My five-year-old daughter has been obsessing. Over clothes. First came the conundrum of what to wear to her first day of kindergarten. Resolving that involved an evening of laying out her 10 favorite outfits on the bed, and matching them to shoes. “Mommy, I want to look weely, weely fashionable,” Anais said, in her little girl lisp. “I want to wear something weely sharp.” She was as excited about starting at her new school as she was on Christmas morning last year.
Out of the running went the hand-me-down saffron sundress – “not fashionable enough,” she muttered with a decisive shake of the head. Eliminated next was the embroidered Mexican frock that she had lived in it all summer. “Too baggy,” she wailed. (Where she learned such style adjectives, I have no clue.)
After much debate, we settled on an ensemble that was just right: a Tea Collection floral lilac skirt and top that I had snagged on sale. It was cut from a low-key cotton, so it felt appropriate, not fussy and not as if Anais had gotten lost on her way to a wedding.
Best of all, the dress held meaning for our family. I had gone onto the Tea Collection site and found out that the floral pattern had been designed to recall the wildflowers you might see sprouting around a ramshackle manor in Greece, the country that inspired the season’s designs. Anais’s father had grown up in a similar broken-down estate in India, with untamable gardens and farmland that stretched out into the middle distance.
“The flowers on this dress,” I told my little one, “look like the ones around Papa’sfarm.” Anais’s eyes lit up. She was sold –with one condition. “I want to wear it tucked in,” she said, arranging the blouse so it fit neatly into her skirt. “Now it looks like a dress. Dresses are sharp.”
The next morning, I watched Anais march off with her new classmates. As she turned to take one last look at Mommy, our eyes met. “She looks pretty, well-kempt and – dare I say this about a kindergartner? – elegant. ”I thought to myself. “Why can’t I look like that?”
Score one for our in-house fashion team. Yes, I –sample-sale junkie, on-line shopping devotee, a woman who shivers when the new Anthropolgie catalog drops through the mail slot — was proud of my little girl’s sense of chic.
However, I was still concerned about Anais’s mounting interest in fashion. Like so many moms, I had read the horror stories about Hollywood kids. I recall Madonna had once told a reporter that her daughter Lourdes grew so fixated on certain outfits that, as a punishment, Material Mom would take the garb and hide it in trash bags in the basement. Recently, I read a Los Angeles Times article about the daughters of film producers. Back-to-school shopping for these privileged girls meant not backpacks from Pottery Barn Kids but handbags from Balenciaga and Chanel.
This wa snot going to happen to my daughter. How then to raise a child who appreciates beauty and likes to express her style, but doesn’t vie to be the third Olsen sister? I took this question to my fashion-world friends. Here’s what they said:
DON’T: Focus on trends. DO focus on style.
Filling your child’s closet with of-the-moment threads emphasizes materialism rather than aesthetics. Help your child define her own sensibilities, ones that transcend fashion.
DON’T: Focus on quantity. DO focus on quality.
Sure, children grow out of clothes at an alarming pace. But you’d be surprised at how seamlessly you can recycle well-made pieces. That 3T skirt looks great with leggings on a 4T girl. That outgrown dress makes a fabulous tunic when worn with pants. That favorite piece then gets to “live” in your child’s wardrobe for a few years, rather than a few months.
DO: Let your kids wear their fancy favorites to school once in a while.
Coralie Langston-Jones, a style publicist with twin daughters, sends her girls off to school in their Christmas finery even when its January or February. “Some days we just wear nice outfits to school,” says Langston-Jones. “Otherwise it’s wasteful if the outfits are hanging in their cupboards, hardly worn.”
DO: Educate your child about natural fabrics versus synthetic ones and about high-quality garment construction.
“Pointing out what’s soft and comfortable will evolve into a firm appreciation for quality clothing,” says Tea Collection designer Emily Meyer.
DO: Teach your children about the significance of colors, patterns and special cultural details.
For example, in China, people wear red on special occasions because they believe the hue attracts good luck. In India, pink and gold are celebration colors. In Greece, draping and layering are an important part of female dressing. “We love bringing culture into the classroom through the story our clothing tells,” says Meyer. “In this way, fashion can be another way of educating your child about the world.”
DO: Pre-select the stores or websites that you let them shop.
“No use in creating unwanted tears if there is too much choice and the child wants to wear something that looks like a Halloween costume and mom wants her to wear a plaid skirt and matching sweater,” says London designer Rachel Riley.
DO: Ultimately let them break their rules and express themselves.
Even if you do edit their choice of shopping venues, let them have majority vote in their wardrobe. This is about personal style, after all. “You want them to feel good about themselves,” says Lipstik Clothing designer Lisa Barret. “Guide their choices but ultimately let them go with what they love.” You may be pleasantly surprised. Anais once insisted wearing my Lulu Guinness silk scarf on her head to a birthday party. She looked fantastic.
DO: As the Europeans do, and consider buying more expensive items, but fewer clothes.
“Europeans often buy pricey, high-quality pieces with the idea of passing them onto the next generation,” says Langston-Jones. Doing as such sends the message that fashion is about style, quality and history.
DO: Be their number one role model!
If you’re conscious about wearing beautiful, comfortable clothing, there’s a good chance your children will be, too.
|When I found out that our school’s Picture Day was quickly approaching, I held my breath. Were Anais and I going to hold another fashion all-nighter to get yet another perfect look together?|
“I just wear this one again,” Anais said, as she pointed to her First Day of Kindergarten dress. “The flowers are like the ones on Papa’s farm. I like that.”