NEW YORK - Grown-ups grumble that today's children look too old too young.
Each morning across the country, many parents scowl as they see their kids put on their low-slung or too-loose jeans, thug-style sweatshirts and minuscule miniskirts. The kicker is the parents probably bought them.
While moms and dads might have little control over the wardrobes of their teens or even tweens, they tend to have a lot of say over what's worn by babies, toddlers, preschoolers and elementary schoolers - all of whom are unlikely to have money of their own and rely on their parents' wallets.
Of course, clothing isn't a problem in every household. Not all kids consider Lindsay Lohan or Lil Jon to be their role models and not all parents mind if they do. But, as an issue, it's getting more attention.
Eighty-two percent of parents polled by Ipsos North America for Healthtex said children are dressing inappropriately or provocatively for their age, and 81 percent of the 500 parents surveyed said they let their children pick their clothes.
Meanwhile, Directions Research asked 1,034 adults at what age children can shop for clothes without a parent - 18 percent said 6 to 10 years old; 14 percent said 11 to 12 years old; 37 percent said 13 to 15 years old; and 32 percent said 16 or older.
"I don't see it in one particular area of the country, it's all over," reports Anna Weselak, National PTA president. "From the Virgin Islands to Hawaii and everywhere in between, people are talking about dress codes. In some places I see school districts mandating uniforms and in others I see them doing nothing yet, but there's a lot of talk about it just about everywhere."
Weselak lays partial blame on younger children's idolization of teenagers, whether they know them personally, such as older siblings or baby sitters, or from the worlds of entertainment and sports.
"They want to emulate them and one way to do that is clothes, but the clothes aren't always appropriate for them," she says.
National PTA doesn't have a specific position on dress codes, Weselak explains, but the organization is concerned about academics and it's aware that a link exists between children wearing comfortable and appropriate clothes that boost their self-esteem and student achievement.
Manufacturers and retailers are mindful of the shift in attitude toward children's clothes, which just a year ago was in the middle of low-rise and logo mania.
Healthtex and L.L. Bean, two companies that play up their heritage and wholesome images, are positioning their lines as alternatives to clothes that are essentially adult styles cut to tiny dimensions.
Meanwhile, Gap and Old Navy both are offering "uniform shops" within their stores and Web sites. The featured clothes, including knee-length jumpers for girls, and cargo and khaki pants - made with a stain- and wrinkle-resistant Nano-Tex fabric - for boys, would fit into nonuniform wardrobes as well.
"We started seeing a groundswell of support against the options out there. It all had to do with the trend of family values. With the kids themselves, we've started to see kids making more informed choices," says David Grubbs, brand manager of Healthtex.
"We're offering parental tips to work with your child. We say give them the freedom to choose - but put the right choices in front of them. This way they have the freedom to express themselves and have a personal look - and looking original is important to kids," Grubbs adds.
Among the suggestions Healthtex, in conjunction with National PTA, is offering as part of its Grow Slow campaign are:
-Establish clear rules regarding what your children can and cannot wear.
-Know your children's school dress policy and explain it thoroughly to your children.
-Let loose enough to allow your children to be creative in their fashion choices without overstepping boundaries.
There is a happy medium between what parents and children want, according to Grubbs. "Kids want something that speaks to them. When you get into the real social pressure of elementary school, it's not that they want to shock the world, they want the trickle down of the older siblings. While the older kids might be pushing the boundaries - 'How much flesh can I show?' or 'How baggy can I get?' - elementary kids aren't doing it to shock their parents, they just want to do what's 'in.'"
Grubbs says children who want to wear tank tops can find them in the Healthtex collection, but parents can be reassured the straps will be thicker and the neckline higher.
Another example of an age-appropriate adaptation is L.L. Bean Kids' corduroy skirts; they look like miniskirts but a piece of cotton flannel is pieced at the hem to extend the length to just above the knee.
Tara Knupp, product line manager for L.L. Bean Kids, says the company also has a rule about jeans: They are always fitted to hit one inch below the belly button.
It's actually a lower rise than a few years back, but instead of dropping it further as waistbands moved to hip bones, L.L. Bean responded by lowering the pocket placement, creating an optical illusion that seems to satisfy children and parents, Knupp says.
Knupp uses both fit models and her own 5-year-old daughter as barometers of what kids want. Then it's up to her to put those styles into clothes that are age-appropriate and attractive to the parents with the purchasing power.
"A lot of trends do start with the junior market and trickle down. How do we interpret that? Quality is our first priority, then comfort and fit - those are the things most important to us. Then comes trend.... But when we talk to our fit models we don't want to hear, 'Oh yeah, my mom would want me to wear this," Knupp says.
She's not sure if it's coincidence or it was a conscious decision for the children's market to tip toward more youthful and wholesome styles this back-to-school season, but the rugby shirts, graphic T's and athletic wear are all real fashion trends that can be easily adapted for children.
"Parents are kissing the ground because modesty is coming back into fashion," Knupp says.
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