Shopping for kids clothes is, if not fun, at least a relatively painless parental task. All a parent needs to know to buy clothes is the child’s age and favorite over-commercialized cartoon character. He then need only buy something with that age printed on the tag – 2T for a two-year old, 6X for a tall six-year old – bearing the appropriate Elmo or Dora the Explorer images. Not a flawless system, but one that has stood the transition from shopping moms to shopping, clueless dads like me.
However, this system starts to unravel as your child approaches the tween years – generally recognized as the ages between nine and twelve. The tween years are similar to the toddler years in that your child feels the need to assert independence, test limits, and even push a few buttons. But there is the added confusion of raging hormones causing body changes, mood swings, and occasional fits of pique. At this age, clothing not only fits differently due to growth (and those darn hormones), but your young person begins to have a sense of his own style, or at least a sense of what his peers are wearing. No more Rugrats, Blue’s Clues, or Barbie clothing themes. No more kids clothes.
What will my kids want to wear?
Tweens begin feeling the need to express their independence from their parents by emulating their peers. It’s the prelude to full-blown teenager-hood, and as such, fashion plays a role. However, fashion and popular culture should never override parental wisdom, or common sense. Do we really need to see an eleven-year-old boy’s boxers billowing out of his low-slung pants like the braking chute on a drag racer? Should we really know what color underwear a ten year old girl is wearing as it climbs over the top of her jeans? Tweens will look to teens, and teen pop icons, for what’s “cool” to wear, and in so doing will see a proliferation of skin and undergarments. Leaving aside the issue of whether this attire is appropriate for anyone, these are definitely not kids clothes. Yet they may very possibly be the clothes your kids will want to wear.
No kids clothes? What should I buy?
Fear not, all is not lost! The aware parent can be fashion-forward and still lose the “babyish” kids clothes. Today’s tween/teen fashion seems to be centered on baggy and low slung, with an eye to 80’s Prep. Plain white tee shirts are popular for both boys and girls, as are polo shirts (yes, the collars are back up!). Loose fitting cargo pants, jeans, khakis and chinos are also worn by both girls and boys. Many of today’s jeans are low-rise, which means parents need to keep an eye out for peeping underwear and “plumber’s cleavage,” but the right fit can be found. As silk scarf belts are in for girls, obtaining this accessory for your daughter might help keep the jeans up at their proper height. Popular with boys is the silk (or silk-like) shirt over that white tee. Untucked, this also can help disguise pants that seem to be hanging at knee level.
One way young ladies can be “skin-fashionable” without being inappropriate is by wearing Capri pants coupled with the ped-like “no-see” socks that don’t rise above the tops of the sneaker. Showing a little ankle may have been risqué in Queen Victoria’s day, but in today’s Britney Spears boobs-and-bellies world, the ankle is an easy compromise. These socks are also worn by boys, so stock up.
What’s this going to cost me?
Let’s face it – fashion can be expensive. And if my tween is going to be growing out of her clothes in three months, outfitting her could become prohibitively expensive. Fortunately, part of the problem is solved by the fashion itself. White tees, ankle-height socks, and even polo shirts are relatively inexpensive, and can be purchased at Target or Wal-Mart. However, some of the retailers that are offering these trendy kids clothes are on the higher end of the pricing scale. Abercrombie, American Eagle, Old Navy, and Gap are on the frontlines of kids clothes fashion, and are more expensive. It’s best for the budget-conscious parent to pick a few pieces of “anchor” clothing from these places that can be accessorized or added to from discount stores.
Remember: You are the parent
As your child grows out of her kids clothes and into tween clothes, remember who is in charge. A tween is yet a child, and needs parental guidance and supervision. You decide what is or is not appropriate attire. And, unless your tween has a high-end, low-carb, no-sugar lemonade bar, you are probably the one paying for the clothes. You can allow your young person to grow and express herself within your parameters, and make the transition out of kids clothes a smooth one.
There are many resources for parents to communicate with and help each other through each stage of child development. One such is the Parents.com website, which has message boards and forums for each age group. Check the tweens board to see what other parents are thinking of doing regarding their tweens.