- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 19, 2001

Even Mr. Blackwell knows a pierced navel when he sees one. When the irreverent fashion critic put Britney Spears at the top of his 41st annual "Worst Dressed Women" list this year, he brought attention to a trend that is frustrating some parents who have preteen daughters.
"Its hard to find clothes in my daughters sizes that arent revealing or so tight they show every line," says Teresa Branic of Fresno, Calif., who has two daughters, Jennifer, 9, and Stephanie, 11.
Branic and Kay Gonzalez of nearby Clovis, who have three daughters — Emerald, 11, Shannyn, 10, and Alyson, 8 — worry that younger girls may feel pressured to wear the skimpy styles popular among teen-agers.
"You see 8-year-olds who look like 13-year-olds and 13-year-olds who look like theyre 20," Mrs. Gonzalez says. "Youll be at the mall and see a girl with tons of makeup and her hair done up, and then you realize shes just a child."
The Pied Pipers leading this sensuous fashion parade are pop-singing sensations like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, who ranks sixth on Mr. Blackwells current worst-dressed list.
Mr. Blackwell describes Miss Spears this way: "Oops, she did it again. Her bra-topped collection of Madonna rejects are pure fashion overkill."
As for Miss Aguilera, Mr. Blackwell says, "Is she a boring and body-baring bungle — or just auditioning for 'Sheena, Queen of the Jungle?"
The Gonzalezes see little humor in a fashion trend they feel is robbing girls of a part of their childhood.
Every generation clashes with its elders over clothes, says Mr. Gonzalez, but these days the clashes seem to be happening at a much younger age. "Girls are losing their innocence way too early," he says.
Clothing designers pay close attention to what children are watching on television and in movies, says Alan Rudominer, vice president of the childrens and junior divisions for Gottschalks department stores. "They are attuned to whats on MTV, and they know who the hot stars are," he says.
Those influences are just part of the picture. Designers also watch what is happening in Europe and what people are wearing to the beach. They also look at what has sold well in the past in an effort to deliver fashions that catch the eyes of buyers.
"Girls are very modest about their bodies," Mr. Rudominer says. "When we bring in merchandise, we know they dont want to show their bellies. If there is a Britney Spears influence on girls clothing, its a very modified version, something mothers can live with."
Its a different story in the juniors department, where styles are aimed at teen-agers and college students and show more shape and skin.
The bare-midriff tops favored by Miss Spears are available wherever junior fashions are sold, says Melissa Llanes, a manager at Express, a womens clothing store in Fresno. Miss Llanes says teens and college students also like bikini-fit pants, designed to show off body jewelry around the tummy.
The revealing tops worn by teens and young adults arent appropriate for preteens, she says, adding, "I remember when I was 12, my dad would never have let me wear something like that."
At Hot Topic, a Fresno store specializing in fashions inspired by the music industry, you can buy a shirt with "Spear Britney" on the front. But you also can find a variety of hip clothes ranging from punk to hip-hop.
Manager Isaac Escobar says the clothing appeals to shoppers in the 12 to 26 age range. "Some younger girls will buy glitter makeup and gems for the eyes, but most of our clients are junior high age and up."
Erika Guzman, 20, had her navel pierced during a trip to Las Vegas in January. She likes to wear trendy pants, but prefers to design her own shirts rather than wear bare-midriff tops.
"To look like Britney Spears, youve got to be in great shape and have a positive head on your shoulders," says Miss Guzman, a secretary/receptionist for the Barbizon Modeling Agency in Fresno. She says younger girls pay attention to what teens and young adults are wearing.
"I have a lot of cousins who look up to me," Miss Guzman says. "They listen to Britneys music, but they dont wear provocative clothing. They like to show their personality by wearing things with rhinestones.
"Parents still have a big influence. When I was growing up, my mom bought all my clothes. Its up to parents to draw the line."
What do you do if your preteen daughter takes a detour from the girls section to juniors and wants to buy something that would make Mr. Blackwell blush — or blanch?
"I say, 'Put it back," Mrs. Gonzalez says. "My daughters and I are getting better at compromising. They know what Im going to say 'no to."
Parents need to communicate openly and honestly with their daughters about clothes, says Susan Van Vlack, a school psychologist for the Fresno Unified School District and the mother of two daughters, ages 14 and 11.
"The influence of pop stars like Britney Spears will always be around," she says. "But there are lots of other positive role models girls can focus on."
* Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

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