New York They've got small bodies and even smaller allowances but children have big choices when it comes to clothes.
There are both trendy togs adapted from the hottest adult runway styles and durable garments that can withstand some of the unusual tests a toddler or elementary school student might put them through. Designers and retailers aim to blend the two together.
"Kids are understanding branding very early, for food, apparel and stores, and we want to be there," says Todd Howard, president of the Tommy Hilfiger Jeans division that includes childrenswear.
Children also are more design-savvy, leaving room in the closet for things other than T-shirts, jeans and hand-me-downs.
"Kids are more modern in their dress but, remember, younger parents also are modern in their dress and kids today have parents in their 30s and 40s," Howard says.
Fabrics are important
As children are exposed to more media and, therefore, more styles of dress, they process their likes and dislikes at a younger age, Howard says. One of the first decisions a child will make on his own is to refuse to wear something, he notes.
And the top reason children won't wear something isn't because it's not their favorite color, it's because the garment is uncomfortable, adds Betsy Thompson, spokeswoman for Talbots Kids.
Choosing the right fabric for a child's garment means careful consideration of the feel, the washing method and its life span.
But color is still very important, Thompson says. Girls today are in a purple phase, wearing every shade from violet to lilac, and they also seem to like yellow.
But it'll be a few years before mini fashionistas adopt black as part of their uniforms: "We do well with certain items in black, but it doesn't appeal to a little girl until she's old enough to see it as 'cool.' Parents don't like it because they see it as severe," Thompson says.
Primary colors are always "in" for boys. But the modern take is combining navy blue with yellow, gold, red or green stripes to look like athletic uniforms.
"Boys like a sporty flair," she says. "They like zippers and pockets, things that are gadgety but not fussy."
Girls, however, follow trends and even help set them from a young age.
For spring, Thompson predicts the man-style shirts (a la Calvin Klein women's runway show) that can be cinched or tied at the waist will be popular with girls, especially paired with bottoms that have embroidery or ribbon trim at the waistband or cuffs.
Florals are always a favorite, but, following adult fashion looks, the flowers will be big and splashy this season.
Like father, like son
Designing and manufacturing children's clothes is unique because there are two customers the parent and the child, says Jimmy Rosenfeld, president of Sean John Boys. (Fishman & Tobin, a company run by Rosenfeld's family for 88 years, holds the license for the line based on Sean "P. Diddy" Combs' Sean Jean men's collection.)
Sean John Boys uses similar silhouettes as the adult line but puts them in more kid-friendly fabrics, including velour and fleece, which easily pass shrinkage and colorfastness tests. Leather, a staple in adult fashion but less practical and more expensive, is reserved for trim and special details.
A velour running suit with cargo pockets is the top seller of the season, Rosenfeld says. Other key looks are a fur-trimmed jacket that comes straight from the men's line and colored denim.
The line is a combination of what Combs would wear and what he wants to see his sons in, Rosenfeld says.