The Savvy Child

The Savvy Child

In the latest issue of Pop magazine which is dedicated to 90’s super model Stephanie Seymour, sex appeal, va-va-voom and a body that quite literally goes in and out in an almost cartoonish way (Katie Grand compares Seymour to Jessica Rabbit), it seemed almost incongruous to have this editorial ‘Angelic Upstart’ shot and styled by Manuela Pavesi in it. It features a child no more than seven years old I would guess, styled in a sort of elegant bag lady and simultaneously childish and ladylike way. Having posted similar editorials where children are depicted wearing couture etc on the blog, the reaction has generally been of disapproval and that it is deemed uncomfortable to see children dressed in such a way. However, I think this editorial touches on a whole other issue that provokes some thought in the changing state of fashion in the 21st century, whether you agree with having children dolled up in this way or not.

It strikes me that the the editorial seems to be pointing out that mere children or tweenagers ARE getting into fashion that much earlier. Me at 11 yrs old, still wearing Micky Mouse tracksuit bottom sets bought from Ladies Market in Hong Kong. Tween of the same age hanging around in the Chanel store in Selfridges with her mother wearing a Topshop satin dress over Cheap Monday jeans and vintage heels (3 inch ones at that…) and yes swinging around a Chanel 2.55 bag. We now have 15 year olds styling photoshoots, younger fashion enterprisers (Kira Plastinina is the name that is abound at the moment…) and bloggers.

That isn’t bitterness. Fairplay that there is savviness abound amongst tweens in a way that I never witnessed growing up and certainly never had the smarts to do when I was that age. This doesn’t just apply to fashion though, as similarly I saw some ish promising music coming from a band that had the average age of about 11 with a similarly aged fanbase decked out in outfits that were from my perspective, pretty spot on, leaving me baffled as to what has happened to that ‘dodgy/naff clothing stage’ that supposedly tweens/teens go through. Back to the editorial though, the clothes are also mostly vintage which got me thinking about the aforementioned fashion savviness of the young ones that now does effectively mean certain 13 year olds are referencing Criterion DVDs and injecting the sort of thought and intellect in their outfits which I never imagined doing at the same age. They raid Annie’s Vintage and Cloud Cuckoo Land for Victorian petticaots and hope to channel Louise Brooks.

Don’t mistake this for a rant as it is merely an observation that fascinates someone like me who is a fan of style formed around an array of inspirations that trascend the basic structure of trends. These are merely thoughts expounded from a series of images that I may have over-analysed. Oh well.


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  1. riz

    2008-01-31 at 3:19 PM

    Love this bit: “a fan of style formed around an array of inspirations that trascend the basic structure of trends…” here here! What did you think of the MJ Dakota Fanning ads??? Really curious…

  2. Leah

    2008-01-31 at 3:27 PM

    Hmm, I do think “children” (I am wary of this term because being 16, I could technically be called a child, despite not feeling “child-like” much of the time) are getting into fashion earlier. I can’t say I’ve seen many children swinging a Chanel bag around though.
    Maybe it’s because they aspire to be older/grown up? Maybe it’s because fashion/music etc culture is more accessible due to the internet? It could be a combination of many things and whether it’s good or bad, I’m not sure.

  3. Laia

    2008-01-31 at 3:40 PM

    I love shoots like this because people always get up in arms about it, though I doubt any lame people that get offended by little girls in makeup read POP. I just always see it as a reproduction of the way we all played dress up with our mom’s clothes when we were kids.
    And honestly if you think about it, it’s a shame that kids probably don’t get to do that anymore because no one needs to entertain themselves anymore by playing dress-up when they have video games and computers and all that kind of stuff. My mom always read fashion magazines so I was always into fashion, but even then I was still a kid and wore horrifying things which my mom let me wear because she was awesome.
    Sorry for the rant, I swear there’s a point in there somewhere.

  4. Emily

    2008-01-31 at 3:45 PM

    De-lurking for this one…
    I wouldn’t say I was a “fashion savvy child” but I did love fashion and watching my mother dress and LOVED playing dress up and make up. My mother usually indulged me and would make me and my friends and family friends’ children in her vintage hats and “grown up” makeup and would take pictures eerily similar to those you posted. I don’t know that these pics are quite representative of children “growing up too fast” but rather they look like normal explorations of dressing up to look like (perhaps idealized) mommy or doll.

  5. The Clothes Horse

    2008-01-31 at 4:02 PM

    Part of me is admittedly jealous of the very young who are super stylish, since I definitely had my awkward bad fashion phase. But another part of me just sees the we are all growing up too fast. I was more precocious than my parents were, they were always sad the way I seemed to know “adult” things at a very young age. I’m beginning to understand that now. There is something to being a child and still being innocent. Though I think this applies to the more under 15 set. I dressed rather blindly when I was younger (and still into fashion), but in a very creative, oftentimes unique and completely alone way. I had more fun because I wasn’t conscious of influences or in or out, now I tend to over-analyze everything and be very aware of what others are wearing and how they respond to me…I guess what I am trying to say is that I wish people wouldn’t try to grow up so fast (although every generation seems to despair about this).

  6. Noel

    2008-01-31 at 4:09 PM

    Whaaaat these girls are practically my sister’s age!
    I alternated between dressing up in tutus and wearing lime green hand-me-downs from Asia.

  7. Drusilla

    2008-01-31 at 4:20 PM

    Truthfully, those pics remind me of stiff, uncomfortable-looking me as a child/adolescent (though I like them for that very reason). Kids these days (and here’s where I start giving my age away) are just exposed to a wider range of influences, often via TV and the Internet, than what was around when we were the same age.
    But then the question remains: how are these kids so savvy, and who are they taking their inspirations from in the first place? The answer still remains: from older people, whether those older people are teenagers or older yet. And it’s a very tiny minority that actually does this, I think…sometimes just enjoying your morning cartoons is not to be sniffed at. Plus, the fact that fashion loves youth- even extreme youth- isn’t exactly a secret.

  8. Suzanna

    2008-01-31 at 4:50 PM

    The first photo reminds me very much of Brooke Shields in the film Pretty Baby. Speaking of Brooke, in the last seventies she was at the center of a debate on this very issue. I recall it as being quite polarizing, and I suppose it planted the seeds for the coming later (and far greater) debate about children’s beauty pageants, which reached its heated apex with the Ramsey case.
    Although I do not find these pictures offensive (and the idea of the Young Bubble bopping around with Chanel is simply charmant!), I do know that Internet culture has created a monster in today’s kids. Cruising around MySpace is like cruising around a lookbook for pedophiles; girls of 11 and 12 are posing in sexually provocative ways they have copied from their peers (witness the latest Miley Cyrus photos). This behavior then spreads exponentially; these children then take their clues from an international assembly of other children doing exactly the same thing. Pose provocatively or be left behind, the message is saying.
    Unfortunately, this is a natural manifestation of the human need to fit in. In the seventies it was pot, today it is self-exploitation taking the form of overly sexualized imagery. The overwhelming impulse is a demand for harmony among the group, not self-preservation.
    Why can’t we just go back to spraining our ankles in our mother’s stilettos?
    Great post, S.

  9. Dustcakeboy

    2008-01-31 at 5:18 PM

    Abhor that Plastinina although one has to hand it to her, she’s certainly aware of how to market her tat.
    Whatever the case may be, whether personal style and sartorial savviness is developing from an earlier age or not, I am all for dressing kids up in eds, that cutey rocks the Morticia Addams lolita look.

  10. Jeff

    2008-01-31 at 5:29 PM

    I love your posts, they just get better and better 😉
    My cousin is growing up now and she is really getting into the whole fashion thing…

  11. Biba

    2008-01-31 at 5:30 PM

    I have nothing against children playing “dressing up” and being photographed at it, i did it, this images does no not look too bad because it’s clear the kid is just playing grown up. My problem is and i agree with you Susie ,when this dressing like a grown up translate to real life, I’ve seen some shocking dressed kids here in London and no I do not think it’s healthy.
    Fashion is about awareness of a lot of things, I do not see it as a positive thing that a 7 year old kid feels the need to present itself to the world in a certain way thru clothes.

  12. miss woo

    2008-01-31 at 5:55 PM

    I really like the shoot, the dramatic styling and make up is both sweet and a little creepy (in a good way) at the same time.
    As for children embracing fashion, I have mixed feelings. While kids are certainly more fashionable today, it also seem that they are under a lot of pressure to dress the right way, or to know the right labels etc. Surely style is something that you can cultivate over time, and does not need start so early…

  13. headmistress

    2008-01-31 at 7:00 PM

    The shoot itself looks interesting, although very stiff, reminds me of forced formal family shoots. (although these have now changed to forced informal family shoots, and there is nothing more squirm-inducing than watching families pretend to jump around and have fun with each other…)
    I remember a while ago when The Sart posted some shots he took for a kids magazine in the States – those were fantastic – they showed little kids who were obviously interested in what they wore, but still retained some childish sense of dress-up. But as fashion filters through more rapidly, and more openly, than it did a decade or so ago, it’s inevitable that kids are going to know more about fashion at an earlier age. And more than that, the current culture of sleb-voyeurism also plays a big role – younger ppl’s interest in fashion is often more involved at this more emulative level than taking and creating original inspiration from emerging trends. I saw this a while ago at a local vintage market, where a seller was trying to flog this gorgeous little flapper dress to this tiny, lithe tween brat – the only person left on earth who could have fit into it – but she was more interested in some piece of tat “like what Chanelle on BB wears”. And there’s also the growing number of parents who like to style their kids as mini-me’s – resplendent in kiddie-sized designer clobber and lugging a matching 2.55 or Paddington.
    that said, I can’t see anything wrong with kids having fun with clothes and wearing what they like from an early age – there’s no difference between a kid cutting up her mum’s vogues for inspiration, and another bashing at a piano or going nuts with paints!

  14. themostincrediblething

    2008-01-31 at 7:10 PM

    They remind me of the Victorian images of children you see in photos by Lewis Carroll, Julia Margaret Cameron, Henry Peach Robinson, or the painting of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelites. They dressed children like miniature versions of themselves. And it was as controversial then as it is now.

  15. coco

    2008-01-31 at 7:27 PM

    children in make-up scare me!

  16. selina

    2008-01-31 at 7:36 PM

    it’s the make up and the intensive stare… i think they’ve gone past a twee, effective idea because now they know people are shocked and bemused by children acting like grown models, so it wasn’t just their own idea but they’re kind of exploiting the child for the shock, uncomfortable value… i’ll have to pick up a copy once i’ve finished a chunky elle for a proper opinion!

  17. Bianca

    2008-01-31 at 8:59 PM

    I really enjoyed this and i agree, I really got into “fashion/style” at the end of last year…at 16!!! i now love every aspect of that, but up until then i wasnt into it like i am now, i loved to shop, but i just wasnt into fashion like i am now. At 13 i wore abercrombie kids and old navy tops. I slightly in some ways wish i got more into it earlier so i could experience more, but w/e
    but i must admit that little girl is adorable!

  18. missmilki

    2008-01-31 at 9:06 PM

    I do think this shoot is styled more like a play at dress-up than anything else…the tons of eyeshadow, piles of jewellery, excessive layer of clashing prints. What I find slightly disturbing or provocative is her serious expression. She looks almost bored and weary and worldly-wise. The 6 yr old me would have been in her element. I wouldn’t have been able to stop grinning and giggling if I was able to dress up in all those clothes and make-up and jewellery. Yet this girl stares blankly at the camera…whats going on in her head?
    Its a good editorial. It made me look twice. First because its shes so cute and then because somethings not quiet right. A success in my book!

  19. Thom Wong

    2008-01-31 at 9:20 PM

    Those photographs terrify me. They lack the playfulness inherent in dress-up and replace it with the bored model look, which on a child is something akin to death.

  20. j

    2008-01-31 at 9:42 PM

    I’ve always been aware of technically proficient artists in their early teens or younger. So I suspect they could be just as artistic with fashion if they were exposed to it and had the money.

  21. shoesmendhearts

    2008-02-01 at 1:35 AM

    I agree with missmilki and the clothes horse… I am truly jealous of younger (not 9, but say 17-20 yr olds) who are so fashionable it hurts. I was pretty oblivious to fashion until the last few years and even now i find it hard to spend a lot on fashion in general (Shoes being my choice)
    i do think it’s a bit of a dressing up game type of advertising, and being a marketer myself, i think it’s ok depending on the brand and the way it’s marketed (i.e who to).

  22. yoncto

    2008-02-01 at 1:44 AM

    this makes me feel bad… i’m 13 and i have a fashion blog. and i’m obsessed with fashion. but personally i’m glad that younger and younger kids are getting into fashion. i mean, who doesn’t like well dressed people, eh? but i think about this a lot… it’s really weird. but i think that just because you’re young-young (like not 20, like 12) and broke (well, not nescesarily… ihave a lot of friends who can afford to buy a LOT of clothes but my family’s pretty broke at the moment soo.. ;[ ) doesn’t mean that you don’t have to look good. and i started getting into fashion at twelve.. which is REALLy young! technically still a kid xD
    i really hope you read this comment because your blog seriously means a lot to me, it’s amazing and it would totally make my day if you checked out my blog!!

  23. enc

    2008-02-01 at 5:16 AM

    The idea of clothing a young girl like that in old-ish, or old-lady, or old-er clothes is nothing so much as New. I’d have been appalled if she’d been scantily clad, but she’s completely covered here.
    There’s a twinge of the perverse, and I guess that’s the point. It’s slightly absurd, as she seems far past “dress-up,” and into the realm of she’s-lost-her-mind. But since it’s not ‘iffy,’‚Äîsince she’s covered, I guess it just finally boils down to Weird. (But safe.) I could live without seeing anymore editorials like that, though.
    I’m glad tweens and adolescents get to skip the naff/dweeb/dodgy stage; I wish I had. The closest I got to looking cool was Clash t-shirts, Converse hi-tops, and hand-pegged Levi’s. I thought I looked so cool, but I probably just looked naff/dweeby/dodgy! In any event, it was fun.

  24. mash

    2008-02-01 at 9:30 AM

    great post 🙂 ohhhh I love those pics , and the little girl are so sweet <3 dont forget it's just a shoot for a magazine 😉

  25. anna

    2008-02-01 at 10:26 AM

    Interesting post. There is something really creepy and off-putting about those photos. And I don’t think it’s a good creepy! I don’t have an issue with children dressing up as adults, but this little girl looks more like a child from kiddy porn or something. If she looked happy, and like she was comfortable, I’m sure I’d appreciate the shoot more than now, where I just want to skip to the next page/post!

  26. DJM

    2008-02-01 at 11:20 AM

    I don’t have a problem with it for any other reason than I want to see adult clothes on, well, adults…since I’m an adult.
    Times change, so naturally each generation will be more savvy than the next. Looking back at myself at say 13, I was pretty savvy about the world. Hell I used to write hormonally ranty letters to Tipper Gore’s PMRC group. I just wish I’d put as much energy into fashion and maybe I wouldn’t have been writing those letters dressed in bad acid washed denim and cheap batwing jumpers!

  27. lisa

    2008-02-01 at 12:08 PM

    the images are undeniably strong, i just dont think anything justifies putting a ‘dark’ spin on 5yr olds for the sake of being edgy. i rarely ever have a moral problem with anything in the name of fashion; if it works it works, if an editorial is confronting or controversial it usually means it has some sort of heavy reality that offsets the fakeness of fashion, and that irony is what moves style along in my opinion…
    but this i dont like, despite the fact it raises the reality of fashion being accessible to the younger set…to pop magazine i would say there are a million other ideas, choose another one? or say the same message another way…id rather see a shoot of children styling the models like they are dolls or something.
    (my response turned into a rant! -unintentional! -heavy topic)

  28. E

    2008-02-01 at 3:14 PM

    Hmm… where do 12 years old kids find money to buy clothes anyway? If I remember correctly, my clothes at that time came all from a friend’s older brother (I was too tall for girl clothes). I had nothing to say in the process. It included mostly faded black jeans, oversized plaid shirts and t-shirts: grunge look for me! I had a $5 weekly allowance and it was mostly spent on bus tickets and birthday gifts for my friends. My friends were all in similar situations, so nobody at that time could even have hoped for something close to sartorial expression. We all wore the same uniform of hands-me-down. For the kids that came for wealthier families, Tommy Hilfiger was the brand of choice, no question asked. Levis had to do as far as jeans went. I’m 23 now and I wonder if things have changed all that much… it makes me feel old!

  29. Meg

    2008-02-01 at 4:10 PM

    They remind me of the Sean Ellis photo that he did for Mr Pearl / The Face with the little girl wearing a corset and make-up. I find it a little sad that kids are being ‘hailed’ by fashion and consumerism younger and younger – part of being a kid is that you don’t care, sure there’s a certain amount of awareness which comes from what your peers are wearing, but what child wears Chanel?

  30. Pip

    2008-02-02 at 3:21 PM

    Around my home town, I’m always taken aback by the extreme skinniness of some of the girls – until I realise that many of them actually haven’t hit puberty yet. They’re trying, as many tweens do, to look older, copying the hair/makeup/clothing styles of the older girls or celebrities, and there also seems to be plenty of money around at the moment for them to spend on clothes – I see tweens wearing Jack Wills hoodies, Topshop dresses, real Uggs. What surprises me is that while we at that age may have liked clothes, we tended to buy tatty, tacky things, thinking them incredibly beautiful, while now I see lots of tweenagers with way more mature tastes – in vintage-y tea dresses and cute flats, or alternatively, in turbo-sloane mode, with pashminas, uggs and expensively-branded polo shirts. It’s not just that people are getting into clothes younger – we all loved to dress up as kids – but that they’re so consciously aping fashion trends or styles they see.
    Combined with exposure to Internet/fashion magazines/the media, and the fact that businesses have found an untapped market of consumerism, I think it’s not suprising tweenagers are being fashionised. But in a way, it’s kind of sad. I mean fashion does come with its own raft of negative associations – eating disorders, judging someone on how they look, spending lots of money – and I think it’s harder to avoid this when you’re younger. Also, you lose that blissful age when you’re unconscious of yourself and your body – when you run around in Disney leggings, lime green platforms, a too-long fringe and braces – and I think that time is short enough as it is.

  31. I don’t mind kids dressing up, so long as it’s not skanky or all about the brands. I like kids being creative with their outfits and I also like kids being classy even if it looks adult (the mature kind of adult, not the x-rated). Fashion can be a great outlet.
    On the other hand, though, I really don’t like seeing young kids in makeup. Maybe it’s because I associate it more with sexiness and I find it rather creepy. It makes me think of those children beauty pageants where a lot of the kids end up looking like plastic hooker doll.
    I’m wondering, though, if I’m being fair. I want “kids to be kids”, but I don’t mind them dressing up like adults so long as we’re talking about PG-rated stuff. I guess it has more to do with them looking to risqu√©. So maybe natural looking makeup like pink lip gloss would be alright.
    Hmmm… I’ll have to think about this.

  32. Sister Wolf

    2008-02-03 at 6:07 AM

    These photos are tragic. The sexualization of little kids is never a good thing.

  33. meg

    2008-02-04 at 11:56 PM

    I actually took a different view to this and not of children playing dress up, but adults trying to dress down. When we see 5-8 year olds dressed this way, yes we think it’s silly or what have you so, so why is fashion and celebrity so obsessed with looking young when wearing clothing? Instead of celebrating their age, there is a continual striving for looking younger and younger which, in the end, just looks silly.

  34. That’s an interesting take on it, Meg!

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