The Arizona Republic reports:
From spaghetti straps for preschoolers to ultra-miniskirts on tweens, girls clothing is getting noticeably skimpier.
Kid-magnet chains, including Limited Too and Abercrombie Kids, as well as discount stores such as Target are focusing their marketing efforts on a much younger demographic, luring young girls into ensembles that in years past had been reserved for their teenage sisters.
GapKids recently featured a white, crocheted string bikini you'd likely see Anna Kournikova wearing on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. The bikini was for a 12-month-old.
I did some web searching for these items and came up empty. This is the extent of the swimwear for toddlers at Gapkids. I found a fair number of skinny-strapped sundresses and tank tops/camisoles for little girls (toddlers, age 1-5) that are diminuitive teen/adult designs (with smocking, darting, gathering, etc., for drawing the eye to and enhancing the breast area). I found this little number at babyGap, which looks to me like what Ann Coulter wore (in black) on Hardball earlier this week:
Racks at Target held several bathing suits perfect for a Hawaiian Tropic bikini competition. The crocheted and camouflage-designed suits started at Size 4 in the little girls' section.
Inseams on "classic" shorts at stores such as Abercrombie Kids and Hollister Co. are microscopic. And halter tops, shirts often lauded by fashion consultants for their ability to enhance a less-than-voluptuous chest, are everywhere for every age.
Moms hoping to find anything even mildly modest have to be happy Bermuda shorts are trendy again.
"It's a very scary phenomenon," said Patricia Leavy, a sociology professor at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass. "I don't think it's going to go away. I think it's going to get worse before it gets better."
Leavy said the clothing trend is only piggybacking off pop culture and the toy industry, where Bratz dolls have spun off Baby Bratz and celebrities such as Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan have grown up much faster than the fans who follow them.
"The reason it's really happening is money," Leavy said.
There's serious money at stake. From clothing to games to snacks, kids 12 to 19 spent $179 billion in 2006, according to Teen Research Unlimited. Retailers want a piece of that pie, and they are looking for lifelong shoppers. The younger they snag them, the longer they'll have them, Leavy said.
As if shopping for a teen or tween wasn't difficult enough, there now is a new category: the pre-tween.
Yes, your child goes from toddler to pre-tween, skipping the "plain old kid" level altogether.
Cindy Istook, a professor of textiles at North Carolina State University, said retailers aren't designing clothes for kids. They are simply making mini adult clothes.
"We all think about the JonBenet Ramsey thing (the 6-year-old beauty-pageant veteran whose killing remains unsolved) and look at how obscene it was," Istook said, "and we're all shocked, but, really, it's pretty common for kids to dress like that all the time."
It is? Like this?:
Kaydi Lynn, 2 years-old, Baby/Toddler Photo Contest Winner at Southern Moms online
T-shirts and tanks are cut slimmer. Shorts are shorter. Makeup for tweens, once controlled by the sheer colors of Bonne Belle, is glittery and glossy, marketed as of-the-moment must-haves.
In some cases, mini-adult is cute. Poufy skirts from the Crew Cuts line at J. Crew are impractical but adorable nonetheless. Big, vintage-style sunglasses for toddlers at GapKids are fun and useful if the little ones will oblige you and actually wear them. An infant-size shirtdress from Old Navy is funny, as if she's off to a big meeting.
But there's a line between cute and "not in a million years."
Kathleen Waldron, a faculty member in Arizona State University's College of Human Services, ran into trouble with her daughters when they hit the tween sizes.
"All the sudden, the clothing styles are not little-girl cute," she said. "I couldn't find clothing that I thought was appropriate."
Waldron instead bought a sewing machine, though she was the first to admit she's no Vera Wang.
Lila Metcalf said it doesn't have to be that way. As the owner of Urban Kidz boutique in Scottsdale, Metcalf knows that shopping for girls can be a struggle. The boutique specializes in tween fashions that are trendy but include a dash of modesty.
Moms regularly come into her store exasperated, Metcalf said.
"Moms and daughters in that age group are constantly fighting a battle," she said.
Laura Terrones, 29, admitted that a rift is forming between her and her 10-year-old daughter, Kelsey. Terrones said it's not easy to find clothes that both she and her daughter approve of.
"We have a really hard time," she said, browsing through swimsuits at Fiesta Mall in Mesa. "We're trying to work together."
Evidence of the compromise? Kelsey was able to wear the strapless tube dress she wanted while they shopped, but she had to wear a T-shirt over it.
Terrones said it's even difficult to find appropriate clothes for her 4-year-old daughter.
That's why Chris Frueh, 36, is trying something different. The former middle school teacher owns U Go Girlz, a local clothing company that produces T's with positive messages. One says, "An original is worth more than a copy," and another, "Breathe life into your dreams."
Frueh started the company with the intention of giving back, and she does with charitable donations with every purchase. But she has seen the dicey, innuendo-stamped T's that girls are wearing.
"When you wear these things, you are sending a message, whether you think you are or not," Frueh said.
Despite her conviction to sell something positive, she knows hers is an uphill climb.
"It's so easy to cave in because it sells," she said. "They (girls) seem to want the more vulgar the better."
It looks to me as if there's a market out there just waiting to be filled by some enterprising American entrepreneurs looking to bring manufacturing back to the homeland.