Kiddy Couture: money down the drain

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With all the unsettling news about the likelihood of a recession, you'll be relieved to know that the designer clothing market for the "stroller and grade school sets" is booming. Time Magazine recently devoted a feature story ("Downsizing Style. Why Kids are the latest consumers of pricey designer clothing and accessories") to haut couture for six-year olds.

The Time story carries a picture of "Little Miss Runway," dressed in designer everything, carrying shopping bags from Dolce & Gabbana and Juicy Couture. She looks outstanding - but this, after all, is an article about $300 Little Marc cashmere sweaters and $225 linen and cotton belted Safari dresses. The conclusion drawn is that kids are "getting more and more involved in choosing...what they wear" and that, "parents are expressing their own status by outfitting their kids who are more clothes conscious than ever."

Be forewarned that as a children's therapist, I am opposed on every conceivable ground. Financial. Child Psychology. Morals. Let's take these one at a time.

Financial. Okay, I enjoy looking at photos of Shiloh Jolie Pitt and Suri Cruise dressed to the nines in designer everything. I will always grab the People magazine when the checkout line is slow and look at their little outfits. Infinite money entitles people to as much frivolity as they desire - but as a fashion trend? How long does a four-year old wear a $300 cashmere sweater and during those months is he allowed to eat or play in it?

From an investment point of view, these are terrible purchases. From a child development point of view, these are even worse.

When we put too much emphasis on how a child looks, we distract the her energy from the developmental tasks of whatever age she happens to be. Childhood is a time of formation. Put too much emphasis on anything but that center and you're looking for problems. This is true anytime parents use a child - to again quote Time Magazine - to "express their own status." Children are not status objects. Children who model, participate in beauty pageants, children who are pressured - subtly or otherwise - to be stars academically, athletically, artistically are having their development co-opted by their parents own self-esteem dilemmas. Think, if we must, Britney Spears. Think of the little made-up face of Jon Benet Ramsey.

Children shuttled from one lesson to the next are children at risk. Yes, they may make the first nursery school cut but can they play by themselves, settle themselves, use their creativity? Parents need to ask themselves why they are making these investments, whether these are sound investments for anyone involved.

Finally, morals. When we teach children that what matters is primarily how we look and whether people admire us, we're teaching the wrong lessons. One of the last things we should be thinking about when our children are young is their "fashion image."

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