When I was about nine, I dreamed of owning a particular pair of leggings (particularly frigging awful). They were white, and featured the words ‘New York’, ‘Paris’ and ‘London’ in hideous splattered neon 80s fonts. They made my legs look like sad graffitied sausages, and I somehow managed to make it all even worse by accessorising them with a tubby puppy-fat belly, a Joe Cool T-shirt, a bowl cut and slip-on shoes.
The way things are now, though, I realise that this was a Look. I could have started a pre-adolescent fashion blog full of rainbow unicorn GIFs and become a style icon overnight. But back then there was no internet, and fashion was only for rich and famous models. So I just went home to watch The Littlest Hobo and arrange my collection of scented erasers.
Today, however, for even very young girls, the assimilation of high fashion into the high street means they all have an awareness of and longing for brands that I never knew existed. (The only brand I, aged nine, was familiar with was Mattel, or at a push, Tizer.) Style is everything now, whether you’re old or young, rich or poor. It’s no good for a girl to just be wearing clothes. According to all magazines, what you wear must contribute to the creation of a Look, even if it’s just a onesie and a pair of Uggs. You don’t wear things, you ‘work’ them. It’s a job. Actually, for some people it can be. And it starts early.
Take Tavi Gevinson, whose blog Style Rookie made her an official fashionista – at the age of 11. Rather than seeing a kid playing dress up, the fashion set saw a lucrative sartorial fearlessness. US Vogue’s Anna Wintour even took time out from hissing at the maid to pose for some (almost) maternal photos with her.
Then there’s fashion embryo Suri Cruise, doyenne of the designer ensemble at the tender age of six. With the sense of entitlement of a Park Avenue princess, Suri can usually be found having a mega meltdown outside a boutique fro-yo shop while clacking around on Marc Jacobs heels. It doesn’t help that the crap mags were commenting on her style before she was old enough to hold a silver Tiffany rattle (see also Harper Beckham); it all becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, with copycat parents dressing their kids’ fat nappies in D&G leopard print and diamond-studded tulle.
At the other end of the scale there’s the sludgy runoff: the rampant Kardashians, whose latest starlet-in-waiting is the 17-year-old Kendall; 0r redneck pageant toddler Honey Boo Boo, lurching from one sponsorship deal to another, unable to do anything but be looked at and evaluated. All of these scenarios point to one thing: an exaggerated awareness of ‘style’ that seems horribly out of step with childhood.
Stylish and sensible
Grotesque pushy mothers and offspring aside, does the world’s obsession with fashion mean that our kids are doomed? Are they more likely to grow into highly sexualised, superficial style bores who never learn any real-world skills? Or could they just be having (gulp!) more fun than we did?
Maybe we need to look again to Tavi Gevinson for inspiration. Now 16, she’s turned her blog into a teen magazine, with guest contributors such as Lena Dunham and Sarah Silverman. Instead of becoming a fashion muppet, she’s already delivered her first TED talk, released a book, and Lady Gaga reckons she’s the future of journalism.
So instead of worrying about young girls’ moral development, perhaps we should be worrying that they’re going to outsmart us. And I already know they look LOADS better than I did in those sausage leggings.