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Conversational Threads

Kids’ clothes, pretty or stylin’?

Theodora | Posted in Patterns on

Can I take a survey of opinions about the styles in patterns for little and school age girls these days? I’d really be interested in what you think, as sewists, and as parents, for those of you who are.

I sew for a niece, who is just starting first grade. She loves to wear dresses, and she loves the stuff I make for her. She did go through a phase where she was uncomfortable with people who noticed her clothes because they were special in some way, but that passed. Now that she’s older, I’m starting to look at the patterns in the size 7 and up range, and I’m prepared to admit that she may reach a point where she doesn’t want cute smocked stuff.

Here’s my problem. A lot of what I see in the pattern catalogs in that size range, to my taste, looks garbagy. My main complaint is the patterns that deliberately mimic that patterns for older girls, and are just too sexy for the younger age group. I think a lot of them are too sexy for the older girls as well, but . . .

I know that kids see clothes as fun, as fashion, as a way of feeling secure in a group, as a way of expressing individuality. And I know that when I see one of my little 15 year old friends in a lovely gown, I see a beautiful girl. But I know some individuals in our society see something very different, and some of those folks are dangerous. It’s very hard to explain to the teens that their clothes send different messages to different people, and that part of how we respect and treasure ourselves is reflected in how we dress.

But I get really angry when I see clothing that sexualizes littler girls, and sometimes is just ugly. Tell me, for those of you who sew for the size 6 and on up crowd. Do they really like the stuff that I am seeing in the pattern books?

I am committed to making my niece what she wants to wear. So far, it has been an absolute joy, and she has loved her traditional tasteful little girl stuff. Right now, I’m not thinking I’m going to enjoy making some of the stuff I’m seeing in the older sizes. I have to remember I’m sewing for her, but for myself as well.

What are your experiences?

Summer is a promissory note signed in June, its long days spent and gone before you know it, and due to be repaid next January.
–   Hal Borland 


  1. Jean | | #1

    You just hit on another reason why my DIL wants me to sew for DGD.  There are really 3 in all. Fit, style and $$$$$. They want as much for kids clothes as I want to spend for mine.

    Granted, I'm a cheap-skate. LOL

  2. lin327 | | #2

    I agree with everything in your posting.  The styles out there for sizes 7-16 are terrible, and they are moving into the smaller girls styles now also!

    I sew for my three nieces and I hate a lot of the new patterns out there for little and bigger  girls.  Why would any person in their right mind dress a child in those skimpy little crop tops and hip huggers?  Considering most girls that age still have a pear shape, these things are totally innapropriate.  Right away girls are made to feel poorly about their shape and body image! 

    And most schools are implementing dress codes that prohibit that type of dressing.  In the past I've spoken out against dress codes, but in this case the schools are right.

    I also see some Moms who say, well that's what the girls want and that's what the magazines are showing so... Have they lost the power to say NO?

    I got a book from a used book store about drafting basic patterns for children.  I use a basic bodice and skirt and add variety with fabric, appliques and trimmings.   The girls love their dresses and always tell me they feel pretty and happy in their dresses from me.  I think that's what clothes should do for girl:  make them feel pretty and happy!

    Thank you for giving me an opportunity to rant about something that's been bothering me for a while!

  3. ElonaM | | #3

    Having had only a son, I felt sorely deprived in the frilly sewing department for a couple of years. Fortunately, a close friend had a little girl then, and her mama couldn’t sew! Wow. I was in frilly heaven for quite a few years. Then, when the little girl was about twelve, she let me know, in the gentlest way possible, that she was developing other tastes in clothing. I figured from that that I was about two years behind her tastes, but what the heck, it had been fun.

    Almost immediately, this flaxen-haired angel went into yards of black drapery, dyed her hair a strange red, and began to favor blackish eye makeup and lipstick. For years, her weary mother referred to her as “the Italian war widow who lives with us” (and Mama didn’t even know about the tattoos).

    But I digress. The point, I guess, is that a recipient of beautiful, feminine dresses that you like will let you know when she’s outgrown all that. Then what to do with your creative impulses? As we seem to agree, whorish, prematurely sexualized clothing is offensive. It sends the wrong message--at the very least that the wearer is a brainless follower and someone so desperate for attention that the cheesiest, most obvious sex appeal is worth more than the cultivation of more profound values. I don’t think there’s anything you can do about weak-willed parents who go along with it (but in fairness, a relative said that she foiled her exceedingly strict father way back in the twenties or thirties by rolling down her stockings, hiking up her skirt, and putting on lipstick as soon as she got out of sight of the house on the way to school).

    Working within that dismal framework, I think it is still possible to make lovely things for an adored teenage granddaughter or niece or daughter, things that she may still enjoy. For example, the hippie fashions of the sixties and seventies are upon us again, so beautifully-embroidered, beautifully-made peasant blouses and accessories would be navel-covering yet age-appropriate (and gorgeous enough to be coveted by the peer group), while at the same time keeping Grandma from tearing her hair.

  4. Tish | | #4

    You've hammered that nail straight, Theodora.  My little girl is twenty now, so I can't answer your questions from immediate experience, but clothes can make a girl's life miserable or years.  Other girls can really cut, and often they'll use clothes as the way to do it.  Some parents don't get that they have to stop acting like kids when they have kids.  I've met a few moms who try to dress like J. Lo and Brittney Spears, so they think it's *darling* that their under-ten daugters also want to.  I have a friend who asks, "Why do these people breed?"  That's unkind, but I understand her frustration about people who miss the basics of responsible parenting.  (I took care of a  little boy for two weeks this summer, and had a terrible time with his language.  His mother listens to Vanilla Ice recordings at home and he's memorized them.)

    Remember when mother-daughter dresses were elegant frocks that we'd be proud to wear to church at Christmas?  *Sigh*  I've been going through all my boxes of photos looking for pics of The Gardener and I just found the last mother-daughter dresses Shannon and I had.  I made them about 1990.  Yes, they're in the Christmas pictures.

    OK, The Gardener always dressed me in hand-made, very classic children's clothing.  Kids made fun of my clothes until I was in 7th grade, got a paper route and started buying my own blue jeans.  On the other hand, adults *always* complimented me on my clothing.  Teachers would take me aside in school and make private coments to me about how they admired the lovely dresses and jumpers my mother made.  I don't think there's any way you can protect your niece from that adult/child double standard.  But why not try to give her both kinds of clothes?  A few fun, fashionable things like the other girls wear, and a few lovely classics for church and other occasions.  Lots of girls are growing up not knowing the difference between play clothes, nice dress-up clothes (such as we wear to church) and party clothes.  As adults, they don't know the difference between what to wear at home, what to wear to work, and what to wear to go dancing.  Give your niece a chance to get those compliments on her nice dresses.  After she gets out of her teen-age gothic stage, you'll start seeing the results.

    1. sarahkayla | | #5

      Oooh! Good discussion -

      I think that it is possible to make clothing that does not infantalize a ten year old yet does not make her look like a hooker. You can make clothing in the trendy fabrics and colors, but in fairly covered up styles. I think that it is exactly as unfair to stick a ten year old in puffed sleeves and sweet smocking as it is to put her in hooker in training clothes.

      Blouses/shirts can be made longer but in snakeskin velour to make her heart happy. Florence Eisman type jumper & coat dress can be made in leopard fur and black velvet - the cut is classic but the fabric weird. Work with the kid - you will all be happy. Girls of a certain age have hookerish taste - you can indulge it in the details but not in the cut - leopard cuffs, on a plain dress - talk the dress out with your neice - the process is a good one for both of you - she will wear the dress and you will make her happy.

      sarah in nyc

  5. user-222038 | | #6

    I hear ya!  My daughter is 4, and I'm already worried about the "too-grown-up" pattern styles she might want to wear.

    Have you tried used/retro patterns?  My mother saved all of hers, so I now have a bunch of age-appropriate patterns for my daughter when she is 6, 7, etc.  Back in the 60s some of the skirts/dresses were on the short side, but I'll simply lengthen them.  The tops and pants are so cute and will need no alterations to make them "appropriate".  And the best thing of all is that these fashions are in style again!

    1. VictoriaMars | | #7

      <<<Back in the 60s some of the skirts/dresses were on the short side>>>

      I had to laugh, have you seen any Shirley Temple movies, her dresses barely covered her bottom! As a little girl in the fifties, I have a picture of my younger sister and I sitting on a table in pale green taffetta dresses with hand knitted eyelet socks and those skirts were mid thigh! Mother said that she thought it was sinful to cover up beautiful little girl legs.

      My daughter was not a frilly kind of child, nor was I! My mouth watered at the the beautiful french hand confections I saw at the wool shop I frequented. At 5, she announced she was an Esprit girl, as she stood do a piorette in leggings and top. I adjusted, I bought the Burda kid's edition and made her clothes. At Christmas, I was allowed to go over the top and got to make her a velvet dress for all the events.

      I look forward to having grandkids that I can practise on....

      1. Jean | | #8

        Haha, I saved all my beautiful scraps in the hopes of sewing mounds of doll clothes for my granddaughters. All three of them would rather play with trucks. LOL

        1. VictoriaMars | | #9

          I expect that I have that to look forward to! Sasha's doll collection is in pristine condition because she never played with them. She'd rather play with her cat, she would dress him, arrange him on her bed, carry him around until the poor cat had enough.

        2. kai230 | | #10

          Smart girls, Jean. Not that this is directly related, but I also loved to play w/bro's toys--a different type of fun than my dolls, whom I also adored.

          Agree w/all re the slutty trend. I don't envy parents trying to buck the pervasive media. One way to combat that is to get the kid interested in something where the normal dress is not so slutty--say, some sport. Uniforms are one of the features most loved by folks sending their kids to religious, as opposed to public, schools.

          1. sarahkayla | | #11

            First of all - i want to weigh in on desesting uniforms with every bone of my body. my youngest is in a school with a uniform.

            1 - i deeply resent having to go out and purchase clothing for a child when his dresser is bursting with hand me down clothing

            2 - all of this nonsense about the uniform equalizing things is just hooey - you can tell the difference between the el-cheapo uniforms and the super fancy ones half a block away

            3 - maybe it is living in manhattan, and having my little guy go to school on the upper east side(home of some of the richest zip codes in the country), but i hate having to have my son at age 6 wear this junior white-boy banker costume. Now this isn't white in terms of race alone ( I infact am white) but last fall as i was walking my son down 5th avenue to his school and seeing all those other kids (many of them super-rich - as you can see from the super well tended and coiffed parents) all dressed the same just made me want to drag out my love beads and start smoking pot on the spot. maybe it comes from growing up in new england whre rich folks just dress shabbier than the rest of us.. but I hate the message that is being given out by that whole scene

            I also find that the kids who wear uniforms do weird fetishy stuff to personalize the look. You see teenages girls wearing long super high knee socks under very short skirts like some pervert's imaginings of a school girl. maybe you just have to see it in action here in new york to get the dark side of uniforms. But it pretends to equalize things but infact makes teeny differences much more glaring. All of those cute adornments that girls use to personalize their looks are often really fancy expensive little doo dads that most middle class, let alone poor kids couldn't afford.

            My older kids can wear what they want to school and it has never ever been an issue. my daughter likes to be playful with her clothing - but it is never raunchy. my son lives for comfort

            sarah in nyc

          2. kai230 | | #13

            Hi Sarah,

            Sounds like your kids are better off in regular clothes than uniforms, and it's definitely a huge pain to buy new stuff just to conform, esp if you are on a budget as most are. You also brought up many other excellent points, thank you! 

            Your experience is very diff from what I know based only on my years in SD. AFAIK, all uniforms must be purchased from the same source, and weird accoutrements are confiscated.

            Now, if the uniform is black/dark skirt/pants and white blouse/shirt, yes, some will come in designer clothes and others in homemade, etc. It really is not fair at all, and, as you said, not an equalizer under those circumstances. The only time I noticed this re uniforms was in choirs (lax rules), but we were mostly in the dark anyway so the audience wasn't aware of differences. I was also saved by inheriting expensive hand-me-downs worn during the normal schoolday.

            Another sucky thing abt uniforms--when I was in pompom/flag corps, it was the distance from the ground up (21"?) that determined your skirt length. Some girls practically had hotpants, but my long legs gave me a very long skirt length compared to everyone else.

            Additionally, I'm w/you 200% re not having kids dress for school (i.e., learning) in adult-type, uncomfortable clothes. How does being uncomfortable help learning? Gimme a break. Same goes for uncomfy clothes at work. Sheesh. Corporations are idiots.

            I really hope some reasonable compromises come about, and soon. All kids at some time, find learning can be like work, so I'm all for anything under the sun--yes, including studying outdoors and in the rain, too--that will encourage the joys. Comfy clothes and a good breakfast should go a long way. Unfortunately, peer pressure starts early.

            Best wishes Sarah! Great points you made! Oh, and hugs to your youngest who must suffer his uniform. If it's any consolation to him, some of us really old folks look to people his age to figure these things out :-) If he'd like a school project, I'll be happy to provide encouragement and feedback!

          3. crwritt | | #14

            Hi I'd just like to add a little to this discussion on kid's clothes. I sewed everything for my daughter, from baby rompers to prom gowns. She always loved to pick the fabrics, and had a great eye for choosing the buttons. She was in pink and purple knit dresses and flowered stretch pants till about 8th grade when she faded to black and gothic, but nearly all her outfits still involve at least a little customizing by sewing. These days.at age 20 she likes to recreate jeans from a pattern she pin-marked from her favorite pair. So far she has a nice pair in burgundy wool, and some others in custom dyed denim. This week she is talking about stretch corduroy. I never directly taught her sewing, she must have just paid attention all those years. I just give technical advice, and she reads Threads.

            I also have sewn many things for her younger brother, from soccer shorts to cowboy shirts, he loved them so much I made the same shirt, same color, in three different sizes.The most boring period for him ,as far as clothes, was a two year period in parochial school. He found the uniforms stifling, though he looked handsome in them. White shirt, navy pants, plaid tie. He lost the tie so many times, he made a spare one from a laminated color photocopy, and kept it in his backpack. Dress down days at a school where the kids wore uniforms were frustrating, he outgrew clothes so fast, his casual things were too small before they got much use. He just started high school (this Week)  He sews enough to keep his favorite things from falling apart.He can mend and patch and sew on a button, he doesn't even ask me. He does ask me to make machine embroidered patches for him, of band and skateboard logos. I do this on my old singer EU machine, and it has been fun learning to digitize.This morning he came downstairs dressed for school in carpenter jeans, a striped t- shirt, a striped sweater,and a new orange hooded sweatshirt. He thought a minute and said "I need a hat". He found last winter's black knit scullcap, with a hole in it, ran up to his room for a skateboarding patch I made last year, then to the sewing room for needle and thread and hand stitched it before the school bus came.

            Take Care Colleen

          4. sarahkayla | | #15

            Thanks for your nice reply -

            The odd thing about the uniform is that my six year old actually does not seem to mind. He has however, added a tie to the ensemble to personalize the look. He figures if he has to dress like an adult he might as well go all the way. What I discovered is that most kid's ties are not meant to be worn every day. Most of his have lasted about two months at most. i just found a load of clip on silk ties at my local off price clothing store for .99. So jed will be well outfitted for school.

            he did show up at school wearing a greenh afro wig one day. It caused a bit of a to-do at school. I felt that it was worth it for the guffaw we got out of Eli, on the way to the school bus., Eli's mother had died four months before, and he and i have a sweet moment each morning on his way to the subway - Seeing him burst into laughter was just so worth it.


  6. HNYMAMA | | #12

    Well I have three girls ages 2,  6 and 11.  I let my big girls pick the fabric and I chose the patterns,  a lot of wild print capris and sundresses here but they are happy and I am happy that they decently dressed even if the fabric is not my style.  I usually have to modify the pattern a bit,  to make the tops longer.  but that is the nice thing about sewing I can make those changes.  I have had a lot of luck using some old retro patterns,  with a new wild print fabric my dd's love the more classic style. 

  7. rjf | | #16

    Wow!  You really opened the floodgates.  It's interesting to read what all the moms, grandmothers, aunts, etc., think about styles for little kids and who gets to choose the styles they wear.  I'm glad my daughters are grown-up and I don't have to deal with the tough decisions facing moms today.  The only questionable style I had to deal with was mini-skirts and since I was young enough to wear them myself,  my daughters did too.  If they wanted to.

    But I'm interested in the term "sewist" which appeared in two or three letters.  It's not a term I've seen used before; it's always been "sewer" before.  Is that not good enough today?  What better connotations does "sewist" carry?  I agree that upgrading self-image is a good thing.........does "sewist" do that?       rjf

    1. Tish | | #17

      I find the term "sewist" a charming alternative to the equivocal "sewer."  I don't think it makes my work any better :)

      My mom made me mini-skirts, but I was not allowed to wear them to school.  Girls had to wear skirts that were no more than one inch below or two inches above our knees.  If the clothes were otherwise fairly conservative, the teachers let a little extra length go because they knew our mothers couldn't be re-hemming all the time, and they knew we grew.  However, granny dresses were banned, as were midi skirts and any dress that looked like it had been designed to be a mini-skirt. 

      That was in public schools in Maryland and Virginia in the sixties and early seventies.  Girls could not wear pants. Period.  I was once sent home from school because I wore my new Easter "coulottes" and the teacher and school secertary decided they were pants.  They would never had known if I hadn't taken so long in the bathroom, trying to get in and out of this thing that zipped down the back!   We once had a cold snap with two weeks of nights in the negative teens and days only as high as ten degrees.  For my area, that's cold.  My mother sent me to school wearing snow pants under my dress.  The teacher wouldn't allow me to go to the girls' room to take them off and the hall monitor wouldn't allow me to take them off in the hall by my locker.  I was sent to the principal's office and my mother was called and told that I had to be taken out of class because I was improperly dressed!  I was sitting there in the principal's office in snow pants, it was 9:00 in the morning and about zero degrees outside, and the school sceretary was on the phone chewing out my mother because I was wearing pants in school. They wanted her to come and take me home to change.  After the secretary hung up, I was allowed to go the the girls' room and take off the snow pants.  The next day my mother sent me to school in a corduroy granny skirt.  Same deal- back to the principal's office.  I don't know what my mother said to the school secretary, but I went back to class and no-one in that school ever said a word against that skirt again.  Some days I was the only warm girl in class. 

      Of course, now whenever the topic of codes or uniforms come up in my children's public schools, I always get in there and insist that pants be in the code for both boys and girls.  We still have administrators in the high school who are arbitrary about which clothes are in code and which are not.

      1. crwritt | | #18

        I love where this thread is going! We all must have some dress code story to tell. When I started junior high school in a northern Maine town, it was 1969. Dresses and skirts were required for girls, (no  Pants) miniskirts were the popular fashion, and we walked to school. The winter was very cold, below freezing for weeks, often below zero. The boots I wore were molded plastic, and hardened up in the cold. Walking to school in my plastic boots and miniskirt, I slipped and skinned both knees. I did not feel it, my knees were numb with cold. Shortly after that, girls were allowed to wear pants under their skirts in very cold weather. The next year most girls went to school in slacks or jeans, and I dont recall any controversy about it.The pants certainly cover more than the miniskirts did.  As long as midriffs were covered, and your pants were not so long as to trip you, most styles were worn.I had just begun to sew, and loved to make new outfits, so I did have a personal rule to wear a dress once a week.


      2. rjf | | #20

        We didn't have a dress code that I remember or perhaps we were all so sheep-like that we wore what the administration thought was appropriate.  No pants, of course, except on snowy days to get to school.  However, when I went back to my jr. high to observe (a dumb college course), the girls were wearing pants and that was the late 50's!

        My mother had her own dress code which I didn't discover until the 9th grade prom.  I made a plaid taffeta, white tulle dress with ribbon straps to keep it up.  Some of the other girls I knew had strapless dresses (woo-hoo!)  But my mother said "NO bare shoulders!"  Really....she could have told me that before I made the dress.  I solved that problem by cutting out a circle of tulle, slit to the center and folded back the edges.  Then a small bow fastened it.

        I think it's possible to give your children a sense of what is appropriate, the desire to be appropriate and the fortitude to be unappropriate when the situation requires it.   Your mother sounds as if she wouldn't be steamrollered!  That's great!!     rjf

    2. lin327 | | #19

      We've been deabating the Sewer/seamster/sewist/whatever name in Friendly Sewing in Delphi forums.  I suggested "Fabric Artist"  because each project is the creative expression of the individual fabric artist.  (See? I didn't say Sewer and it sounded so much better!)  That elevates sewing to high art! 

      1. rjf | | #21

        I don't know why "sewist" bothers me.........not the actual word but I can't seem to find the right place in my mind for it.  It keeps poking up out of everyplace I try to put it.  I sort of like it because it sounds like "artist" which connotes creativity but on the other hand, it sounds snobby and self-important and therfore, downgrades "sewer" which certainly is an honorable profession.  Why did people who sew think they needed a new name?  Oh, you said " it elevates it to a high art".   Well, I also agree that good sewers deserve respect, probably more then they get, but now the question is: Does an activity become high art by proclamation of the artist?

        Maybe if I keep babbling here,  I'll actually get "sewist" settled in my head!   Thanks for the opportunity to ramble.      rjf

        1. ElonaM | | #22

          I think the problem with the word "sewer" is that it sounds fine, but in print, it is spelled exactly like the pipe system that carries liquid waste away from your house! The two words sound different, but in reading, since they look alike, your mind has to make a little shift each time it comes across the word.

        2. lin327 | | #23

          Does an activity become high art by proclamation of the artist? 

          Based on what I've seen and heard at many "high art" type art galleries, that can be the only explanation for some of the atrocities passed off as Art!

          I'm being more than a bit facetious.  On the other hand if art in its purest form is the creative expression of an individual then yes, sewing is art.  Each peice sewn is a creative expression of the individual {insert substitute word of choice here}  Even if you took five examples of five skirts all sewn from the same pattern you would get five different skirts, all bearing the creative signature of each worker.

          The problem remains that a person who sews and a pipe that carries wastes have the same name.  One has to change, and elevating the person who sews is the proper way to go.  In My Humble Opinion.

          1. rjf | | #24

            Good morning,   Okay!  If I'd remembered "sewer"(person) and "sewer"(pipe) look the same when taken out of context, I never would have quibbled with "sewist".  More later.    rjf

          2. carolfresia | | #25

            Just for fun I looked up "sewer" in the dictionary, and found yet another meaning: A medieval household officer often of high rank in charge of serving the dishes at table and sometimes of seating and tasting. (pronounced soo-er, by the way).

            Aside from being medieval, that describes a lot of us, I'd wager. Since I seem to fit two out of three definitions of "sewer," I guess I'll stick with that and try to ignore this business of subterranean conduits! And in Threads, we assume that the context will make clear what we mean when we use "sewer." Our colleagues at Fine Homebuilding can snicker if they want...


          3. rjf | | #26

            I found that one too!  And I bet it was one of your old dictionaries.  Random House?


  8. pcgran | | #27

    I sew for two grandchildren, and have the same problems.  I end up lengthing every pattern, shirts,dresses and skirts.  No belly button showing on my girls!  But they do like styles that are older, so I have learned to sew on beads and do fancy embrodery on plain tee-shirts. 

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