magic Suitcase – is proving popular with children all over the world and is currently being adapted into an animated TV series. Humphreys has written extensively for The Straits Times, TODAY, The New Paper, Esquire, Men’s Health, FourFourTwo and Young Parents. He currently lives in Bedok with his family and hopes his daughter will learn conversational Mandarin so she can teach her Dad.