Drawing the line for your 'fashion tween'
Girls adopting style from inappropriate places
By JESSICA YADEGARAN
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 09/28/2010 01:41:55 AM PDT
Updated: 09/28/2010 09:30:39 AM PDT
Dream Ali-Cherry is a fashionista. Hanging out at Sunvalley mall in Concord, the 9-year-old is wearing dark skinny jeans and a pink Baby Phat tank top lined with big, diamondlike studs. Dangling from her tiny wrist is a Juicy Couture purse. Lately, Dream has been eyeing the colorful panties at Victoria's Secret. She also wants a pair of fishnet stockings. But her mom, LaPrielle Ali, refuses to buy her those things. "That is not OK," says Ali, of Benicia. "Ever since she was 5, I've tried to explain to her what is appropriate. She gives me a hard time, but at the end of the day, it's my say."
Naturally, parents don't want their tweens dressing provocatively. Neither do schools. Most of the clothes on the racks don't come close to meeting their dress codes. So, shopping for 8-to-13 year olds can be challenging. Developmentally, they are at a turning point: looking to peers and celebrity tastemakers instead of parents for what to wear.
Too old for the girls section and too young for their older sisters' duds, preteens like Dream are responding in part to a $43billion tween fashion industry that crafts children's versions of most everything women wear, down to this fall's leopard minis and skintight jeggings, or denim leggings. A good example is "Material Girl," a line of punky leather and lace that debuted last month at Macy's. Madonna's 13-year-old daughter, Lourdes Leon, designed the clothes. Yet even Madonna has said there are items in the line that Lourdes is not allowed to wear.
It is imperative to set dress codes as early as girls show interest, even kindergarten said Palo Alto marriage and family therapist Carol Campbell. Parents should discuss place-appropriate and age-appropriate attire and impart values that counteract the media messages girls receive. "Ideally, the conversation should start before you head to the mall," Campbell says. "You want to explain that how you dress is a reflection of your values and what matters to you." For starters, determine what stores are off limits, Campbell says. Ask your daughter why she wants or needs a particular halter top or short shorts. You may learn it's the color or fabric that she admires. Or, her response may indicate a serious issue, such as body image. Sometimes, something as simple as fit can be an issue. Vivian Minaise of Pleasanton says shopping for her 8-year-old, Kira, is difficult because she is a little chubby, and the clothes at stores such as Justice, which bills itself as the largest tween specialty retailer in the world, are too tight to begin with. Size is not the only issue.
"Most of the clothes I feel are not appropriate for her age," Minaise says. "It's just too much for an 8-year-old." Justice has plenty of non-racy options, but a recent trip revealed some eye-openers: Sequined accessories, frayed, denim micro minis available in a child's size six "slim," and jeggings in "extreme skinny" cuts. Why would an 8-year-old with short legs and no hips need extreme skinnies? Because she probably saw Heidi Klum on "Project Runway" wearing them, says Sally Miller, a New Jersey-based tween fashion designer who counts Malia Obama among her clients.
When designing, Miller thinks about contemporary trends, such as lace, a fall runway favorite. Then, she reinterprets them in a way that's hip and appropriate for her market. She often invites the mothers of her models into the studio to get their take as well. "Most of the time, those moms are in the room with us, and I'm asking them, 'Would you let her leave the house in this?'" says Miller, whose fall collection includes cropped cardigans and empire-waisted dresses. "I think it's important to let a girl choose her aesthetic and explore who she is."
Campbell concurs. Parents can even encourage tweens to express themselves as it relates to the world of grown-up attire. "They can play dress up," she says. "Let them do the makeup and jewelry and high heels at home. It gives them a wonderful chance to try on roles in their imaginations." At the Silver home in Piedmont, 12-year-old Sydney Silver loves to dress up in "hootchie" clothes, like little hot pants and secondhand cheetah platforms, and pretend to be a famous singer. It's fine with mom because it's in the privacy of their home. "They realize that showing their body in public is not positive power," explains Paula Sullivan Silver, of Sydney, and her older daughter, Madison, 17. "As much as what they see in the media might look fashionable and enticing to them, they know it's all for show."
Dream Ali-Cherry, of Benicia, has broken the school dress code twice. Once, she wore a tank top with thin straps. The other time, Dream stuffed a short, tight skirt she'd outgrown into her backpack, and changed into it at the bathroom at her school. To avoid a third strike, mom now performs random backpack checks.
"If it happens again, the clothes are gone," LaPrielle Ali says. "I don't want to be like my mom, where there was no compromise. But I will take the clothes away."
Talking fashion with tweens
Want to talk to your daughter about appropriate clothing? Follow these tips from Palo Alto marriage and family therapist Carol Campbell:
· Have the discussion before you leave for the mall. Set rules. Determine what stores are off limits. Stress values over what's popular among media starlets.
· Give your daughter the floor. L et her explain why she wants that top. Her response may relate to another issue, like body image.
· Encourage dress up at home. Playing dress up at home with makeup, clothes, and high heels is a good way for girls to try on roles in their imaginations.
· Clothing is expression. Some kids are just more creative, and it's important for them to feel unique. Encourage other forms of fashion expression, like sewing or accessorizing.