Emily Yoffe was online on Aug. 30 to chat with readers about this article. Read the transcript.
At Lord & Taylor, she found a girlish yet sophisticated gray and black polka-dot empire-waist dress. It was $40 and perfect for a party or piano recital. The store also had that Brigadoon-like item: pants that were high-waisted enough to keep her underwear choices to herself ($30).
Department stores are where you can also find the junior versions of chichi adult labels at chichi prices. Nordstrom in particular was full of these offerings. There is no way I'm buying my daughter a $74 Lilly Pulitzer sweatshirt. Nor am I shelling out for Ralph Lauren—for her or myself. And I'm certainly not buying her anything by Juicy Couture. The single most repulsive item we saw on our expedition was something on the Juicy carousel that looked like a book. It was titled "A Week in the Life of a Juicy Drama Queen." Open it, and you find a set of days-of-the-week underpants for the prepubescent ($58). A close runner-up was the girls' gym bag ($175), which declared "Juicy and Happy." I don't understand what mother wants to advertise her child's sexuality by letting her proclaim she's juicy. If I have to choose between Baby Phat and Juicy Couture, I choose mandatory school uniforms.
Sensitized by such clothing, a mother has to be careful not to overreact. I appreciated the fact that at Old Navy there was nothing come-hither about its clothing—its baby doll tops were sloppy, not sexy. And the prices! T-shirts were two for $10. But when I tried to push some on my daughter, she shook her head. "How can they make a plain T-shirt look bad?" It was at Old Navy that we found the most hideous piece of clothing of our trip: a mud-colored top that recalled the smocks worn by lavatory attendants ($10).
And unless you can actually say to your daughter, "That would be perfect to wear at the club," Talbots Kids, a spinoff of the preppy, sensible women's line, might not be for you. With clothes for infants through 'tweens, it's the place to train your kids in the finer points of WASP style while they're still in training pants (although no miniature martini shakers are available in the accessories department). The store was bright, airy, and empty—the two saleswomen were thrilled to see us. I hoped to find some pants that didn't sit below my daughter's hip bone. Talbots had them, and I showed her a pair in navy blue. My daughter shook her head. "They're like nautical pants. They're so ugly." Then I held up a pair of beige polyester pants that looked reasonable to me.
"Mom, I'm 11!" she said. "I'm not Harriet Miers!"
She (child of Washington that she is) had given me a useful parameter of 'tween fashion. While you don't want your daughter to look like Britney Spears, she doesn't want to look like a failed Supreme Court nominee from the Bush administration. In between those two poles, if you have patience and good arch support, you can find enough nice stuff.