Four years ago when Andrea Frost’s daughter was an infant, clothes were among the obstacles that came with new motherhood.
“There just wasn’t anything around for my baby to wear that I could tolerate,” says Frost, who vehemently dislikes pastels, bears (with the occasional exception made for a vintage Care Bear design) and any Disney or other character associated with big corporations.
There didn’t seem to be any toddler Clash T-shirts or onesies calling George W. “president poopyhead.” So she made them. Now the Portland, Ore., mom’s business Babywit caters to people who want “something cutting-edge, hip and hilarious for the radical kids in their lives.” In short, parents who want to put their youngsters in something they wouldn’t mind wearing.
It seems more and more people are hopping on Frost’s bandwagon and marketing pint-sized versions of adult tastes. It’s down with Barney and up with the black CBGB onesies. Out with the primary colors and pastels and in with cool, contemporary children’s furniture. There are now lullaby cover versions of songs by rock bands such as Coldplay, Nirvana, Pink Floyd, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Bob Marley. Even Gymboree is being challenged by hip events such as Baby Loves Disco dance parties, which are held at popular night clubs (but during the day).
To Robert Lanham, author of "The Hipster’s Guide," a tongue-in-cheek look at the world of the up-to-the-minute urbanite, this is a natural evolution. “As more and more [of the Gen X and Gen Y parents] get older the inevitable question is: Can I still maintain my hip credential and be a parent?” says Lanham. The conclusion many parents reach, he surmises, is that while it may not work out perfectly at least they can hang on to some shred of coolness through their children.
Or maybe they even believe they can increase their coolness.
Kid as accessory?
Think Angelina and Zahara with matching designer handbags. Or just the average mom decking her kid out in the latest alternative band T-shirt or hot gear.
“I really think a lot of people buy cool clothes for their kids because it’s sort of this idea ‘you may not be cool, but your baby can be,’” says Frost. “That’s kind of how I felt.”
But is it really cool for the kids? Are celebs and others just using offspring as the latest “in” accessory, instead of a big purse or a Chihuahua?
Both Frost and Neal Pollack, author of "Alternadad," a memoir of life as a new father, and creator of offsprung.com (tagline: Your life didn’t end when you became a parent), think maybe there’s the inclination to do this but it doesn't really work that way in reality. “Why would you want an accessory who throws himself down on the floor of the restaurant? Some accessory,” says Pollack.
He says edgier kid gear and more adult-friendly youth events and music should simply be viewed as a breath of fresh air. He theorizes that the trend is a backlash, a reaction to the idea that once you have a kid your life must be entirely consumed with Thomas the Tank Engine and scrapbooking baby’s every BM.
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Over the last 15 years or so there’s been a proliferation of hyper-parenting, he maintains, and what we’re seeing now is merely parenting done the new way.“It’s good for kids to have culturally relevant parents and see them having fun,” says Pollack, who formed a punk rock band shortly after his son was born.
According to developmental psychologist Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, director of the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia University in New York, a change in the flavor of Kiddy World is predictable.
“If I had my druthers kids would still wear smocks,” she says. “But each generation is going to do something a little different.”
Furthermore, if you rewind and take a look at the baby pictures of yore, says Brooks-Gunn, you’ll see that very often children were dressed like little adults of the day. Since popular culture looks edgier today, so will our kids.
What about using your tot to advertise your taste in music or politics, though?
As long as it doesn’t glorify and condone drinking — for example, Brooks-Gunn would not recommend Babywit’s onesie that says, “My mama drinks because I cry” — or use terms that you wouldn’t encourage your child to use (such as poopyhead), she doesn’t care.
Punk concerts? Disco parties instead of Gymboree? Watching fire dancers in lieu of Sesame Street?
“I think our children deserve to be brought up in their parents real and child-friendly worlds,” says Ariel Gore, a mother of two and author of "The Hip Mama Survival Guide," a book that answers questions such as whether mothers with nipple piercings can nurse. “If I’m a punk rocker or I’m really into Hungarian folk dancing or I’m a first-generation immigrant and that’s who I am, why should I have to leave that behind and raise my kid in some generic middle class American reality that doesn’t feel authentic to me?”
Brooks-Gunn says you don’t have to. Children thrive when parents are having fun and engaging them. “Enrichment activities help broaden children’s view of the world and they’re wonderful learning experiences,” she says. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Bach or an alternative band. If you’re talking about it with your kids and you’re asking what they think about it, it’s great.”
While she’s concerned that kids are being bombarded with messages about buying the latest cool stuff, she says whether that stuff has a mini-adult look or a Barney face, it’s all the same. Kids with crazy haircuts and parents with tattoos don’t rattle her either.
“If I’m concerned about something it won’t be about clothes or haircuts. It will be about parents not engaging children, not talking about views, not taking them places. There are a lot of ways not to be a great parent, this is not one of them,” says Brooks-Gunn.
Dora is cool to kids
Lanham, however, worries that if parents are turning their kids into pop tots because they think the result will be better, they may be disappointed. “If you think that your kid is going to pick up hipness through being in contact with a hipper aesthetic, you’re just delusional. Face it. Kids much prefer a Dora the Explorer shirt than a Wilco or CBGB shirt,” he says.
Edward Christophersen, a psychologist at the Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., says it’s really about balance and perspective.
“The most important thing to a kid is stability, not coolness,” says Christophersen.
Indulging in hipster events, music and clothes can be fun and interesting but, overall, kids should be left to develop their own culture, he says. “Clothes and music don’t make the kid and they shouldn’t be the highlight of the child’s life. The highlight should be bedtime and other important rituals.”
But Frost isn’t giving up. She just had her second child and is hard at work on her latest creation: the anti-princess dress. “It’s made locally with organic cotton; it’s really comfy but it’s hip,” she says.
And you can twirl in it. Twirling will always be cool.
Victoria Clayton is a freelance writer based in California and co-author of "Fearless Pregnancy: Wisdom and Reassurance from a Doctor, a Midwife and a Mom," published by Fair Winds Press.
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