They don’t need all the things, but they do need some.
A basic human societal need is a sense of belonging. We value and encourage being your own unique self, but being part of a society requires a certain level of “fitting in.” This is not about changing who you are, hiding yourself behind a certain unofficial uniform, or stifling your tastes and interests.
When it comes to attending sleep away camp, especially for the first time, it’s important to start out with a sense of fitting into the crowd. Once everyone has gotten to know each other, and new friendships have been created based on personality, it’s a lot easier to be comfortable doing – and wearing – whatever you want. (We’re not talking about halachic standards or dress code rules.)
Does this mean you need to buy all the latest fashions, trends and gadgets to send along to camp? Absolutely not. But you should consider getting three or four.
The best way to know what is more important socially is to ask girls who go to the same camp. Do the girls tend to wear maxi skirts or knee length ones? Do they all wear funky printed socks, or just basic solid ones? Is there a name brand that is popular?
If the girls in the camp generally wear long skirts but your child is more comfortable in short ones, maybe get 2 long ones and the rest short. Like that she can break the ice with the more commonly worn look and then wear what she likes once she’s comfortable. Maybe she’ll switch to short skirts for sports, but wear the long ones in the evening after her shower. She can decide what she’s comfortable wearing – as long as she has the option.
And if fun socks are a thing, you don’t need to buy 12 new pairs. Get a 3 pack of great ones and she’ll look forward to getting them back from the laundry. (Fun socks are a great affordable gift if there’s an aunt or grandmother who’d like to treat a girl heading to camp.)
Name brands? Don’t go all out. “Everyone” wears lululemon? She doesn’t need more than a belt bag or a fun scrunchie to cash in on the social currency. Spending a bit more on accessories is more practical than spending on clothes because clothing has a high risk of being ruined in camp. Tech shirts are a thing? No need to spend on high end athletic brands – Old Navy and H&M have great options, too. Name brand shoes can be important – but Puma and Adidas work the same way that the expensive ones do – and it won’t hurt as much when they come home smelling of mildew.
Sometimes the little things that don’t really cost money are more important than the big tickets. If everyone hangs pictures of their family and friends on their wall, make sure to send some along. Do the girls huddle around their noodle soups late at night? Send a few. Personalized “stuff” can be a big deal. If you don’t have a Cricut, find a friend who does. Personalize her brush, her “nosh box” and her trip bag and it’s instantly upgraded to “soooooo cute”.
And while these things are generally more important to girls than boys, the boys also have their things. Maybe it’s having a bluetooth speaker or LED lights to decorate the bunk bed. Maybe it’s specifically Nike sneakers. And, of course, the Tiros. Find out what is popular in their camp, and provide at least some of it.
There will be kids who have no interest in these things. Maybe a child who is a little unaware of petty societal norms. Or maybe a child who is so comfortable in their current environment that they can’t imagine a setting in which that confidence might be shaken. They might need it more than anyone else.