The Kids Fashion Snob

Saturday, 7 March 2009

What is it with Beijing’s fashion choices for kids?

Oh, the bedazzlement. How overcome I was when I first saw the kids clothing available in China. The sequins, the lace, the ruffles and frills. The neon, the mesh, the English language slogans in chronic need of a sober proofreader. And let’s not forget the collection of pilfered Disney characters, Bobdog and Hello Kitty emblazoned on pant legs from here to Middle Kingdom Come. Oh the devastation. I knew kids clothes were cheap here and sadly, I soon found out why.

You see, I absolutely adore kids’ clothing; always have. And like many things in life, the more beautiful they are, the higher the price tag. When we first came to Beijing, my kids wore expensive designer duds. I was wearing ten-year-old jeans and owned two pairs of shoes, but my kids looked like fashion models. Their designer long sleeve tees alone cost the equivalent of 300RMB – a price that would have any tai tai feigning a faint at Ya Show.

Any sane person knows it’s quite ridiculous what real designer clothing costs, yet I happily went without so I could gaze upon my kids in their gorgeous photo-shoot ensembles, and feel totally, aesthetically blissed-out. Yes, I adored the white clouds of a French linen, the exquisitely patterned retro cottons, the classic, simplistic designs, the sharp cuffs, the delicate pleats, the gentle pin-tucks. I was, indeed, a kids’ clothing aficionado, a wannabe clothing designer for little ones.

Alas, when you go to live in a different country, over time your kids tend to grow, and their expensive designer duds become tighter and smaller. After giving mail order and ebay a go for a while, I eventually realized I’d just have to enter the real Beijing clothing world. Oh the terror. I swore my kids would have to go naked before I succumbed to this, but succumb I did.

Maybe I did it because Beijing taught me how utterly blind-sided we are by clothing prices in the West. Maybe it was actual real life emergencies, like when my daughter had no shoes that fit and her legs stuck out of her pants like Huck Finn. But I did it – I began trawling the markets, the neighborhood stores, the department stores and slowly, very slowly, among the Garfield tutus, I found some finds.

Happily, things have improved even more in three years, with a spate of gorgeous kids’ shops opening in the past year alone. My picks? Okaïdi for everything, but especially great quality tees with fun ecological motifs, a gorgeous range of affordable pants and whimsical girls’ gear that can’t be beaten.

Zara is a little trendier and pricier, but some amazing finds are still to be had (especially at sale time), and their accessories and shoes are great. Ask both stores to SMS you at sale time.

Plastered T-shirts is another favorite for charming, retro designs.

Rouge Baiser, a luxury French linen boutique in Sanlitun cannot be missed if you crave something a little exceptional, and the prices are very good at sale time. During winter, they have real cashmere pieces for babies that will have you swooning.

Little Star (newly opened in Shunyi as well as Drum and Bell Tower square) is owned by a talented French woman who married a Chinese man and now calls Beijing home. She has one of the most enviable lines of clothing for kids in Beijing. Her traditional, China-inspired pieces use gorgeous cottons in whimsical, very French patterns, featuring muted colors and stunning detail. Her pieces aren’t Beijing-cheap but they still cost a fraction of home-country prices, and many of her items could be kept as family heirlooms. She also does yummy bedding.

All of these places offer quality, gorgeous clothing, but I must admit, part of me has grown somewhat fond of the range of kitsch Chinese kids’ clothes. Yes, my daughter owns a pair of Betty Boop tracksuit pants and yes my son has a few pairs of polyester Chinese pajamas.

Maybe the clothing snob in me has been taken down a, er… peg or two.

First published on the City Weekend Beijing website.

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