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The Young and the Trendy : How can a parent afford to buy for little Jane or John Clotheshorse? Shop sales, shop vintage.


Parents may dream of dressing their little angels in Mary Janes, frilly dresses, saddle shoes and sail or suits. But a lot of fashion-conscious kids--even preschoolers--long to wear clogs, bell-bottoms, Doc Martens, hip-hop baggy pants, plaid shirts, floral dresses, biker shorts and Lycra bodysuits.

In other words: These kids want to dress like trendy adults .

Mardi Fox says her 6 1/2-year-old daughter already knows about Madonna (not everything , of course). After watching "Dick Tracy" and MTV, the little girl "loves wearing cropped tops and lots of Lycra," says Fox.

The owner of M. Fredric Kids (the main store is in Marina del Rey), Fox says she stocks her stores like a parent. "Maybe 70% is comfortable, casual durable stuff they wear every day. And 30% is that fringe stuff, that lace, that frill. I'm a mother, so I will spend most of my money on great T-shirts, great leggings and a few nice cotton dresses."

Which brings up the issue of money. While some outfits will break the bank, there's plenty of merchandise that will satisfy both kids and parents. T-shirts embellished with little roses, for example, are $15 at M. Fredric; the leggings, $20. At Nordstrom, a Troll-decorated dress is $42. Jumpers in floral prints designed by owner Gerry Puhara are $34.75 at Tender Treasures in Montrose.

Parents can also shop sales. Limit trendy purchases to a few items. Buy oversized clothing their children can grow into.

True vintage clothing is another way to be hip without breaking the bank. At American Rag Youth on La Brea Avenue, kids' bell-bottoms from the '70s cost $9.95, versus new ones at $35.

Resale shops that take used merchandise on consignment are another way to beat the high-price of pint-size fashion. Saralisa Lauren, owner of Glad Rags in Sherman Oaks, is finding that "little pink dresses are really a hot item now." And at $5 to $20, they are 30%-40% less than the original retail price, she says.

Then there are the sales. Says Paula Goodman, a Studio City mother: "You want your kid to have the best. But you don't want to spend a fortune for it."

So she looks for sale merchandise in stores like Auntie Barbara's Kids in Beverly Hills and Gap Kids, keeping in mind that her 3 1/2-year-old daughter "likes to have things with things on them. She doesn't like plain white tennis shoes. They have to have hearts or mermaids. It's the same thing with T-shirts."

Sheri Markus, "a full-time mother," has developed a strategy for her sale shopping. To dress three daughters, ages 13, 11 and 4, and a 1-year-old son, she visits Gap Kids at least twice a week. "I always look at the new merchandise. If I love something, I go back until it goes on sale. "

Karolyn Kiisel-Fraser, a designer and teacher at Otis / Parsons, says she prefers "fewer things of better quality" for her daughters, 2 1/2 and 5. "Once they have something they like, they want to wear it all the time."

Parents say childrens shoes are the hardest challenge and the biggest expense. Some buy footwear at resale stores, such as Glad Rags. But many more find themselves in stores such as Nordstrom, Stride Rite, American Rag Youth, Harry Harris in Santa Monica and Little Feet in Studio City.

There, they are faced with mind-boggling choices like Doc Martens ($60) and Converse high-top sneakers ($24) at Nordstrom; floral sandals ($23) at Stride Rite; floral boots at Little Feet; Keds baseball-series shoes ($36-$42) at Little Feet; clogs ($34), work boots ($25-$76) and espadrilles ($25) at American Rag Youth.

Whether it's clothing or shoes, experienced retailers and parents say it's children who have the final word. And for a very good reason. As Susan Mullen, owner of Little Feet, often asks parents:

"Do you want World War II or do you want them to wear it?"

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