- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 11, 2002

Children, perhaps, are the only ones to embrace advancing age which the fashion world well understands.

"Girls, by and large, aspire upward," says Robert Atkinson, spokesman for the national boutique Limited Too, which stocks clothing aimed at girls ages 7 to 14. "They want to dress like their older sister or the girl across the street."

His 484 stores 10 in the metro area interpret junior trends for the slightly younger customer, he says.

"We study closely what's going on in the juniors market and try to interpret it for the somewhat younger customer, knowing that mom is very influential in those apparel decisions," he says. "Anything we have in our store that doesn't pass muster with mom probably isn't going to be in the shopping bag when the customer leaves the store."

Limited Too achieves this objective, Mr. Atkinson explains, by widening spaghetti straps, bringing up necklines, and meeting the body of shirts with their belt lines, for example.

"She may enjoy watching [pop singer] Britney Spears on TV, but that doesn't mean she wants to dress like her," he says. "When she goes off to school, she wants to look like everyone else on the playground."

Sue Daoulas of Northwest Washington has a 13-year-old son named Arthur and a 12-year-old daughter named Arianna. Ms. Daoulas says she permits her children to make their own clothing selections within reason.

"I reject clothes for my daughter that are too revealing or suggestive. She can't dress like she's 16 when she's 11 or 12. It's really difficult to buy clothes because they're made to look like they belong on me a 40-year-old mom or they look like they belong on Britney Spears," she says.

Some of these clothes, Ms. Daoulas says, are partly made of spandex knit and "adhere to every curve and shape. It's absolutely inappropriate for her to wear some of the clothes out there. We argue in the sense of the word that I say, 'No, that's inappropriate.'"

Ms. Daoulas says she believes peer pressure plays into girls' choice of clothing.

"Girls are more conscientious about dressing like everyone else," she says. "It's harder to be different. Most of [Ariannas] close friends do not dress suggestively … but when we're out shopping, we see lots of girls who dress that way."

The subject of inappropriate dress is one that Vienna psychotherapist Judith Mueller discusses frequently with clients who are parents.

"Oh, boy, do I hear a lot about that," she says. "How does a mother counsel a daughter about the dress code or standard of school-age-appropriate-in-hallways clothing? The bottom line is, 'That's not OK with me; I'm not buying it.' That's what they can do. And then what happens? Girls change clothes, leaving things in their lockers. Who knows who's wearing what?"

Ms. Mueller suggests parents send "love messages" to their daughters to encourage them to dress appropriately.

"You do it from the 'We're so proud of you, we don't want you endangered' point of view," she says.

Ms. Mueller says parents need to tell children they understand how important clothing and being cool are to them, but that they don't want others judging them solely on their outside package.

She suggests saying, "You are so much more valuable in your entirety than is conveyed by these clothes that limit a boy's understanding of who you are. We think you may get hurt, because people are only looking at a small fraction of who you are, and we don't want you to be hurt."

New Jersey retailer Digna Rodriguez-Poulton says she is distressed by the trend of dressing girls in "a very adult, provocative fashion."

Ms. Rodriguez-Poulton owns a shop called Daisy & Lilly, which she stocks with fashionable attire aimed at "tweens," or girls ages 8 to 12.

"I see what the girls are looking for," she says. "They want that older look. They are bombarded with images of beautiful girls looking very sexy and mature. I love fashion and have been in it for well over 20 years, but I think it's appalling that 10-year-old girls are dressing like 20-year-old girls."

To that end, her shop does not offer some of the trendier and more provocative items being sold to young girls, Ms. Rodriguez-Poulton says.

"The big thing in fashion right now is the very low-ride pant," she says. "We don't do that. Pleather pants for this age group we do not do that." Nor does the store carry dresses styled for a young woman or even belly-button jewelry.

"I venture to say that if you walk into a national retailer, there are things your daughter shouldn't wear," Ms. Rodriguez-Poulton says. "You have to become discerning and have the conversations with your children. If you treat these girls intelligently, they get it. What they don't like is 'Because I said so.' Instead, 'It just doesn't look like you it looks like you're trying to look like someone else.'"

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