Remember the days when you used to go to the department store and as long as the top and the shorts were both orange, you bought 'em? Well, no more. Nowadays, really young kids (we're talking 4-year-olds) are developing a very strong fashion sense of their own, and not just in New York, but all across the U.S.
Fashionistas are coming in smaller and smaller sizes. Today, kids and clothes go hand-in-hand.
Elyse Kroll runs The Children's Club, the largest children's trade show in the United States. According to Kroll, more and more designers are targeting little ones.
"A lot of players in the contemporary market have sized down and produced collections for, you know, ages zero to 3, 7 to 14, and it's a growing market," explains Kroll. "It's shoes. Spa. Lounge. Dressy. Denim. Outerwear. Everything."
There are adult-type clothes with adult-type prices and labels: Juicy Couture bomber jackets and fancy denim from Diesel. Even Madonna has a new line for kids, and pint-sized consumers eat it right up. Of course, adults like this stuff, too, and that's just what the designers are counting on.
But Nicole Novick has a problem. Her 4-year-old daughter, Jessica, and best friend Shayla have their own highly developed sense of style.
"We go late to school a lot because of tantrums over what to wear and the right shoes," says Novick, adding that ever since Jessica was 2 years old, she has had to have shoes that match the outfit. Jessica is a regular clothes horse.
"She talks about 'sexy' all the time," says her mother. "She likes sexy clothes. She likes preferably no straps. Halter straps. She wants to dress the sexier, the better."
Does that worry Novick as a mom? After all, Jessica is 4 years old.
"Yeah, absolutely," she confirms.
So where does Jessica get her taste for sexy clothes? From music videos? Movie stars? Children of celebrities?
One answer might surprise you.
"I think Barbie," says Novick. "The dresses, the clothing. They're not just called 'Barbies.' They're called 'Fashion Barbies.' "
An even bigger rule seems to be: If best friend Shayla likes it, so does Jessica. An early form of peer pressure, perhaps? Hard to say. But one thing's for sure: Looking good doesn't come cheap.
On a recent shopping trip, the first outfit Jessica picked consisted of a skirt that cost $62 and a jacket for $98. "So $160," says her mother. "And she'll get, what? Eight weeks out of this?"
So will Novick buy the outfit for her daughter? Is $160 too much?
"Yes, it is," replies Novick. "It's a very hard call after the (sales)woman hands it to her and says, 'Here. Try it on.' And she says, 'I love it, I love it! It's pink!' It's a very hard call."
Nancy Samalin, a parenting expert and author of four books, including "Loving Without Spoiling," believes that saying "No" when a child is young prevents kids from growing into unpleasant adults later.
"Parents need to know the difference between what kids need and what they want," Samalin says, adding, "An unhappy child is not an unloved child. A child will be temporarily unhappy when you say no… It's not only OK; it's necessary. I mean, kids really do need to hear 'no' sometimes… because we are bringing up a generation of kids who have this huge sense of entitlement."
But with so much commercialism, saying "no" is an almost constant battle.
Advises Samalin, "You, as a parent, have a job; not a dirty job, but a tough job, and that job is to be unpopular with your kids."
Of course, parents need to remember that it's not just about what the kids want. It's being able to resist your own temptations, too. And with cuties like your kids, that may be the hardest part.
Murphy says, in the process of doing this story, some interesting points were raised. For example, what do you do when your child wants to wear what they want to wear, whether it's sexy clothes or clothes outside of your budget? One parenting expert said to remember one very important thing: You are the parent. In the end, you are the one who is ultimately responsible for your child, and you can say "no."
In fact, you should say "no" sometimes, because children need limits.