Will it be the Earnest Sewn jeans, a Splendid top or a Lucy Sykes dress in a Liberty of London print?
That's the fashion decision facing many toddlers this morning. Yes, toddlers.
We've entered an age of mini-me dressing, with parents - particularly well-to-do and fashion-savvy parents - buying their children the labels, or at least the styles, they like to see on themselves.
Lucy Sykes, the jet-setting Manhattan socialite, freelance writer and designer of trendy tot togs, says that her splurges on her own 3 1/2-year-old son include a cashmere gray hoodie, Ferragamo trainers and those Earnest Sewn jeans that cost upward of $100.
"My husband says, 'My son has better jeans than me!"' Sykes recalled with a laugh.
But even the splurges are usually for practical items, she says, like the jeans that he wears several times a week. "I buy things that get worn. They're so expensive, I want to get use out of it."
Sykes notes that the four pairs of Tod's shoes her son had when he was an infant were all gifts. "They're gorgeous, but babies can't even walk yet," she observed. "They come from people who aren't parents."
Most of the time, though, it's the mothers who are fueling these purchases, although Deanna Inniss, owner of Freckle Face Boutique in Milwaukee's historic Third Ward neighborhood, has had pint-size shoppers as young as 2 offer their own opinions. More often than not, children feel more strongly about what they don't like, she says.
But it's not hard for mother and child to agree on something like a Splendid Littles T-shirt, Inniss reports. It's made from super-soft modal and pima cotton, which feels good against anyone's skin, regardless of age. Sure, a T-shirt costs $28 at Freckle Face, but the mother is used to paying double that for the adult version.
The premium segment of the infant, toddler and preschool market is worth $14.5 billion in apparel and another $1.6 billion in shoes, according to consumer strategist Michael Silverstein of The Boston Consulting Group and is growing at least 4 percent a year.
"Children's clothes are emotional to begin with. I sell a lot of mini versions of what mom and dad wear, but not in the bad way, not the way the junior market skews a little sexy. My clothes are sophisticated and tasteful. I'm basically speaking to the customer," Freckle Face's Inniss said.
At her shop, it is the upscale but not ultra-luxe products that sell best. "I have a lot of shoppers who are more conservative and think about what they're spending. Tea is a brand that does really great clothes at a great price point, and Splendid - ooh - it's so soft. ... I have some people who will get the Splendid T in every color and size. They love it, it feels great and it washes well," Inniss said.
Modern parents see their children as representatives of a lifestyle they've worked hard to achieve, adds Pilar Guzman, editor-in-chief of Cookie magazine, so it's no surprise that manufacturers and marketers recognize this link, too.
She points to the varied - and sometimes unexpected - labels that offer children's clothes: Burberry, Ralph Lauren, DKNY, Diesel and Roberto Cavalli. "Cavalli's surprising because it's a very adult and rock 'n' roll brand, but it's fitting because even rock stars have kids."
"The reality is, people are getting married later, having kids later. They have established likes and dislikes," Guzman said.
They also have higher incomes.
Sykes says she has working-mother friends who'd much rather spend their extra cash on their children or their homes instead of themselves. "They still want to look good, but that's not where the splurge is," she said.
"These are indulgences that can be justified because they're for the kids," Guzman agreed. "You buy a fancy stroller with high design because it has safety features and you buy expensive clothes because you can pass them on to the next kid."
She added: "Even regular minivan drivers in regular suburbs are buying Bugaboo strollers. These luxuries can be justified and not feel guilty about having. Mothers like to be sort of selfless in their spending, plus these things jazz up their day a little bit."
And analyst Silverstein notes that often it is more than one person fueling the spending. "The grandmother and grandfather have waited 35 years for this first grandchild and they too are affluent and have money to spend."
Inniss says she tries to offer a range of products, from everyday duds to party clothes, at a range of prices. The overall goal is to have clothes on the racks that look special, not what would be on the shelves of a mass retailer, explains Inniss, who previously worked in product development for Kohl's. Many of the items are exclusive to Freckle Face in the Milwaukee market.
Uniqueness also is what Cristie Schrader strives for with her label Nest, a year-old Seattle-based company.
"We do want to offer pieces that parents can keep as an heirloom," Schrader said. That means a combination of timeless, sophisticated designs and quality materials and construction. "You want to buy something for your oldest child and have it last for your little one," she added.
Among Nest's best-sellers are an eyelet wrap dress, a toddler trench coat and a tunic-style cotton onesie for babies. The onesie she described as "a new look but it's something that you'd never say is so last year."
"I think our customers dress that way themselves. I don't think they sit around and follow the trends. I think they know the key pieces," Schrader said. "I think they're smart."
Even Disney has seen the value of offering more subtle, more upscale baby products. The Walt Disney Signature and Classic Disney lines have a "Euro mentality," describes Donna Sheridan, vice president of apparel, accessories and footwear in North America. "It has a softer palette, pretty colors and cozy fabrics."
The Signature Line is built around the 1930s version of Mickey and Minnie in a delicate watercolor shades with minimal use of logos. Items include cashmere hoodies and blankets that cost upward of $100.
"You think about Disney, you think about nostalgia and memories. It's relevant to a mother who either wants to do the mini-me or do the nostalgia," Sheridan said.
Cookie's Guzman says that 21st century women have changed their shopping habits from scooping up scores of trendy items - whether they're top of the line or bargain basement - and instead opt for those few items that will update a classic wardrobe. They shop that way for their kids, too, she says.
"I'm not talking labels - Old Navy, Target, H&M have nice designs. You don't have to spend a lot of money," Guzman said. "But what you wear and what your kids wear is part of the family identity. It's not necessarily the money, it's more about the style."
Sykes, for example, teamed with Stride Rite for a new line of kiddie shoes. She says Stride Rite's reputation and technical know-how was a fit for her fashion twist.
The ad campaign launches this spring with the tagline "Perfect walks down the runway or school hallways."
Guzman sees it all as a "democratization of good taste."
"Most stylish people are proud to cross shop from high (prices) to low (prices) and they're doing it with their kids. The market allows for that," she said. "It used to be Carter's and Cacharel and nothing in between. That's not the case anymore."