Wee ones will be hoppin' down the bunny trail this spring in delicious fashion confections just right for festive, family fun. The real fun starts when Mom and/or Grandmom take to the racks of mini frocks -- plucking out the styles reminiscent of yesteryear. This season they will have plenty to choose from.
Spring is in bloom for little girls, with a mixed bouquet of nostalgic florals. "Floral prints are by far the most popular this year -- from the littlest bud to the largest blossom," says Rosemary Schneider, buyer for the Pied Piper in Roland Park. "We are also seeing a touch of '60s influence with all the daisy prints and trims," she says.
"Fabrics popular in home decorating have crossed over into children's dresses -- especially delicate floral chintzes," says Lori James, manager of Talbots Kids. Following this lead, flower power becomes oh-so-subtle in watercolored hues of iris, morning glory and buttercup.
In contrast, Rita Allard, owner of the Growing Up Shoppe, says, "Fruity prints are a refreshing change from the perennial pastel florals." Look for berry patterns in jelly-bean brights to stand out among prissy prints. Candy stripes, plaids and gingham, when combined, also present a fresh alternative.
Kids R Us national spokeswoman Audrey Blenden sees the trend straying from the conservative looks of last year, toward "anything that's unique -- such as kickier florals with matching bags or oversized polka-dot sailors for toddlers."
Fantasy dressing comes with all the trimmings. Prim piping, smocking, ruffles and tiers, all add up to true Madame Alexander style. "We are seeing a big emphasis on trim and lace," says Tierney Jory, infant/toddler dress buyer for J.C. Penney. "Eyelet and lace not only trim hemlines and sleeves, but also decorate the whole skirt and bodice to create lavish looks."
Little sisters sparkle with empire waists and smocking treatments.shapes are feminine, with crinoline slips layered under shorter, full skirts," says Mrs. Schneider. Alice in Wonderland-inspired back-sashed bows and bustles make for grand exits at bedtime.
Older girls (sizes 7 to preteen) also adore frills and flounces for fancy dress. Big sister news includes fit-and-flare silhouettes, with dropped waists and mushroom bottoms. "Sheer organza is in demand, particularly as sleeve accents or as skirt overlays," says Ms. Blenden, who also says that girls are wearing Chanel-inspired suits. Mrs. Schneider agrees that two-piece suiting looks newest for dress wear. "Short, pleated skirts or very dressy walking shorts are smart accompaniments to most toppers," she says.
For the no-frills tomboy of the family, there are plenty of options. Ms. James says that "simple cotton floral rompers or chambray jumpers will suffice for the religious holidays, as well as sweaters and skorts." Phyllis Sawicki, owner of Grandma's Paradise in Towson, says that "separates for girls are increasing in popularity for dress-up -- especially jumpers, blouses and sweaters."
Practical parents are snapping up coordinates to mix and match. A sweet blouse and jumper can go from preschool to a dressy affair with a change of shoes. Look for detachable collars, trims, petticoats and pinafores for value conscious, double-duty dressing.
When in doubt, go navy
When in doubt -- or overwhelmed -- go navy. The sailor suit, which arose from the Victorian obsession with pretend uniforms, has become the most enduring worldwide children's fashion. DorothyCwiek of Cwiek's Dry Goods Store in South Baltimore, stands by such traditional fashions. "Sailor dresses never abandon ship -- they are forever classic. This year navy on white with eyelet trim and coordinating berets are selling out," she said.
What better way to host a tea party than with prim hats and gloves to add the finishing touches? "Hats are hotter than ever -- specifically those that match the dress," says Ms. Allard. Natural straw boaters, or flipped front brims with ribbon and flower trimmings, are most current.
For little ladies who can't resist white-glove etiquette, Ms. Schneider suggests crochet or lace gloves. Other must-haves: white-patent pocketbooks and lacy legs. Besides the classic ballet flat or patent-leather Mary Janes, white closed-toe fisherman sandals are gaining in popularity, with the more
casual, longer dresses and rompers.
Boys want to look like Dad
What will the boys wear? Gone are the days of Little Lord Fauntleroy, but the traditional Eton suit is still going strong, if sales at the Pied Piper are an indication. While tiny tots are as cute as a baby chick in bow ties, shorts and knee-highs, big brother wants to look like Dad. Button-down collar shirts, long, pleated pants, suspenders and ties are turning up in miniature form.
Double-breasted suits -- still popular in the menswear market, ismaking inroads in boys' wear as well, says Paulette Perry, infant/toddler sets buyer for J.C. Penney. Besides the good old standby navy blazer and khaki pants, "Boys are going for seersucker shorts and madras or chambray jackets," Ms. James says.
Tykes may have a more casual approach to holiday dressing. "Moms are forgoing the sport coat and opting for knit polo shirts and cotton sweaters," Ms. Allard says. What better way to stretch a child's wardrobe and save a buck?
However you choose to dress up your babes, be it traditional or trendy; almost anything goes -- as long as comfort is key.