What is symbolic about Scout’s clothing choice in To Kill a Mockingbird?
Scout’s use of overalls is symbolic because they demonstrate her independence.
Scout is a girl, but she hangs out with boys more than girls because there are not many kids to play with in her neighborhood. As a result, she is a tomboy. She likes to wear overalls because she can’t “do nothing” in a dress.
Aunt Alexandra tells Scout that she should be a perfect lady and a “ray of sunshine” in her father’s life.
I suggested that one could be a ray of sunshine in pants just as well, but Aunty said that one had to behave like a sunbeam, that I was born good but had grown progressively worse every year. (ch 9)
This hurts Scout’s feelings and upsets her. She likes to run and play. She even fights like a boy. It is a part of her personality. She does not appreciate Aunt Alexandra trying to turn her into someone that she is not.
Scout marches to her own drummer. She has a unique way of looking at the world, and that is reflected in her manner of dress. She is not a bad kid, but she is an opinionated one.
On another level, the pants symbolize rigid gender roles in the South at this time. Scout is expected to look and act a certain way. If she does not, she is not a lady and that is terrible. Scout does not like being pushed into a box any more than Tom Robinson or Boo Radley.
Scout is a tomboy, an individual who likes to go her own way, and her clothes reflect that. She likes nothing better than to spend all day slumming around in overalls. It's not very ladylike, perhaps—Aunt Alexandra certainly doesn't think so—but Scout's clothes are an expression of her ebullient personality. She wants to get out and play, get involved with all the boys' games, and she can't do any of that in a dress. Just as her overalls symbolize Scout's free spirit and sense of adventure, so traditional girls' clothing symbolizes restriction, convention, and stultifying conformity.
Thanks to Miss Maudie, however, Scout has an example of how it's possible to be a lady and to do your own thing in life. She also likes spending a lot of time in overalls, pottering about in the garden. She also has the qualities of a fine, upstanding Southern lady but without the hypocrisy and judgmental attitude of the ladies of Aunt Alexandra's missionary circle.