School has started, so for lots of children it's a fond farewell
to T-shirts, blue jeans
and shorts and hello to
stripe ties, lace collar dresses, ankle socks and patent-leather
shoes. It is the time of year when many of New York's youngsters are
as well dressed as their parents--at least at the beginning of the
day. Take the pair of smartly attired
young gentlemen at far left;
not only did they look sharp in those blazers and ties, they were
beating the heat on a humid September day with
T-strap Italian sandals.
And the lunch pails added
just the right touch of color. As for the fetching threesome at near
left, they were on their way to services at Temple Emanu-El on Fifth
Avenue, fashionably in step. Elsewhere in midtown, at right and below,
was evidence that even though these are sophisticated, well-dressed,
big-city kids, in coats and ties and brand-new sweater dresses, it's
still nice to have Mom around when school lets out.
New York fashion column, September 24, 1985.
Note: 1986 fashion article describing the difficulties mon's face in
nicely dressing their boys.
THERE WAS CHER ON JOAN RIVERS' NEW SQUAWK SHOW, wearing tight pants with a gossamer bustle, a well-distressed T-shirt, rhinestone suspenders. Cher was distraught over her daughter Chastity's fashion faux pas. She'd rebelled and gone preppy. The kid wore Izods, Cher lamented. Top-Siders Joan clucked in sympathy. What's a hip mom to do?
This made me wonder how Cher had dressed Chas before she reached the age of reason and her own Giorgio's charge card. Black rubber pants? A sequined Snugli? In this mighty wave of post-'60s parenting, in a year when Rolling
Stone magazine cheekily photographed a baby as the "hot" fashion accessory, what does one's choice of bunting reveal about one's baby/one's self? From what I can see, the child is becoming father to the clotheshorse. And frankly, I'm a touch concerned for this whole boomlet generation, born tabula rasa in the clothes department, yet destined, perhaps, to be the littlest fashion
victims of all time. Why do I fear for them?
Fashion has crept into the cradle. Before solid food, there is Baby
Dior. And from newborn to teen, kids' clothes are cloned and cut from the fabric of adult style. There are Weeboks and baby Nikes, mini-jogging suits and tiny tuxes. Little girls pretend to be butterflies in real Capezio dance-wear. Five-year-olds know to ask for Esprit. Izod, Ralph Lauren, Jordach, Guess? And Liz Claiborn's Liz Kids are turning out pint-sized versions of their adult sportswear and dress-up clothes. And since the stores began to open in the United States this spring, there's been Aprica stroller grid-
lock in the aisles of Benetton 012.
Kiddie fash speaks to a wide range of income brackets, from $18 GapKids denims to the $100 sweatshirts by Armani Bambino, Giorgio's line of rug-rat ready-to-wear. I've seen denim diaper covers by Calvin Klein, leather bomber jackets by Cerutti for about $200-in size 2T. And to help parents pull it all together, there is even a glossy new kiddie life-style magazine, Child. Child advocated Nouveau Prep in its premiere issue ("a style with a funny little fashion twist that mixes playful paisley with the entire junior varsity").
Now, all of this may look swell on cleanly designed magazine pages,
but how does it hold up in mud puddles? Dressed in Laura Ashley, can you get down with She-Ra?
I decided to do a little reality testing with my pal Nick, a
20-month-old denizen of Dupont Circle. Nick's parents are young
professionals. Daddy drives a BMW; Morn makes a stand-up salmon mousse.
Nick goes for the gusto. I've seen him hurl an egg roll with NFL
velocity, heard him roar like a 350cc Harley. Despite the trappings of a
pampered Yup Pup, this kid has the untrammeled joie de vivre of a
junkyard dog. Still, he drools on a Descamps quilt, wets through pure
Viyella shorts and velour Italian jogging pants with equal abandon.
For Nick, clothes are simply blotter material.
Not so for his mom. Naturally, she wants the best for her son. And
blessed with two sets of doting, dueling grandparents, she's able to
stuff Nick's white Conran's dresser with the latest in kiddie chic.
I arrived in the nursery as she was performing fall fashion triage on
his wardrobe. Two heaps on the floor afforded a primer on kiddie fashions
Out (or outgrown): Last year's spandex tank suit. Anything Healthtex. Anything with cute bears and balloons. No polyester, no bunnies.
In: Anything Superman. A two-piece "Boys of Summer" beach set. Baggy surfer "jams." Pricey hand-knit sweaters from grandparents' jaunts to Peru, Italy and Spain. Chinese pajamas. A Marimekko sweatshirt. A suave two-piece snowsuit with aerodynamic design befitting Jean-Claude Killy. Imported Absorba tops. Exotic T-shirts from Kenya, China and Wimbledon. Argyle socks. Blue leather high-top shoes from France. And, to match Dad's, a pair of mock Top-Siders by Superoos.
Sonny Crockett, she held up a pair of pleated pants in "Miami Vice" aqua. There is a matching tie and a shirt with a pocket for sun-
Here Nick's morn stopped to explain something about surviving kiddie fash: You have to have a sense of humor. Eat the Care Bear, or the bear will eat you. So it is that Nick owns a miniature satin varsity jacket that says "Texas" and a hilarious plastic motorcycle jacket, $5 at the Wellfleet flea market. And the miniature white terry robe-another joke?
"A present from his grandparents--for his grandparents' hot tub." Oh. For sure.
As the sorting continued, I noticed differences in the piles. The OshKosh overalls were well worn, the T-shirts faded and Rorschached with the blots of peas and carrots past. The fancy stuff seemed pristine; some still had price tags. It was then that Nick's morn confided the dark secret of kiddie fash: You can dress them up, but you dare not take them out. Though his grandparents buy him stuff from the tops of the lines, when they're not visiting, Nick's morn dresses him in utility items from the bottom of the drawer. And for everyday, she relies partly on hand-me-downs, "pre-tested and pre-schmutzed."
It seems that the rigors of style cannot subdue the more enduring virtues of maternal instinct. Yuppie princelings may command the chic and the shearling, but in every mother's heart beats a stubborn practicality.
"Italian lamb's wool is too good for a dirt pile at Mitchell Park. But what am I going to do, chain him to his clean plastic See 'N Say?"
At last, we had arrived at the heart of Cher's dilemma: Adult fashion sense is no match for the willfulness of youth. Nick drove the lesson home as we sat folding a heap of Izod slacks and shirts.
He had been wearing a natty coordinated outfit by Wibbies, a D.C. kids' outfitter. But the room was getting stuffy with all that flying Scottish wool, and he tugged off the thick sweater. He raced around bare-chested, then dived into a
pile and pulled out his favorite--a light blue muscle shirt with the legend "The Body of a Young God."
"Four bucks at a Cape Cod souvenir stand," sighed his mother, who knew
when she was licked.
I came away relieved. Nick will never end up a fashion victim. Against the tyranny of trends, he wields formidable weapons. His preferred method is catsup,
but he can make do with masticated rice cake. And soon he'll face his toughest
challenge yet. For the holiday season, Grandma has sent black velvet shorts
with a plaid, lace-trimmed tuxedo shirt and snowy white knee socks.
Pass the cranberry sauce--please. •
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