Kids’ clothing is a weird sub-market of the fashion industry. Most kids care not at all what they wear, except when they have a favorite shirt, costume, ascot, whatever. Conversely, aversions to particular pants, shoes, or bolo neckties can complicate dressing time, but in general, kids just don’t care. Brand names are meaningless logos, quality of materials is somewhere after an after-thought, and up to a certain age, the clothing is pretty much optional so far as the kid is concerned. And yet, the buying, selling, and trading of children’s clothing borders on obsession with parents.
We have been fortunate enough to receive hand-me-downs for our oldest from the time he was very young. The boy who handed-him-down in the first place probably received at least a few of those garments second-hand, to judge from the fading and fraying. Some unusual items made their way to Joshua when he was a baby. The strangest was a Christian Dior sleeper with a byzantine system of snaps and straps that was equal parts pajamas and bondage outfit. The complex asymmetry of the snaps was enough to cause me to curse quite a bit during a late-night diaper change which ultimately ended up with Joshua sleeping in nothing but a diaper that night. He never wore the sleeper again.
Jen and I each asked the same two questions: 1) Who would spend this much on a baby sleeper in the first place; 2) Why would anyone design baby clothes that make the very act of raising that baby more difficult? We speculate on the cost, based mostly on the brand name, but also on the awfully good quality of the materials and manufacture. Anyway, the answer to both questions is, “fashion.” As for us, we cannot fathom paying full price for clothes for a child who will, in Jack’s case, outgrow them before wearing them more than a few times, or, in Joshua’s case, wear them to threads which only really keep the shape of clothing by force of habit. And yet, logically, in order to buy used clothing in the second place, somebody had to pay full price in the first place.
Some other items which have come our way have been branded from everything from Nike to Ralph Lauren to Calvin Klein to 50-Cent/G-Unit*. We bought only a fraction of these, and then almost exclusively from children’s re-sellers and consignment stores. I don’t fault the sundry manufacturers/designers for making these things. Neither do I have a problem with stores then selling them with a mark-up that offers profits to both store and designer. What I don’t get is who is buying these things the first time. Someone bought that Christian Dior sleeper for, no hyperbole here, about $75. $75 is a lot to spend to put your kid to bed in a stylish straight-jacket, and that’s coming from a guy who gave serious thought to tying his kid down like Lemuel Gulliver at Lilliput. (Except I’m tall for a Lilliputian.)
We frequent a children’s clothing/accessory store that buys and sells “gently used” kids’ clothing; its racks overflow with branded and unbranded things alike. Today, for the first time, we took in some clothes to sell in order to off-set some other purchases we planned to make. There were quite a few items in our bags, and while we didn’t expect the store to accept all of them, we thought we’d be able to off-load a good portion of them. Of the 50-ish pieces we brought in, they accepted 16. Not because the others were in poor condition. Hardly. Because they were not “in style.” Now, we’ve been through those racks enough to know that “style” is not only terribly subjective, but that “style” cannot possibly be their gatekeeper majeure to judge from the child-sized Cosby sweaters and My-First-Arbor Day apparel. And yet, sure enough, some of our fairly innocuous items were turned away like fatties at Abercrombie & Fitch.
Another interesting side of the style coin is how very differently men and women would dress their children if given exclusive dressing rights. For example, my wife finds adorable any pair of pajamas with animals or animal heads on the butt. There is nothing about this that I like, but I don’t dislike it so much that I put up a fight. Likewise, I’m sure my sneakerhead tendencies to adorn my kids in swooshes and Jumpmen probably drives her nuts, but she puts up with it. At a friend’s house the other day for a playdate, we traded some clothes. The other mom showed off an outfit that was the subject of debate in her household — an orange seersucker John-John with her kid’s name embroidered on it. She wanted her kid to wear it, and her husband did not. It remained on the hanger, as yet unsullied. Who will win that war, I don’t know, but I do know that it’s basically the microcosm of parents dressing their kids. Somebody has to give at some point, or the kid ends up playing outside with no pants, and there’s only so much of that that Social Services lets go without a face-to-face.
Seeing this other mom and my wife Mom Out over little baby clothes was kind of funny, considering the volume (quantity) and volume (loudness) of their thoughts on what babies should wear. It’s funny because babies don’t even always recognize their own hands, no less care to weigh in on dump trucks versus dinosaurs on their corduroy overalls. Dads do this, too, though. We’re/I’m not off the hook. I veto outfits all the time as if I’m the last line of defense keeping my 8-month old from being a fashion pariah. He doesn’t care what he wears. He’s just going to poop, pee, drool, or spit-up on it, anyway. And yet, I cannot allow him to wear a onesie tucked into his pants**. I just can’t. I will put him in a ridiculous Halloween costume before I’ll let him out of the house dressed like we’re the kind of people that believe men used to live with dinosaurs.
Dressing Joshua is a lot more utilitarian. We pick out clothes based mostly on our guess as to their ability to handle sliding across our hardwood floors, rolling in the dirt and mud***, climbing on everything, and wiping his hands on them. The single shirt that he picked out himself features a screen-printed image of Clifford, The Big Red Dog, as close to a best friend as our sheltered kid has. Everything else, we picked out for him with durability being our primary concern. It’s quite the 180 from Jack, for whom we still pick out clothes because they look like one thing or another. Jen likes animal heads, I like commercial logos. Why Nike doesn’t have a children’s line with animal heads made out of swooshes, I don’t know****. But I do know that it would sell pretty darn well.
**I looked back through one of my mom’s photo albums not long ago and saw my own shirt tucked into a pair of elastic-wasted pants. The thing is, I remember seeing other kids very much not wearing their clothes this way and wondering what was wrong with them. My mom innocently and earnestly defended the fashion, saying, “That’s how everybody wore them back then.” No, Mom. Not even close.
***Oh, how I wish I were talking about playing outside. I really need to clean the floors.
****I do know. It’s because it would be creepy as hell.