ONCE we dressed in hand-me-downs with let-down hems and thrifty repairs.
These days, children’s fashion is as trend-driven as our own.
Take Suri Cruise and Harper Beckham.
Aged six and nine months respectively, both have a host of dedicated style blogs. Suri — who reportedly has a wardrobe worth $3m, wears wedge heels and has been picking out her own clothes since she was 18 months old — was recently named Best Dressed Celebrity Child by the website My1stYears.com. Harper Beckham came in second. Harper went on to land herself a spot on Vogue UK’s Best Dressed list for 2011.
While few of us will be decking our little girls out in heels and designer outfits, the Suri-Harper phenomenon shows just how much the world of kids’ fashion has changed.
Children have now become style and label savvy to a degree previously unimaginable. Talk to any young Mr or Miss, and they’ll be able to name not only their favourite brands, but also their style icons and the current “cool” trends.
You only have to look at the proliferation of Paul’s Boutique bags hooked (mini Posh-style) over pre-pubescent forearms to see the potency of brands to children today and how quickly they ape the style mannerisms of adults.
S/S 2012 children’s fashion illustrates the influence of adult trends on the junior market — colour blocking, animal prints, vintage looks and crochet and lace, which have all featured in the mainstream fashion collections, are reproduced in kid’s ranges. Dressing your offspring as mini-me extensions of your own style personality has never been easier.
While this can be fun, parents should also think about what children need from their clothes. Sara Spencer, owner of children’s boutique, Pearl in Dublin cautions: “Some adult collections have children’s collections which sometimes can be cute but generally they are not great. Children have totally different shapes and needs than adults.
“A small child cannot tie belts; bows and even small buttons can be a struggle. Larger prints can swamp a child.
“A collection that starts out with the world of a child at its centre is more likely to be a hit.
“A garment that the child loves and enjoys will make getting them dressed a joy.”
Shelley Corkery, Fashion Director at Brown Thomas agrees: “Trends are great for fun, but for kids it must always be comfortable, soft and easy to play in as well.
“My advice to parents would be to listen to their children, as more often than not when we buy things we like, they will tell us.”
High street choice and availability have also transformed children’s fashion. At Next, for the girls, it’s all bright bubblegum colours, nautical stripes and emblems, ’70s references and pretty vintage tops, while for the boys it’s cool surf-inspired casual-wear, skater Ts, boy-band skinnies and vintage casuals.
Meanwhile at Zara, the range has diminutive versions of fashion classics such as Chanel style jackets, smart DB trenches, crochet shift dresses, slim Capri pants, and sleek linen blazers.
Maybe it’s an indicator of the stressful economic climate, but Sara Spencer of Pearl has seen a return to popularity of more traditional styles too.
“There is a return to nostalgia and the classic lines of children’s clothes of the ’40s and the ’50s.”
This trend may also have emerged as a reaction to the phenomenon of the “prostitot” — the disturbing development whereby some multiples have produced garments (such as miniature bras for small girls and Ts with suggestive slogans) that prematurely sexualise children inappropriately.
Childhood is no longer a simple uncomplicated experience, kids are more attuned to trends, interact increasingly with technology and on a superficial level seem more sophisticated and opinionated.
There is no doubt that children are becoming more brand-aware and are being actively groomed as future adult consumers.
While dressing children isn’t the simple exercise it once was, it’s also far more enjoyable, with the availability of better design and price making junior fashion more accessible and democratic.
So the next time you’re involved in a face-off with a four-year-old fashionista over their outfit, maybe you should let them experiment (as long as it isn’t inappropriate).
Just remind them that you can buy fashion but not style, and that individuality is more important than any brand.
Here’s our pick of the best on the high street this summer.