- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2001

A growing number of parents are becoming outraged by the proliferation of provocative clothes for their children, particularly in the preteen departments.
As they take their daughters back-to-school shopping, they say they won't buckle under societal pressures to transform their teens into clones of Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera.
But with this fall's clothing lineup, the fight in the store aisles between mother and daughter could get fiercer.
Miniature versions of the hot fall looks — low-rise jeans, tight miniskirts and tiny stretch T-shirts with sexually loaded phrases like "Wild Thing" — are taking center stage in departments aimed at the 8-to-12 age group, known as "tweens."
"You are seeing the dumbing down of the tween," said Marian Salzman, worldwide director of strategy and planning at Europe RSCG Worldwide, a marketing company.
Kathleen Mortensen, a 42-year-old mother from Boise, Idaho, is dreading back-to-school shopping for her 11-year-old daughter.
"I see midriffs, shirts with necklines way too low, and all those leopard fabrics. They look like they're for lounge singers. Whether you go to Kmart or an expensive department store, all I see are risque outfits."
Some parents, like Carol Levey, a 40-year-old mother from Los Angeles, lamented that even her 5-year-old daughter has grown out of "frilly dresses and patent-leather shoes.
"She loves to wear short skirts and tops where the belly button shows," said Mrs. Levey. "What happened to my little girl?"
In response to fashion's new direction, dozens of schools around the nation, even elementary schools, have begun to enforce dress codes, said Mrs. Salzman.
"The fall fashions do worry me," said G.J. Tarazi, principal of Glasgow Middle School in Fairfax County, citing the bombardment of television ads from the likes of Levi's and others trumpeting low-rise jeans. He said he will be closely monitoring the situation this fall.
"Everyone is re-evaluating dress codes," said Steve Cantees, principal of DeSoto County High School in Arcadia, Fla., which last year established a committee, made up of students and teachers, to firm up a dress policy.
Midriffs and short shorts are banned.
"The problem is that the fashions are getting too provocative," he said. "My wife is even having problems shopping for our daughters in the third and fourth grade."
The young have always rebelled against more conservative dress codes in school, but in the past two years, school administrators say the looks are becoming overtly sexual. What's more disturbing, parents said, is that fashion marketers are going too far in chasing after the increasingly sophisticated tween.
Since 1999, retailers, such as Bloomingdale's and Macy's, have overhauled their departments, stocking up on styles that are miniature versions of adult looks. So far, the strategy has proven profitable.
In an effort to target the tween customer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. rolled out an exclusive line under Mary Kate and Ashley, named after the Olsen twins, TV teen stars. The line, which includes leather pants and studded midcalf boots, has done so well that the chain is doubling orders for fall, said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Susanne Decker.
Meanwhile, a slew of apparel manufacturers that target teens, such as Steve Madden and Paris Blues, have expanded their offerings to the preteen consumer.
At least one new department store resource, Crank2, which markets the label She's Charmed & Dangerous under 22 licenses, is taking a different direction. The line, which broke into 121 stores, including Macy's and Bloomingdale's, offers trendy, but not too edgy clothing.
"We have tank tops, but no spaghetti straps," said company President Robert Reda. "We don't have bare midriffs. We are showing bell-bottoms, not low-rise pants."
Wendy Leibmann, a New York-based trend consultant, expects a heated battle between parents and fashion retailers.
"It will be the question of how far can the retailers and how far can the parents go," she said. "Who will blink first?"
Mrs. Mortensen, who wants her daughter to look trendy, not trashy, says she won't spend her money if she finds nothing suitable on the racks."Retailers are forgetting that it is the parents that are paying for it," she said.
Plenty of retail executives insist they are providing enough of a balance.
"We make sure all of our clothes are age-appropriate," said Paula Damaso, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of tween retailer Limited Too. The chain uses 10 girls as fit models and consults with them and their mothers on clothing issues, she said.
As for the hipster pants, she said, "They are an inch below the waist. They just have a nice shape. They are not meant to show any skin."
Mrs. Mortensen expects that she and her daughter will have to make some compromises. Her daughter can wear short skirts — if they provide appropriate coverage.
Daughter Megan, who likes tight pants, miniskirts and tiny T-shirts, viewed that with resolve.
"I am going to have to do some persuading," she said.

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