How To Montessori Your Waldorf Wardrobe

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My daughter starts school next week, and after some teeth-gnashing and soul-searching and conscience-examining, we decided to enroll her in private school. Turns out that when the rubber hits the road, our general cheerleading for public schools blanched in the face of overcrowded classrooms and tissue-thin stretching of resources.

Plus, we fell in love with the enchanted fairyland of Waldorf school, with its treehouses and beeswax crayons and teachers gently calling students “dear friend” as they ask them to keep their voices soft and caring. Honestly, couldn’t sign that tuition check fast enough.

Then I got to the “dress code” section of the parent handbook and had a panic attack.

Turns out Waldorf education has a lot of feelings about what kinds of clothes are conducive to a healthy learning environment. And by “feelings,” I mean “very strict rules.”

Our Waldorf school doesn’t allow “singular images,” cartoon characters, shoes with lights or platforms or heels, flip flops, nail polish, hair dye, or clothes with words or numbers or, in kindergarten at least, basically any pictures at all. (Turns out this is more liberal than some other Waldorf school dress codes, because some patterns are allowed. I read about one school that doesn’t allow students to wear neon colors or black.)

My five-year-old, I should mention, adheres to a fashion discipline that is half Early Spice Girls, half Luna Lovegood, half JoJo Siwa, half Ms. Frizzle.

And yeah, that’s four halves. Because she is always dressed A HUNDRED PERCENT EXTRA.

Fancy Nancy
Photos by Amanda Vick Creative

Guess how much of her closet is Waldorf-approved?

This is, of course, my own fault for trying to get ahead of the game by doing some school shopping early in the summer. After letting my dress code shock subside, I told the kid to go ahead and get out the Princess Awesome dresses I’d bought on sale and put on ice for the fall since her fire truck and heavy equipment prints seemed unlikely to be welcomed to the gentle learning environment we selected.

Then I set about addressing the coming Waldorf wardrobe crisis.

How, you ask?

Did I carefully spend hours of my summer scouring local thrift stores and consignment shops for pre-loved basics? Did I do a thorough inventory of my child’s existing wardrobe to assess needs and begin gradually replacing her standby LuLaRoe leggings (the more patterned, the better!) with subtle basics? Did I launch an exhaustive monthslong bargain hunting offensive, scouring the deepest darkest clearance sections and resale pages of the Internet for marked-down staples?

Fuck no. I bought the kid a capsule wardrobe.

“Waldorf still has some work to do on you,” my friend Alicia texted when I told her about it. This is fair. But I know my kid, and I know when it’s worth it to order your Waldorf-required rainsuit from a European website because the only colors you can find in the U.S. are navy and yellow and you just know that’s not gonna fly with a child who’s already having to give up her beloved princess shoes.

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Look, I have found, in my five short years of parenting experience, that there are some things that are worth doing the hard way and then there are times for bare-knuckled pragmatism. Looking down the barrel of a new early morning routine and anticipating seventeen million choruses of “Can I wear this to school?”, I decided this was one that ranked a shortcut. So I signed up for the Primary.com mailing list to get a $75 new customer discount, and I placed one big order just for school.

Because I am a loving and open-minded mom who wants to give her children reasonable opportunities to safely practice decision-making skills, I let her pick three colors.

And because she is five and Fancy Nancy is her personal Jesus, her first color choice was “rainbow.”

Good thing stripes are explicitly allowed in our school’s dress code.

She picked two more (clashing) colors, I selected a fourth to tie it all together, and a few days later we were in possession of six pairs of leggings, three skirts, three dresses, six T-shirts, three cardigans and two tunics that we will NEVER HAVE TO HAVE AN ARGUMENT ABOUT BEFORE I HAVE HAD A CUP OF COFFEE. They’re in their own set of baskets in her closet, segregated from everything else. She knows which clothes are for school, I know which clothes are for school, her father knows which clothes are for school, she’ll dress herself in appropriate clothing every day, and we need never discuss it again.

Of course, the irony in all of this is that while we could have tried to get her into any of Milwaukee’s perfectly nice public Montessori schools and didn’t because I didn’t like the idea of sending her to a school where imaginative play is discouraged, we ultimately enrolled her in a school that, because of its emphasis on creativity and imagination, inspired me to effectively Montessorize her school clothes. Despite their seemingly irreconcilable differences, it turns out the Montessori approach might be the easiest way to get an over-accessorizer ready for Waldorf school. So before she goes off to her arts-emphasizing experiential creative expression school every day, she’ll get her daily dose of auto-didactic, independent, self-directed activity, pre-arranged for her in the most practical fashion possible in order to foster autonomy in her patterns of daily living.

If I weren’t sending my kid to Waldorf school, I’d wrap this all up with a note about how this is probably how Mal felt at the end of Descendants 2 when she realized that her villain side and her princess side could co-exist in Auradon, but that is definitely not a Waldorf-compliant ending, so instead, please enjoy this Waldorf drawing of a goose.

Hgilbert / cc via Wikimedia

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