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Spring Chics : The season of renewal is the perfect time to pluck some fresh blooms for kids' closets. And crisp solids for boys ad florals for girls are just the crop for the young and the best dressed.


It's a rite of spring--dressing children in their very best outfits for the season's round of egg hunts, brunches, religious services and teas.

For girls, spring often means a new dress, hat, shoes, stockings, the works. For boys, it's the one time of year besides the December holidays when parents coax them into wearing a preppy sweater and slacks or even a suit.

This year's fanciful children's clothes are sure to inspire the same kind of spring fever.

Girls' dresses are in full flower. They're covered in roses, daisies, violets and other blooms. If some of these floral garden prints look familiar, it's because fashion designers have borrowed them from upholstery and wallpaper patterns.

"Children love flowers--they're romantic and pretty," says Paula Lindberg, a children's fashion designer in Costa Mesa whose P.J. Lindberg line of floral dresses is just the item for a garden party. One collection features pinafores, rompers and dresses in a seed packet print with fruits and flowers (about $50 to $80), available at Little People & Me in Newport Beach and the Duck Pond in Tustin.

"It's the whole back-to-nature, country feeling," Lindberg says. "I've just tried to make it a little educational with the seeds."

Boys are harder to dress up. In laid-back Southern California, they're far less likely than their East Coast counterparts to dress like smaller versions of their fathers in suits and ties.

"I'm from Michigan, and to me Easter Sunday was dress-up," says Helen Kitakis, owner of the Duck Pond. "Here they're a little more casual about it. I don't even carry the little Easter suit. They don't want it."

The dressiest outfit for boys in her shop: a classic navy blazer with embroidered crest on the pocket ($48), with a navy and white glen plaid slacks ($24) and plaid tie ($15). Most parents dress their sons in coordinated slack and sweater ensembles, such as the Duck Pond's ivory and olive cotton plaid shirt, olive pants and varsity sweater ($96 an outfit).

Girls have a greater selection of dressy clothes because they have more opportunities to dress up.

"There are more tea parties. Tea rooms are inviting children over for parties, so the girls want a nice dress," Kitakis says.

The Duck Pond has tea-length dresses in polished floral cottons, including P.J. Lindberg's button-front dress with peach-colored blossoms and ruffles around the hem and front pockets ($74) and what Kitakis calls an "Alice in Wonderland" dress with white eyelet sleeves in a pale pink rose print ($80).

"People are tired of fall colors. It's spring, the sun is out and that's why the garden patterns have been so popular," Kitakis says.

Many floral prints are taken straight from the pages of botany. There are realistic renditions of cabbage roses, irises, hydrangea and other blossoms. The prints often come in chintz--the same fabric used for drapes and slipcovers.

"We have a couple lines made from upholstery fabric. People come in and say, 'Oh, I have this in my bedroom,' " says Susan Hoffman, owner of the Balboa Island Kids Clothing Co. on Balboa Island.

"Some find the fabric's too thick. Either you like it or you don't."

The stiffer fabrics make for crisp dresses with full skirts, often with a bow tie, sash and rounded collar. Puffy balloon hems that gather underneath are popular, Hoffman says.

One dress has a pink and white lattice print with a front bow and balloon skirt ($48 toddler to Size 7, $52 for Sizes 7 to 14), while another has red roses on a yellow background with a clutch of silk flowers at the neck ($81 preteen sizes). A romper for infants features bouquets of violets ($53) with matching bonnet ($20).

Easter bonnets still top off many new spring outfits. Hoffman has straw hats with fabric trim or silk flowers to match the dresses, as well as matching floppy hats and bonnets, hair bows and headbands (about $7 to $27).

Navy and white nautical styles are popular for young boys. Hoffman has several sailor outfits for toddlers, including a striped shirt and navy shorts ($45) and a checkered seersucker romper ($49) with matching sailor's cap ($19).

Jeannine Trout, owner of Petite Marche in Costa Mesa, carries suits and ties for boys, but her customers also are more likely to wear dressy shorts, knickers with matching sweaters and sport jackets.

She has a sweater with a sailboat pattern ($40) in French blue, yellow and mint, matching plaid cotton shorts ($24) and a white polo shirt with blue and mint tipping on the collar ($24).

"At Easter they will do pastels for boys. That's a departure from the rest of the year," Trout says.

Black and white is proving a surprise choice for spring. One example at Petite Marche: a polo shirt with a black and white triangle print and matching plaid linen shorts ($50).

Parents who have given up dragging their children from store to store can find whimsical clothes through Storybook Heirlooms, a mail-order company based in Menlo Park.

"I love things that have the feeling of time past that's been updated with modern prints," says Deborah Machado, owner of Storybook Heirlooms. "Our clothes are old-fashioned, but not frumpy or dark so a child today wouldn't want to wear them."

This season Machado is showing romantic floral and fruit print dresses, many with coordinating petticoats, ruffled pantaloons, bonnets and straw hats. There's a dress with a grapevine print trimmed in lace ($49 for Sizes 7 to 14, $55 preteen), and a sleeveless sunflower dress ($79 Sizes 7 to 14, $89 preteens) with a matching straw hat with silk sunflower on its brim ($39).

The boys' line features a parquet-knit cardigan in periwinkle blue with a sailboat motif ($35), polo shirt with an all-over sailboat print ($27) and striped blue twill pants ($25) with a jaunty cap ($16). The catalogue is available by calling (800) 825-6565.

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