There comes a time in every girl’s life when she learns there’s such a thing as too much leopard.
For my 8-year-old daughter Cienna, that time was Saturday.
She burst from a dressing room and proudly said, “Look at this outfit!” Leopard-print leggings had been tragically paired with a leopard-print blouse, and my eyes grew large with pain.
I didn’t want to break her proud heart, but there was no way I could or would ever let her leave the house like that.
“Isn’t it cool, Mom?” she said.
“I can see you like this, but I think we should make another choice,” I said.
She didn’t like my response and looked at me like I knew nothing about fashion.
“But, Mom, this matches! The top and the bottom are the same color!” she said.
I shook my head in disapproval, and she marched back into the dressing room.
“This is just like when you made me change because I had two different kinds of black on,” she said.
The dressing room door became a barrier between right and wrong, and I suddenly envisioned a future of similar, unpleasant, back-to-school shopping sessions. In all of these imaginings, she was aging like wine, and I was aging like beer.
A nearby rack of clothes seemed like a great place to hide for the next 10 years, carefully trying to avoid discussions of what matches, what’s appropriate, what’s overpriced and what stores land on a list of places I will never spend my money.
She’s only going to third grade. How can this possibly be starting already?
“Cienna, please don’t be upset. You are right that it’s the same color. But it’s too much of the same color. It’s OK to wear some leopard print, but it’s not OK to look like a leopard,” I said.
Though her top and bottom had matching hues of brown, black, camel and rust tones, they provided a teaching moment entitled, “Good Leopard vs. Bad Leopard.”
“I want to clarify leopard print involves big spots. The smaller ones are cheetah prints. In the course of your life, you will meet both. And you’ll meet zebras and giraffes, but let’s not involve them today,” I said.
“You need to keep your animal to one thing–wear it on the top or bottom or as an accent, but never all together,” I said.
“Then why do you let us dress up as animals and things at home? Why do we get to play dress up and wear old Halloween costumes,” she said.
Now, Cienna, you know the way our family acts at home is rarely how one should act in public.
“Because that’s creative play. I wouldn’t send my daughter to school in a Minnie Mouse costume, unless it was Halloween, and I won’t send my daughter to school in head-to-toe leopard ever,” I said.
You will have plenty of days when you’re 70 in a casino to do that.
“It’s a much better idea if you’re wearing a bold print like leopard to understate everything else. Likewise, if you’re wearing a plain, understated color, it can be nice to add a bold accessory like a leopard bracelet or earrings or scarf,” I said.
“Hey, can I get a leopard bracelet and scarf?” she said.
How does my advice always end up costing me more?
We left the store with both leopard pieces and an understanding they will never be worn together.
And our drive home offered a confession, supplemented by a visual aid at home, of what I wore when I was bound for third grade. It was a tragic combination of spandex pants, a cotton sweatshirt, jelly bracelets, lace gloves inspired by Madonna and really big hair.
“Wow. What is that, Mom?” Cienna said.
“Aqua Net and the ’8Os.”