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PARENTING : Suiting the Season : Sailor togs and flowing floral dresses get ready to hit the Easter parade, as parents show the kids off to spring's best advantage--sometimes shopping a year ahead.

March 26, 1993|CINDY LAFAVRE YORKS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Cindy LaFavre Yorks writes regularly about fashion for The Times

Even in the dress-down '90s, Easter is still a day of holiday finery. Little girls dress up in frilly, ice cream colored confections with matching bonnets. Little boys find themselves coerced into fitted suits with bribes of chocolate eggs and bunnies.

"Whatever works," says Kathy Soulek, mother of 10-year-old Kent and owner of the Chocolate Giraffe kids' clothing stores in Encino, Glendale and Pasadena. Soulek says her son will dress up for special occasions but would resist dressing up every day--an attitude she has also noticed among children of her customers.

As if to take advantage of this fleeting mood, most parents who've been Easter-shopping at her stores are going for the full ensemble. Girls' dresses are being coordinated with matching straw hats, gloves and socks or tights. Boys' outfits are being assembled with suspenders and shirts with matching ties from Ralph Lauren's Polo line.

Such sartorial splendor does not come cheap. Parents who go in for the complete looks at upscale kids' clothing stores like the Chocolate Giraffe can expect to be set back $100 per child, Soulek says.

She reports that, as always, pastel shades reminiscent of colored Easter eggs are the most popular this season. For boys, pale blues, pale yellows and pale peach colors are especially trendy this spring, while pastel prints are popular with girls' collections. Dresses, says Soulek, are still preferred over separates.

Not everybody, of course, is keyed into the traditional Easter scene. Customers at Freckles Boutique in Agoura Hills, for example, are looking for "something a little different," explains owner Johanna Lake.

Vintage printed dresses so popular with junior girls right now are also hot-selling items with young girls. Those dresses, by Roody Kozoody, are often worn with floppy, floral-enhanced hats. They are a more versatile fashion choice than many traditional Easter dresses, Lake explains, because they can be worn to school or to informal social events.

However informal Easter may be at some homes, many moms shop as much as a year in advance for this fashion-conscious holiday. Early bird Shawn Knutson of Van Nuys purchased her outfits a year ago at Robinson's, before the May Co. merger.

Son Kevin, 20 months, and Christopher, 3 1/2, will both wear sailor suits. Though their mother paid full price for the outfits ($40 and $36 each), she enjoys the peace of mind that locating the right fashion item brings.

"There are times when I have trouble finding things for the boys, especially dress clothes and nice separates that match," says Knutson, who adds that she looks primarily for traditional clothes with trendy accents. The classic sailor suits she selected, for instance, feature updated gold detailing.

Barbara Campbell of Van Nuys is another plan-ahead shopper. She had Easter '93 on her mind back in '92. Bargain-hunting Campbell, on a trip to North Carolina last year, took advantage of the area's many outlet stores to home in on some key buys. For her daughters Molly, 9, and Rebecca, 17 months, Campbell paid $28 apiece for matching floral-print dresses that sell for $48 to $70 at traditional stores.

"I paid less for two dresses than I would have for one," says Campbell, who insists that buying a year ahead is not as tricky as it sounds.

"I just buy one size ahead," she says. "I guess I have been lucky and have never gone wrong."

Tara Bullock of Van Nuys has a different--and probably more common--strategy for Easter shopping. This year, she spent time imagining what her daughter, Kimberly, 7, and son, Christopher, 3, would wear for Sunday services at First Lutheran Church in Van Nuys.

For Kimberly, she saw a frilly dress and hat; for Christopher, a nice suit with short pants. Then she went out and bought them.

Even among families who don't favor traditional looks, most agree that memories of Easters past often fuel the desire to plan, however modestly, for Easter present.

"My mother always made sure I had an Easter dress," Campbell recalls, "so I guess it's kind of a family tradition. I always make sure we do a little something, even if it's just a new hat and a purse for the girls."

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