Pre-tween couture

High fashion sweeps up the 4-to-9-year-old set.

Published August 24, 2006 6:08PM (EDT)

First there were tween spas, now there's pre-tween haute couture. Today's New York Times Styles section introduces the growing 4-9-year-old set who wear premium jeans, leggings, fur-trimmed shrugs and what are typically seen as adult fashions.

Pilar Guzman, the editor of Cookie, a magazine for the parents of children under 12, told the Times, "In general, the awareness of fashion is getting younger and younger. Just as we've seen in the teen market, the interest in clothes is fashion- and celebrity-driven, and that interest has been trickling down." And it's not just parents with money to burn, but "even in the mass market, kids and their parents are more sophisticated," Stanley Kaye, the coordinator of Children's Club, a leading trade fair, told the Times. "There is a new appreciation that children's wear is not a stepchild of fashion, that it's no longer just pink for girls and blue for boys."

Another strange symbol underlying these "pint-size fashionistas," as the Times points out, is that many people may find pre-tween high style "alarming, especially at a time when decade-old images of a 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey, dressed in miniature sheaths and wearing lipstick and high heels are fresh again  images that, depending on the beholder, may verge on the grotesque."

Whether you find precociously dressed kids merely a cute sign of the times or a sad "loss of innocence," as Guzman of Cookie says, in addition to our celebrity-driven, style-obsessed culture, there is doubtless a strong, manipulative marketing element at play here. Juliet Schor, the author of "Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture," explained to the Times that "the very insidious thing about this is that kids get the message that they need this product -- whether it's a sugared cereal or the latest fashion trend -- to be O.K., to be cool. That is potentially interfering with their intrinsic sense of self. Kids from the very beginning are learning that your self-worth depends on what you have and how the market evaluates you."

By Sarah Goldstein

Sarah Goldstein is an editorial fellow at Salon.

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