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By Design | FASHION / SENSE OF STYLE

Kids Know Cool When They See It

August 22, 1996|MIMI AVINS | TIMES FASHION EDITOR

Anyone who thinks the shopping gene doesn't come attached to a pair of X chromosomes hasn't trolled a mall with my friend Claire, 8 1/2. She consented to be my guide this week through some children's stores at the Beverly Center. Her insight on third-grade style proved invaluable, because Claire not only knows what she likes, but she is also a fountain of information on what people wear. As in, "People don't wear skirts. When you wear a skirt or a dress to school, then you're just a girl in a dress. You can't play soccer or run or anything."

I also learn that people don't wear belts to school, except for some weird boys, and people don't wear suspenders, even if teenagers do. I spy a cute pair of red suede loafers at Gap Kids. "I hate loafers," Claire says. "Nobody in my school wears loafers. Almost everyone wears Nike running shoes and Adidas."

"But you're wearing black patent Air Walks," I point out.

"They're OK too," she assures me.

We're not just window shopping. Claire's mother has given us license to choose a back-to-school outfit. "When I go shopping, I always think about what I have at home and whether something new will match with my old stuff," Claire says.

We stop at a store called Friends, aimed at girls 8 to 10, a younger sister of the Rampage chain. The window is full of '70s-inspired daisy-printed separates. "Too many flowers," Claire says. "There's just one thing you should know about me. I'm very picky."

But not irrationally so. Navy jeans, $26 at Limited Too, are rejected because they're too hard. ("My grandmother gave me a sweater once that was scratchy and stiff," she confides. "I didn't want to tell her because I thought that would be mean, but I never wore it.")

Limited Too is the girl's outpost in the Limited and Limited Express chain. "Can I spend all my money here?" she asks, darting from a rack of cropped T-shirts to imitation lettermen's jackets.

Khaki jeans with a bow in the back are quickly dismissed. "A tie thing is out of the question," she says.

Logos have their limits. "I don't like shirts that have lots of different patches."

Soft, khaki-colored corduroy overalls are a hit. The metal buttons are difficult to manipulate, but the overalls are big enough to slide down without opening the side buttons. "These are the kind of things I can just put on with a T-shirt and look great," Claire says, clutching the $42 overalls.

*

Claire's wearing Guess denim overall shorts, so we wander into the Guess Kids store. As she rolls up a pair of jeans, Claire explains, "You don't wear rolled-up pants, just rolled-up jeans, if they're too long. You don't wear rolled-up jeans just for the look of it."

We pass a display of black patent leather skirts and matching jackets on the way out. "If you wore those you'd look like a gang member," she says.

Clarissa, of Nickelodeon's "Clarissa Explains It All," has good clothes, Claire tells me. (To the eternal gratitude of mothers not grooming their daughters for a life on the street, she has replaced Madonna as a style icon.)

"In my school, everyone wears what everyone else has," Claire says.

"But who's the first one to wear something that everyone then wants?"

"I don't know. That is something I've often thought about."

* Sense of Style appears Thursdays in Life & Style.

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