Yeh Dhoomskirt hain, madam,” says the shop assistant, holding up a tiny flouncy skirt that rides up at the front, just like Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s did in Dhoom 2. I am looking for clothes for my seven-year-old daughter, and it seems harder than a quest for the holy grail. So far, there are few options: Bollywood-inspired skimpy tops, sequinned polyester horrors, vapid Disney characters or T-shirts with rude slogans such as ‘I am with Stupid’. My daughter has enough attitude already; do I really want her clothes to have attitude as well? “Yeh style hain (This is the style),” says a salesman when I complain that the T-shirts would barely cover her navel. “Kids want to display their midriffs.”
Ramp scorchers: Spotted at a recent children’s fashion show—asymmetrical skirts, tank tops and bare navels.
Welcome to the brave new world of children’s clothing, where kids are expected to be the mini-me of adults. Now you have birthday parties with Miss World or Bollywood themes, and six-year-olds in low-waisted jeans and high heels. The “Page 3” culture, peer pressure and parents with deeper pockets are teaming up to produce a generation of fashion plates who want to dress older than they are.
Psychiatrist Anjali Chhabria agrees kids are increasingly fashion conscious, but says that often it’s because they imitate their parents. “I see children who only want to wear branded, expensive clothing because their parents don’t wear anything else.” Meanwhile, parents are struggling to find ways to tackle the pester power of kids. “I am old-fashioned,” says Deepti Nair, mother of seven-year-old Ketaki. “My daughter would love to dress as flashily as possible, but I think children should be children. I think it’s vulgar for them to wear one-shouldered tops, high heels or cocktail dresses.” Nair’s daughter is still young enough to believe that mommy knows best, but parents with older children find they have to arrive at a compromise.
“I think if you make a big deal about their clothes, they rebel,” says Gitanjali Mehta Anand, who takes her children shopping for their clothes. Anand’s nine-year-old daughter, Tara, has definite ideas about what to wear, often preferring Goth-inspired black T-shirts with cheeky slogans. “I let her buy a T-shirt which said ‘God created the world in six days, and on the seventh day he said Shit!’,” says Anand. “But I made it clear that I didn’t like it. She wore it for a couple of weeks, and then she got bored of it.” But not everyone shares Anand’s approach. “I had a make-up party for my daughter’s fifth birthday where I helped the girls paint their nails,” says Danish Jathanna, mother of five-year-old Ishbel, “I thought it was harmless fun, but some moms were horrified.”
So, how do parents negotiate this minefield of modern parenting? Chhabria recommends the “firm, but kind” approach. “It’s perfectly natural for children to want to dress up or ape film stars and models, because there are so few role models for Indian children. Parents need to introduce children to different role models and genuine achievers.” This might mean regulating television programmes for younger kids. “I don’t let my daughter watch American teen shows like Hannah Montana and Raven, because then she wants to walk, talk and dress like the characters,” says Nair. But it’s a fine balance. “Parents should not be totally rigid, or you will end up with teens who leave the house in one outfit, then escape to their friends’ houses to change their clothes,” says Chhabria.
Yet some rules, Chhabria says, should be non-negotiable, even if there is peer pressure. “I don’t think kids should be wearing make-up, excessive jewellery and high heels while they are in school,” she says. “Put your foot down, and if they say that all their friends are wearing it, explain that the rules are different in your house.” As for branded clothing, an occasional treat is fine, says Chhabria, but in moderation. “If they want to wear branded clothing only, then there might be a problem with their self-esteem. Help them find other ways of improving their self-image.”
So, in the name of compromise, I have bought my daughter a Dhoom skirt, and let her wear it around the house, but not to school. I have kindly, but firmly, said no to rude T-shirts, high heels and crop tops. But, I have also gritted my teeth and promised to buy her some hideous leggings and sequinned jeans. After all, what’s growing up without a few fashion disasters?
The boys are becoming fashion conscious too
Mothers of boys have it a lot easier than girls. After all, there are only so many ways to wear a T-shirt and trousers. That said, boys are catching up with the girls.
Cartoon characters and Bollywood icons are big influences for the younger set, as are music and sports stars for older boys. “When he was three, Krish wanted to wear a cap and a leather jacket like Himesh Reshammiya, and now he wants to wear his shirt off his shoulders like Shah Rukh Khan,” says Kiran Manral, four-year-old Krish’s mother.
Parents of older boys have to put up with baggy clothes, low-waisted jeans, all-black ensembles and a marked preference for brand names such as Nike and Reebok. Shalini Sharma, mother of 12-year-old and 16-year-old boys, says: “Kids today are so much more aware of brand names than we were.” It’s cool to dress very casually, almost sloppily, in loose clothes on all occasions. “I let them wear what they want as long as it’s not obscene,” says Sharma. “I wouldn’t let them wear FCUK T-shirts, for instance, but shirts with pictures of rap stars are fine. I sometimes wish they would dress more neatly, but you have to give them some independence.” Manral admits to being shocked by her son’s interest in clothes, but argues that it’s mostly harmless, “When I was a child, my family couldn’t afford more than a few T-shirts. Perhaps we are being indulgent, but I don’t want to deprive my son of anything.”
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