Studying costumes and costume design was one of my favorite things in school. For whatever reason, I loved the ornate and overly detailed fabrics of the years gone by. I was particularly enthralled with the 17th century, the French court and all that was Renaissance.
I adored the intractable floral prints, the ribbons, lace and overly grand ensembles that every lady lady. The stomacher, Watteau pleating, chemise and pannier hoops were just a few of the accomplices of that highly ostentatious era. Red heels, lace cuffs and a six inch ruff on the men made them no less the object of great finery. All was big, bold and overly impressive.
What I did find odd though was how the children were dressed as miniature copies of their parent's attire right down to the brass buttons, lace pinafores and diamond buckles. It seemed a bit odd to me at the time how anyone would think a child, barely walking, would enjoy the layers upon layers of court dress, not to mention the opulence, constriction and weight that accompanied such elaborate outfits.
It seems common sense to me that any child would prefer the loose, light and careful construction of a simple garment, and their parents would want something easy to clean, repair or discard if destroyed in climbing a fence or rolling down a grassy knoll. Yet, in all of the historical depictions, no matter how poor or how unimhausted, children still wore their bonnets, layered skirts and dutiful aprons.
These days we can look back and see the silliness of such customs. Children are meant to dress as children: cute, comfortable and pure. The innocence that comes with being a child should be reflected and encouraged in the way that they dress. Of course, we know better these days, and we practice it. We no longer live in a society that expects children to dress in such absurdity, clothes light years beyond their age and so inappropriate. No, we have defiantly evolved … or have we?
This week I stepped into a well-know retail store to buy something for my eight month old daughter. I was looking for a cute white sweater that would go with all her adorable summer dresses. As I made my way to the baby section I was immediately greeted by the mannequins and front rack displays that don the season's newest arrivals. There, right in front was a baby bikini, metallic gold with a pair of cut-off denim shorts worn over the bottoms. Again I was in the baby section …
I had to stop and look twice at this miniature replica of a very sexy, beach-babe bathing suit. Perfect little triangles to cover the breast area with stringy straps to hold it in place, metallic, shiny fabric to give it just the right amount of …? What, sex appeal?
With the tag saying 12-18 months I had to use my hand to close my chin as it gaped open with shock. This is actually for an infant, I tried to rationalize in my brain. Some designer actually thought that this was a good choice to put in a store and present it to the public as an … (I am lost for words!) "Option" to wear at Water Babies? What were they thinking? This does not belong on a baby any more than lipstick and a padded bra does. But there it was, ready to be taken home and wedged over a pair of disposable water diapers for a day at the beach.
It appeared otreatly outrageous to me that anyone would put their kids in clothes such as this. Dressing them up far beyond their years and making them look like adults. This was not just older, sophisticated clothing, but older, giving-off-a-certain-kind-of-message clothing. A message that we do see all around us in movies, television, music and even cartoons, but a message in my opinion that could be dangerous.
As standing at the cash register still reeling in my disgust I watched a girl, five maybe six, wait impatently for her mother to pay. She was very cute, stunning almost under the layers of baby fat and childhood pudginess, but her outfit spoke a different tune, a white low cut top, eyelet peasant skirt with high heels espadrilles laced up her calves. She sat on the floor, creeping and crawling as kids do when they are bored. I saw her red underwear as she sat Indian style, rolled around and flashed all of us endlessly in an attempt to be a lady, but was really still a child.
Of course, when you have kids, you know all kids insist on doing everything their way. I am sure for her mother, letting her wear that was easier than the arguing and hysterics that would come with refusing it, and yet there was a part of me that wished the mother had won this one. As a woman and as a mother, I have seen those parts – I have those parts – and look at them as just body parts, but what about people with ulterior motives? Should not we be asking: away from what is fashionable, what is sensible?
It's nice to dress your kids in the latest fashions. We know more about what Britney Spears and Paris Hilton are wearing than the state of the nation or the people running it. Fashion is a serious way of life. We all race to the stores to get the newest collections and we try harder and harder to look like the pictures in the marketing campaigns. Not that that's bad – I am the first person to put fashion before a lot of other things, but should we put kids in fashion that they're not ready for? That's too mature for them? That's the question.
As we today may think that it was foolish to over-dress the children of the French Renaissance, what will those in the future think of the under under dressed children of today? Bikinis on babies, high heels on toddlers, belly baring tops, lingerie for kids. It is what we like as adults, it is what we see in the media, it is what we are becoming accustomed to, but what I want to know is: should we be okay with it?
It is up to you to decide what is best for your children at the particular age. You are their judge, reference and enforcer. Forget trying to be their best friend and let go of what you think may make them mad. I would rather they be mad at me than hurt, assorted or flattered to believing that dressing inappropriately is okay. There is always time for them to grow up and step into the role of fashionista, time for them to be comfortable with their bodies and understand the messages clothes can send. For now, do not just buy something because you see it in the store, or because everyone else is wearing it, buy it because it gives the message that this kid is happy being a kid.