The New Style Craze: Wearing Your Kids’ Clothes

Considering how chic and expensive kids’ clothes are becoming, it doesn’t seem all that far-reaching to see a designer outfit on a child and wonder if they have that in your size. Some top designers like Stella McCartney and now Diane Von Furstenberg are designing for kids nowadays, and while some ensembles are perhaps more appropriate for adults than children, the sophisticated design is still there. But when I read the The New York Times piece on fashionable “lithe-framed women” flocking to purchase designer kids’ clothes, I had to roll my eyes.

Athena Calderone is featured commenting on her signature style piece: a kids’ jean jacket from GAP. When describing how versatile and stylish the jacket is, she mentions that when people compliment her on the jacket, it’s an opportunity to brag about herself, specifically her weight:

“If people compliment you on the look,” she said, “it implies you’re slim and cool and crafty.”

Because nothing says jealousy-inducing glamor like being able to fit into your daughter’s sweaters and call it “crafty.” As if women don’t already have to confront enough misconceptions about weight and health through our culture’s constant emulation of double zero frames. Now apparently those sizes aren’t even small enough, as the new “cool” is being able to donne a child’s size 14 and be called “slim.”

We’re told that this trend is being followed by all kinds of fashionable women who just happen to find these sizes to fit better:

The children’s collection, sizes 2 to 14 (and up to 18 online), appeals to matchstick-slender types like the actress Kristin Chenoweth, who call herself a fan, and Jenne Lombardo, a branding consultant. Ms. Lombardo, a mother of three, shops at the chain for her sons, and for herself as well. She said she found the children’s line to fit better, and to be more distinctive, than Gap’s adult-size offerings.

That all may very well be true and as narrow-framed woman myself, I empathize with the need for clothing to fit — regardless of marketed size.  But upholding successful women who wear kids’ clothes as “chic,” and in a style section no less, implies that these types of child-sized frames on women are enviable — and not say coincidental.

Also, what are teenage girls supposed to make of this bit of style news? That they’re already over the hill at 16 because they no longer have a 14 year old’s gangly frame? That their developing figures are already being shunned by an industry that finds a size four repulsive?

And exactly how small are women getting these days anyway that a shopping trip for the kids also turns into a shopping opportunity for mothers? Even as someone who has thrown on a little girls’ cardigan from time to time, this is a fashion trend I can’t get behind.

(photo: Shutterstock)

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  • Zorbs

    I’ve been doing this for years. Don’t be jealous because you can’t fit into girl’s sizes. If it’s cheaper and stylish and doesn’t have words across the butt, what’s the big deal?!

  • CW

    “exactly how small are women getting these days anyway that a shopping trip for the kids also turns into a shopping opportunity for mothers?”

    I’m not at all anorexic-looking and have a healthy BMI at 20.1. When I was growing up in the 1980′s, there were tons of adult women the size I am now. But now with the obesity epidemic, it’s easier for me to find girl’s size 16′s that fit than adult clothes. Often stores don’t even carry anything below an 8 (and that’s a “vanity-sized” 8, which is what used to be a 12). I have a pair of GAP jeans from the early ’90′s that I wear for painting and other grungy tasks. They are marked an 8P and they are the EXACT SAME SIZE as today’s GAP 4P and also the modern girl’s 16.

    I’d rather not wear clothes designed for teenagers as an almost 35 y.o., but until stores resume selling smaller-sized adult clothing, that’s what I’m stuck doing.

  • petya

    i buy kids clothing for another reason: PRICE!!!

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  • angelica

    my size has been changing sicne last december. i went from a size 14 than losing 65 lbs, now i’m like a 3? i’m not even sure.

    i’m 15 and i dont feel confident in myself yet. the pressure society is leaving isn’t helping either.

  • Tracy

    I know a woman who sometimes buys girls pants & shoes (she can’t do tops because of her bust size), she’s not super thin or anything, in fact, she’s very curvaceous, it’s just that she’s so petite (4’11), that sometimes, the child’s clothing fits better! And it saves her from the inevitable length alterations that she would need otherwise. In her case, I completely understand, she’s short & has small feet, she does what she can, but I wouldn’t aim to be so skinny I’d have to shop in the kid’s section!

    • Jaye

      THANK YOU, Tracy!!! I fail to see what is so wrong with writing an article for petite women. And no, petite does not equal skinny. I am 5 feet tall, and I have spent my life feeling inadequate b/c the fashion industry caters to tall women. There aren’t that many clothing options for me out there that doesn’t require alterations, and many trends look ridiculous on someone of my height. So the NYT wrote an article about a fashion trend for people like me. So what? Not every article is written for everybody. I know that when I read articles about the fashions for the very tall. You should know that when you read articles for the short. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, including short. And yes, many short women can fit into kid’s clothes.

      And Kristen Chenowith is only 4’11 and is a very curvy, healthy woman. In no way can anyone say she has a childlike body.

  • RighttoWorkMom

    I’ll tell you the big deal. The big deal is that today’s mother who is buying herself clothes at the same stores she buys her children’s clothes is dangerously close to being tomorrow’s mother who tries to share her teenage daughter’s wardrobe. If you don’t have children, I really think the motivation is different. If you don’t have children and went to KidsGap (or whatever it’s called) to look for clothes for yourself, that’s an honest intention. However, if you went there because Junior needed school clothes and then said, “Hey! I would look just as good in this as he would!” Well, then there’s a problem.

    I admit this is not something I will ever have to worry about. I’m quite tall and slim for my height, but I’m not a waif by any means. However, I find some of the arguments in favor of this hard to believe. We live in an age when nearly every store in the world is available online, so I find it hard to believe that sizes are not available. Likewise, as a tall woman I can certainly sympathize with struggling to fnd something that is the appropriate length, but again, the internet provides you with endless options and a seamstress can take care of the rest.

    • CW

      I don’t buy clothes online because I can’t try them on to see how they actually look on me. Who wants the hassle of having to deal with returns? I’ve tried those “virtual models” that Lands’ End has but it’s still not the same as physically seeing the clothing on my body.

    • Leigha

      To judge a woman for “buying herself clothes at the same stores she buys her children’s clothes” is ridiculous. Not everyone buys clothes at stores that only have kids’ or adults’ sizes. Some people shop at Walmart or Target, or even Macy’s, Sears, JC Penney’s…all of which carry clothes for every age.

      Furthermore, clothing sizes are not that straightforward that you can just go online and go “Oh, this will fit.” Even with the sizing guides, it’s hard to be precise. I’m pretty sure those pants with a 30″ inseam I bought are really more like 29″, because they seem just a teensy bit on the short side. Some stores claim I should wear a small shirt, but their medium is almost too tight. And not EVERYONE can afford to buy five different sizes, try them on, and send the rest back, or to buy pants too long and get them altered. Some people can barely afford to buy the clothes in the first place.

      And I think you overestimate how hard it is to find small clothes. Even shopping at teenager-y sorts of stores (like Aeropostale), I can’t always find the sizes I need, and they’re really the only stores I usually can (which is fine for now, since I’m 21, but I’m not looking forward to trying to dress like an adult at 5′ 2″). Jeans are okay, because most of those places have short/regular/tall options, but other stores (like the bigger stores I mentioned before) usually do not. Shirts are more difficult because they seem to be made to fit very, very tight and I don’t find that comfortable (even with my small size, I’ve seen places on the internet where the size chart said I would need a large or an extra large, which is downright ridiculous since I can still fit into a size 16 in kids, though not ideally). Sweatpants are nearly impossible. I have found precisely one store that carries them with a short inseam, and they’re the type of pants I care most about fitting right. (Dress pants are also a pain.)

      I’m lucky right now. I can wear juniors clothes without judgment. But I feel sorry for the people who are past the age where it becomes acceptable to look down on them for it, when they really are the only feasible option. As for actual kids’ clothes, I try to avoid that because I still remember being the only one in high school who had to wear them and I hated it, but I could wear them if I wanted to. Sometimes I’m half-tempted, when I pass by that section and see something particularly cool looking that no one would ever be able to tell was kids’ clothes. I don’t think people should be judged for that if they decide to do so. If they like the clothes, and they fit, they should be allowed to wear them no matter what the label says.

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  • Emily

    I’m 19 and I still buy clothes in the children’s department. I see nothing wrong with that, considering that I’m 5’1″ and 95 pounds. I can’t help that I have short legs and small feet. I just take advantage of what I can, as I usually struggle finding clothing that fits me correctly, even in the junior’s department.

    • Lana

      Exactly! I don’t understand the criticising tone of this article. I don’t wear kids clothes to follow a trend or so I can brag about it. I wear a girls size 14 because IT FITS! And it’s CHEAPER. Win-win situation. I’m 26, 5’1 and 100 pounds with only a 32A bra size. Guess what, I’m not anorexic. I’m just SHORT. The fashion industry does not make clothes for people my size. Except for in the girls department.

    • Agnes Kim

      Lana (and others who have commented), I don’t call that short, you are a miniature woman. Smaller in size, but proportionate. I have the same problem as you guys. Now in my mid to late 30′s, I really don’t want to wear little girls cloths, but that is the only affordable alternative. The other alternatives are luxury boutiques (they size smaller) or alterations. I can’t afford either one. I have learned to do some alterations myself, but I also rely heavily on the girls department. I am also cursed with a taste for classic and feminine and I spend my days trying to look credible and respectable in front of classrooms full of young adults.

      One good thing about the growth in girth of the entire population (at least for us) is that little girls have become more curvy. I used to have problems with the girl’s cloths fitting around the hips but being wide around the waist, but I have recently found a girl size 10 skirt at Walmart that fits a grown woman’s curves perfectly.

  • Michelle

    I disagree with this article. I am not waif-like by any means, but I fit into a size 12 at some children’s stores. In adult sizes, I am a size 2-6 depending on the store, but most definitely not a double zero. Being only 5′ tall means adult sizes generally are always too long and most of the time, proportions are off because of the excess length. Buying clothes at a children’s store doesn’t mean I think I’m cool and chic because I can fit into smaller clothes, it means I think I’m cool and chic because I can find clothes that fit and look nice!

  • schrodie

    Try being very slim, yet tall. I’m just over 5’8″, not quite 5’9″ and have a very slender bone structure. I’m also a little underweight due to a medical condition that’s being dealt with but I’ll never be able to ‘beef up’ much. (No, it’s NOT an eating disorder!). I can’t find ANYTHING that fits properly. Petites and kids sizes are just too short in leg and sleeve, even though they may fit around my frame just fine.
    Back in ‘the day’, in the early 80′s, I was a size 8. That was a bit smaller than average (size 10), but still within the ‘normal curve’. Now, I find size zero items that are larger than those ‘vintage’ size 8 clothes. They’re also shorter. Pants are ridiculously hard to find. Kid sized clothes may fit my waist and hips, but they’re FAR too short. Worse, retailers generally only order one or two size zero slacks, and they’re almost never ‘talls’. When you have teeny-tiny sales people that snap them up as soon as they hit the receiving dock, then the customers lose out because these items never hit the sales floor. And having worked in retail, I know this happens an awful lot! Retailers order an abundance of the best-selling sizes which may or may not be the ‘average’ size. Best sellers are in the range of a modern 8 to a 14. The rationale is that if these items don’t move at the regular price, they will move at a sale price. Even if they don’t, then they will go to a seller down the value chain, such as Marshall’s or TJ Maxx or Burlington– then on to the consignment and thrift stores.
    Ever wonder why you see so many of these sizes in such places? Now you know. The ‘outliers… the very large and the very small sizes, especially the smalls, don’t sell as well so the stores might only order one or two and they sell at full price, and the store doesn’t lose money on a bunch of things that don’t sell. This is why it seems like the smalls sell out faster– it’s because there are fewer of them to begin with. Same with the ‘plus sizes’… fewer of them means less availability. If you are also taller or shorter than average, you face the same problem, even if you are a ‘popular’ size otherwise. It’s very frustrating! If you are BOTH tall (or short) AND larger or smaller around than the mainstream, you are just about out of luck altogether. This explains why people on the ends of the size spectrum (and this applies to men as well) have such a hard time. The clothes just aren’t there in the first place. It’s not that ‘nobody makes things’ for people like us; it’s that the retailers don’t keep them around in sufficient quantities.

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