Readers ask why the “Inion Eleven” wear matching outfits. “Do you have a family dress code? Is this some kind of religious costume?”
Brent and I (with our nine children) give an answer to bring smiles and open a few cans of worms.
Neither conformity to a church standard nor to homeschool peer pressure explains why we often dress alike.
The setting is changing planes at Minneapolis International Airport. We arrived from Philadelphia with then six children (aged 7 and under, four in diapers, one in a wheelchair and with #7 seven weeks away.). The itinerary gives us one hour to de-plane, get our bearings, haul our carry-ons, use the restrooms, change diapers, and make the connection for a 19-hour flight to the Philippines without raising the ire of (then) Northwest Airlines.
The loudspeaker intones the dreaded words:
This is the third and final boarding call for Brent Inion, Stacey-jean Inion, Josiah Inion… [five other names follow]. Please report immediately to gate 65.
Not a comforting moment. No time to lose any child in the crowd. Enter the handmade crowd of Inions that look like they belong together. Whether one gets stuck in a revolving door (it happened!) or momentarily strays, the matching outfits say, “This one belongs with them.”
Also, to any lurking pedophiles and kidnappers, the matching outfits state, “These little ones belong to those BIG ones. Keep your @#$% eyes and hands OFF.” Joking aside, if you are looking to swipe a child, you do not want to grab the kid in a distinctive, bright aqua dress matching the group ahead.
Here it goes. Let me open this first C.O.W. (can of worms). Sure, modesty is an unpopular term, but someone has got to draw the hemline somewhere. From a historical-cultural point of view, Westerners in the 21st century have dressed too low, too high, too tight and too sheer. Flaunting flesh and wealth, the Westerner is perceived as more concerned about comfort than propriety.
From an international travelers’ point of view, it only makes good sense to have clothing that can be worn anywhere without attracting unneeded attention to our bodies. When we have met men or women from Muslim countries, we have found that modest clothing makes it much easier to bridge a cultural/linguistic gap. Whether it is someone from a Muslim, Jewish or conservative Catholic background, modest clothing provides a mutual comfort zone. For us, it has been a door opener to great conversations.
Second C.O.W. (and it’s a big one). As recently as this week, a major U.S. retailer has removed gender distinction from children’s clothing. Farewell, “boys” and “girls” clothing.
Many families, ours included, still operate under the presupposition of gender distinction. Western families who share the concerns above may find it increasingly difficult to secure off-the-shelf modest and gender-distinct clothing.
We have found that creating matching outfits is a very cost effective way to keep our crew covered. During our travels, we have often purchased fabric and been able to pay a more-than-fair wage to a seamstress happy for a job. When a set of clothes comes from the same bolt of fabric, we need not worry whether father’s maroon shirt clashes with anyone. Likewise, well-made clothing lasts long enough to be a decent hand-me-down to rising siblings.
No, we do not walk around in single-file lines and run our worldschool to the tune of a bell and a hickory stick. Our children are privileged to enjoy an uncommon childhood. Their schooling is mostly building forts, exploring ruins, eating street foods, birding in international backyards, reading literature, helping deliver babies and treating the sick, building homes, learning local trades, milking cows, learning languages, painting, dancing and living free.
Let’s remember that there are eleven of us. Eleven people entering a restaurant (with 90% needing a kids’ menu) can be overwhelming to hosts and wait staff. There is a quieting factor to a crowd in coordinating or matching colors.
I’ll admit, both Brent and I probably have sensory overload issues and likely fall somewhere on the autistic spectrum in this area. Contrasting plaids give us headaches. Likewise, a too-wide variety of colors together makes our flesh crawl. As a photographer, I cringe when I see families with clashing stripes or too large prints. For our family, going with solid colors adds a touch of class and heightens the simplicity factor. When you see us in prints, they will be tiny, and they will be matching. So far, all of children share that family opinion. 😀
Some might imagine that Brent is a neo fascist patriarch barking orders at sunrise. All right Inions, it’s 0500. Everyone up and in your dress blues, pronto. Far from it! As worldschoolers, we get to sleep in. Sometimes, we really sleep in. If we all know we’re going “out on the town”, Brent and I coordinate. The teens peek their heads in with a “whatcha wearing?” and follow suit–voluntarily.
The children want to match or at least coordinate. If at any time that changes, they are totally free to wear what they want. We do not dictate clothing options to our older children. Our four year-old is another story. Sometimes, underwear (or, as he says, ”dressing like Tarzan”) will just not work for public outings. He looks at the big brothers and wants to be like them, too. After we convince him to get dressed, he proudly shows us how he looks like his Papa. Likewise, our little girls love to dash over to Mama with a “see–we match!”
Our children have not been raised in public school settings where they learn to follow whatever the crowd says is ”in” for a particular season of life. As a result, they still enjoy being each other’s friends. It is very common to hear the 13 year-old ask the 4 year-old to come play. Likewise, the seven year-old pleads for the 15 year-old to come color, and he does. They admire each other and want to be like each other. We are a team. A family. We all love the fun of matching.
When we go to the beach, we imagine that people must think we are a swim team in our coordinating outfits. When one girl has a dress that twirls, the other girls join in, and we have an instant ballerina troupe. Even at bedtime, the girls will dress in matching jammies and dress their dolls, too. What wonderful childhood memories they are making.
Honestly, we don’t exactly match every single day. We have our share of miscellaneous outfits for work and play. However, everyone from the Chicago Bears to the Brazilian futbol team knows there is an undeniable esprit de corps in a matching dress code. We really love the “go team” sense that matching brings to our family.
A word on “individuality”. As parents, we work at celebrating each child’s uniqueness. The work of our artistic oldest son adorns the sides of our RV. We showcase the projects Hannah makes at her woodworking class in Ajijic, Mexico and the weaving designs in her lap loom. We celebrate when our daughter with autism crosses the monkey bars on her own. Also, we make each child´s birthday a unique celebration.
By dressing alike, we celebrate our oneness as a family, our shared destination, and our gratitude of being able to live and work as a traveling team.
Brent and I believe that this team we call “family” is not the product of random chance. Each one of us–with our abilities and disabilities–bears the evidence of complex artistry and unimaginably brilliant design. Furthermore, reflecting on the births and/or adoptions of these nine children leaves us with no other word but “miracle” to describe how this team was assembled. How can we help but celebrate
So, “whatcha wearing”? Tell us how your family celebrates its identity.