I took Duchess shopping for shoes this weekend. I had ordered her a pair of Toms (which all the cool kids wear, so she really wanted a pair) with that lovely holiday gift certificate, but they turned out to be much too big, so I took her to the local store to exchange them. And then it turned out that Duchess has very narrow feet, and Toms are the wrong shape, so she can't wear them in any size. So she was faced with the task of picking out another pair. The last time Duchess was in a shoe store, she was five. Her shoes are purchased used, off eBay or at thrift stores and yard sales. She has no experience of browsing a variety of shoes all of which can be purchased in her size. (I did restrict her choices to only shoes that she can run in. While this is entirely sensible, because she is nine and still actually plays on the playground, it is also aligned with my own, very simple personal fashion guideline, which is in turn aligned with my generally fear-based approach to life; if it limits my ability to escape a disaster, I'm not wearing it.)
Duchess had a very hard time choosing, and it quickly became clear that it was a much bigger decision than just choosing footwear. She was choosing how she wants to present herself. She wanted a pair of shoes that were socially acceptable but also expressed a style of her own, and she didn't really know what that style might be. She is not interested in fashion, and has no particular style. (Bear in mind that she was wearing blue corduroy pants with polka dots, too short in the ankles, with her beloved, omnipresent swim team sweatshirt.) She wants vaguely to wear clothes like the cool girls in her class, but she does grasp that what works for the third grade's queen bee, a small, elfin girl with wispy white-blond hair, might not work for her.
She tried on a pair of boots and a pair of mary janes, both styles that she has admired, in keeping with her liking of prim, classic clothes. She wasn't excited about them once they were on, much to my relief. Duchess isn't really a crisp, classic clothing person, even when you make an allowance for her age. The salesperson, who seemed to have her pretty much dialed in immediately, got her to try on a pair of converse hightops, which I thought were perfect. They're long and thin, like her, and interesting without being too strange. But Duchess felt she would be mocked for wearing them at school. She ended up choosing a pair of bright blue athletic shoes. Duchess and I poked around the clothes department a bit, once she had her new shoes on, and as she mused about what she likes, I could hear her crystallizing this identity. Sporty, colorful, comfortable. We'll see if this identity sticks.