How to Raise a Stylish Child
Here are some of the ways in which the editor of W magazine and his husband are teaching their twin daughters how to dress, how to act and how to be.
Had you been at the Bonpoint fashion show last summer, you would have seen two proud fathers watching their twin 7-year-old girls walking the runway — our daughters Maura and Isabella. Our girls have been exposed to a lot of fashion people growing up, but last July they came with me to the shows in Paris for the first time. When the Bonpoint team very generously asked them to model, my husband [art dealer David Maupin] told the girls that modeling is a job, and we’re going to give them a little extra allowance because we wanted them to take this responsibility very seriously. Aesthetics and the hard work that goes into creating beautiful things are part of their fathers’ lives, so I hope we can be forgiven for being a little bit stricter than most parents.
Let them make the choices, but decide what they can choose from.
We let our children have unlimited choices in what they wear, but we control what goes into their closets. If you don’t like purple with sparkles, then fill their closet with blue, white and beige — whatever you like. These become normal. Of course, they will see purple and sparkles when they go to their friends’ houses, but then you can say, “Well, that’s how that family is, but this is how we do things.” It is exactly the same with food: They will visit friends and report back, “Oh, my God. They only have french fries and Goldfish.”
Find a uniform, and then keep sizing it up.
There are certain classic items — almost a uniform — that I keep buying in different sizes. This way they develop a sense of the consistency of style. It is also easier for the parent. Parents whose children attend a school with a uniform know what I mean. The mornings are faster and easier because there are no discussions about what to wear.
For example, I have these gingham-checked swimsuits. I originally bought them in size 4 then size 6 and size 10 — they wear them every summer. The same goes for certain little shirts, pants and skirts. Good companies produce these classic items year-over-year. You will always find in our closet Petit Bateau shorts and sailor shirts or a striped dress. There is a certain Missoni dress with a zig-zag pattern — they've had it in sizes 4, 6 and 8. They also have blue chinos and blue and white striped shirts.
Talk about color and texture.
We try to teach them that certain fabrics are for summer and certain fabrics are for winter, and how certain fabrics go together (and why cashmere doesn’t go in the washing machine). We don’t want to stop them from expressing themselves. We just want them to understand classic combinations in the same way that a jazz musician understands music theory.
One of our daughters was wearing a dress that was in a Yves Klein shade of blue, and she put a turquoise sweater on top of it. It was an awkward combination, but it was also a fun combination. So, we discussed how you could have been more classic and worn blue and white; if you do Klein blue with turquoise, it's different but kind of fun.
Not everything beautiful is comfortable.
Adults know that not everything beautiful is comfortable. Sometimes if you want to look good you have to wear something that is itchy. Sometimes you have to wear something that might feel tight so it looks properly fitted. Not everything can be loose and slouchy. This comes up with girls around special dresses or sweaters. Fit is already becoming important for Maura — she likes things to be perfectly fitted.
If you’re going to be transgressive, be transgressive.
Our girls will often ask, “When can I have longer hair?” And my answer is, “You don’t even take care of your short hairstyles, so why would you want long ones?" So that’s a big topic. Nail polish is another big topic, and they are starting to think about make-up. So far, their school has rules: no make-up and no nail polish. But at the same time, you want to give them access to these fun experiences like going to a nail salon. I may prefer a neutral nail polish color, but I also want them to experiment. Last summer they wore a lot of surfer’s colors: Day-Glo orange and Day-Glo yellow.
Pants vs. Skirts?
Maybe because we are a same-sex couple we try to break some of the more established gender rules that girls wear pink and boys wear blue. And it’s fine if a girl wants to wear a pair of pants. One of our daughters, Maura, is more of a tomboy; Isabella is more of a girly-girl. In the same kind of closet, they find different things and different ways to express their individuality.
Don’t baby-proof your style.
We never child-proofed our house. We’ve always had glasses and cloth napkins, not paper and plastic. It takes a little more effort to have cloth napkins as opposed to paper, but this makes an impression. We never cooked something different for them than what we were eating. That is also another way to expose them to good things.
Manners take repetition. And then more repetition.
You can talk about the importance of saying “please” and “thank you.” But to make manners stick, you have to frequently repeat the story. Tell your child that when an adult comes into a room, you say, “Hello, good morning.” Look into their eyes, and don’t be shy. Make conversation. Both our girls do all these things beautifully now, but this is not something that just happened by magic. It makes us proud when other adults tell us how well-behaved they are.
Not everything is replaceable.
Style for us is also a way to talk about values. It is less important that something beautiful is expensive but more that it is precious, unique and worth taking good care of. There are clothes you wear for painting and clothes you wear for an occasion. This is how the education about style starts. Children often think everything is replaceable, but we are trying to make Maura and Isabella understand the value of the things they wear, and the value of the things around them. We live in an apartment with a lot of artwork, and we hope this respect for beautiful things extends out into the world.
Stefano Tonchi has been the editor of W magazine since 2010. Prior to that, he was the editor of T: The New York Times Style Magazine. Born and raised in Florence, he currently lives in New York City.