CHICAGO Sophia Saverese attended her first day of Kindergarten last week wearing a delicate floral print dress, ballet flats and a bow in her hair, no thanks to the displays at the mall promoting glittery mini-skirts, wedge sandals and one-shouldered tank tops in kiddie sizes.
She did see the other stuff, and she picked it out and said she liked it, said Nicole Saverese, the Glen Ellyn, Ill., mother-of-three, who, with her mother-in-laws help, steered Sophia away from the adult styles during a recent shopping trip.
I know girls who dress their 6-month-old babies in mock leather pants, and in those shoes that look like they have a stiletto, Saverese said. But I just feel that shes 5. Why would I want to dress her older when shes going to get older already?
The age-old question has taken on new meaning in an era of bikinis for babies and skinny jeans for 6-year-olds channeling Suri Cruise.
Retail experts confirm parents arent imagining the trend. While many adult clothing makers entered the childrens apparel industry between 2002 and 2006 offering trend-setting designs not seen before for that age group, the economic downturn put growth of the market on hold. That momentum has picked up again as the economy bounces back, prompting pint-sized designer duds at boutiques and trendy knock-offs at discount stores, according to Marshal Cohen, chief analyst for the NPD Group in New York.
And sociologists monitoring the trend say fashion for young girls has never been more provocative. In a study released last year, Kenyon College researchers found that a third of the clothing at 15 popular stores in the U.S. had sexualizing characteristics, revealing or emphasizing body parts and sexiness, according to Sarah K. Murnen, who co-wrote the study.
Seven years ago, trend watchers at Synclaire Brands in New York noticed an untapped market in childrens apparel. Company officials were convinced that as technology and media exposed children to more than ever before, buyers would jump at the chance to buy little girl shoes bearing the names and designs of high profile womens designers Michael Kors, Stuart Weitzman and Cole Haan.
I have an 8- and a 10-year-old. They know things that Im shocked that they know, said Evan Cagner, president of Synclaire Brands. I think its just how information moves, quite honestly, and theyre just more aware of what theyre wearing.
The companys new venture took off Synclaire Brands now offers dozens of womens inspired shoes in sizes newborn to 11 and was soon joined by a rush of other companies eager to cash in as well, Cagner said.
Shoppers encouraged the growth by spending money on their children instead of themselves, another trend that surfaced during the recession, said Cohen, the retail analyst, who noted that shoppers spent $12 billion on clothing for 5 to 10 year olds in the last year, a growth of 4.5 percent. Womens clothing sales remained flat in the same time period.