"Whenever we went shopping, my mother and I could never agree on clothes for me," says Tamara Lave who is 13 and loves -- while her mother hates -- designer jeans, clogs and clothes with the color black.
Clothes buying, allows Tamara's mother Judith Lave, was a "source of tension between us. Tamara was always wanting this and that and something else, and I was not wanting to get her so much."
Mother, who's an economist, and daughter, a graduate of Pyle Junior High School, Bethesda, don't argue about clothes anymore. Two years ago, Tamara went on a clothing allowance. Her parents give her $700 a year.
Rick Woods, 14, went on a clothing allowance for a similar reason: "My parents and I didn't have the same idea of what kind of clothes I needed. I wanted to buy a $40 pair of shoes that they thought were too expensive. Now, if I want the shoes, I can save my money and get them."
Rick and his sister, Laurie, 13, each receive $25 a month to buy everything from shoes and shirts to jeans and underwear.
Clothing allowances, say the families who use them, are a healthy, positive way of compromising between a teen-ager's desire to dress like peers (or in some other distinctive way) and a parent's desire to pay sensible prices for sensible clothes. At a time when money is tight and clothing is expensive, teen preferences -- such as the "right" tailored shirt, $18 to $25 -- can squeeze even an ample budget.
The problem for many families is setting limits on the amount of money -- and energy -- to be spent in the pursuit of clothing. With the clothing allowance, the child is free to choose style and price, so long as he does not exceed a specified overall amount.
The clothing allowance is generally a phenomenon of middle- and, to a greater extent, upper-middle-class families, says Dr. Carol Seefeldt, associate professor at the University of Maryland's Institute for Child Study. "They're the ones who can afford to cover their kids' mistakes. If the kid blows it all on a gold lame' jump suit, the parents can still be responsible for buying shoes and underwear."
When Terri Halperin, 16, and her sister, Marla, 18, suggested a clothing allowance a few years ago, their mother, Marcia, a ceramic artist, and father, Daniel, a professor of law at Georgetown University Law School, saw it as a way of "giving them a sense of how much clothing really costs."
"My mom can't bother me about what I can buy," says Terri, who gets $25 a month to buy everything except coats, shoes and special-occasion clothes. "I can buy as many shirts as I want as long as I stay within my money."
For the Chaitovitz family, clothing allowances helped avoid potential conflicts.
"Our two eldest daughters are very close in age -- 16 months apart -- and I'm sure that without the clothing allowance the older would always feel we bought more for the younger and vice versa," says Lynn Chaitovitz, the mother of Ann, 19, Laurie, 18 and Susan, 15. "Now if one has more or nicer clothes than the other, it's her choice."
Chaitovitz, a gerontology planner, and her husband, Samuel, an attorney, say their daughters also learned to set priorities. One daughter brought home a skirt one day that she said she loved and needed.
"She asked me, 'Should I get it?' I said, 'It's up to you,' " recalls Lynn Chaitovitz. "She asked, 'Your money or mine?' I said, 'Yours.' She said, 'I don't need it.' "
Teen-agers on allowances endorse the system for a variety of reasons.
"I like the freedom of shopping by myself and having money I can handle myself," says Rick Woods.
"If you buy something that's too expensive," says his sister Laurie, "you don't have to feel guilty about taking money from your parents."
"You don't buy things you won't wear," says Terri Halperin. "Nothing hangs in your closet."
"I save my mom the trouble of shopping, and I can plan out myself what I want," says Laurie Chaitovitz. "I take better care of my clothes, too, because I saved up and got what I really wanted."
"I like learning to take care of my own financial problems," says Tamara Lave.
There are, of course, drawbacks. The main one for teen-agers is, as Terri Halperin puts it, "A limited amount of money. Anything extra I want I have to earn money for. I babysit and get birthday money and I usually spend that on clothes."
Adds Rick Woods: "Some things I'd like to get are expensive and I have to save up for a long time. I have to put off getting it, and when I finally have the money, sometimes I don't want it anymore."
What may be appropriate for one child in a family may not be right for another. Judith Lave notes that Tamara's twin brother, Jonathan, is not on a clothing allowance. "It's hard enough to get him into a store to try on clothes. He's just not interested. If he had a clothing allowance, he'd spend it all on science-fiction books."
The responsibility, says educational psychologist Seefeldt, is not a good idea for every child.
"It's important that teen-agers have choices about their clothes, but it may be asking too much of a young person to be given the total responsibility for money and clothes. Some children might find it overwhelming and that could create a feeling of insecurity. You really have to know your child's limitations in terms of decision-making and what he or she can handle."
Most families who have been successful with clothing allowances say they come up with a total sum of what should be spent that year. Then they may divide that sum into 12 equal parts and give monthly cash or credit (the child uses the parent's charge card and reports expenditures), or divide it into quarterly or semi-annual allowances. Some families include annual cost-of-living increases.
For those families in which clothing allowances work out, parents may marvel at their children's bargain hunting or clothes savvy.
Violinist Eleanor Woods says her son Rick has been able to buy stylish pants for $1 by going to second-hand stores. Lynn Chaitovitz tells of her daughter, Laurie, bringing home a blouse that "was more expensive than any blouse I ever bought. I told her she was extravagant. She said it would go with everything, and she was right.
"She wore it in the dead of winter and in the summer, and it always looked terrific. The next time she brought home something expensive, I just admired it." Laurie and Rick Woods: On their own when it comes to shopping, By Ray Lustig -- The Washington Post