Little Match Baby

Consider: a girl, no more than seven, stands with her cheeks puffed out, eyes averted to something more interesting off-camera. She’s wearing canvas dockworker pants, clogs with a slight platform, a ruffly knit vest. There’s a basket beside her, empty, but evoking a picnic or a tromp through the forest. Or: a girl, perhaps five, sits on a wooden floor the colour of a cafe au lait, her blond hair in pigtails, one hand doling out wooden buttons, the other clutching a bowl with more. Both photos, with golden light and little blond girls, evoke Swedish country house vacations. It could be 1940 or 1974 or 2017. The look in both is wistful and slow; the play is contemplative, or sweet, or home-spun.

The Cut recently published a call-out of the faded aesthetic of Mischa and Puff, described above, along with Soor Ploom, Yoli + Otis, Little Creative Factory, and others. All of them are promoting their twist on the Industrial Revolutionary, Amish-influenced, natural-fiber kids clothing that’s having a moment in children’s fashion right now. They describe it as “Western prairie maiden plus London newsies with a good mix of colonial farmhand and early 20th-century Irish peasant tossed in for good measure. They’re united in their dedication to nubby wool, burlap-like linen, and the occasional sherpa lining (fabrics worn on whaling vessels or at the homestead).” The brands claim that their clothes are just as easy to play in as pretty-princess tee shirts sold at Target (Soor Ploom, whom I follow on Instagram, got especially shirty with The Cut in their stories), but, you know, better: no outrageous dyes, no itchy man-made fibers, no crass commercial tie-ins.

The Cut also points out that these clothes go for about as much as we would pay for the adult versions, but we are far less likely to shit all over our cashmere harem pants or puke up on the linen bonnet strings.

So obviously, parents can spend their money however they damn well want; while I might be envious of folks who can drop mad coin on onesies (most of NS’s stuff is second-hand), there’s nothing inherently wrong with doing so. It’s a truism that kids are expensive, but at least while they’re breastfeeding and sleeping 18 hours a day, you don’t have to order them a kids’ meal at Per Se. I kind of feel like as long as you’re socking away some onesie money in their college fund, enjoy it while it lasts.

But the other part of me says, Damn, those clothes look hard to play in. And they do: long linen dresses (a smudge of dirt would live forever in those fibers), wide-brimmed hats (good luck playing tag if you’re trying not to get your topper blown off in the wind), low-heeled boots that lace halfway the knee (siiiiigh). The boys fare slightly better: wool pants (hot) held up by leather braces (um?), with mandarin-collar button down shirts (actually fine, but good luck in public school, not that you’ll go). These are Fancy Brudgom clothes, designed to be looked at, not lived in. You can take pensive walks in these clothes, but you can’t go down a slide or crash your bike; you can sketch a chipmunk, but you’d better keep the acrylics locked up in the high cabinet. There’s no shock absorption in the insoles, no stain-forgiving pattern repeats, no sweat-wicking properties. These clothes send the message: stay still, be quiet, don’t make a mess.

I think there are two reasons for this fashion moment. First, there’s been a higher-fashion movement to cover up, be a bit drab, be modest. Kids clothing often defaults to “modest”—very few cold-shoulder tops for infants—but in colour, material, and mood, it can certainly echo the look at me/don’t look at me aesthetic that women’s fashion projects right now. By keeping things simple, pure, virtuous—things most of us want for our kids regardless of our style preferences and parenting practices—we can swaddle them in a protective fashion narrative (“My children are too pure for this world, at least the Wal-Mart parts of this world”) and match them to our own oversized smocks and wooden-heeled shoes. It’s a cliche that children are accessories, but if they happen to match your accessories, well, then, everyone wins!

The second is part of our constant quest for authenticity. We want to give our kids the gift of history, the sense of being cocooned in longstanding family tradition, heirlooms, and ancient parenting techniques. But, like, as white people? We don’t really have access to truly ancient modes of being; there’s only so far back we can go and still be tribally recognizable. This current style projects a world devoid of the cosmopolitan influence of globalization—after all, you can’t appropriate what you don’t acknowledge—and the most international flavour might be a little bit Scandi. It’s basically white people all the way down. Sure, the models might be more diverse (sometimes!), but the look is pure Dickens.

There’s nothing wrong with dusty rose linen and clove alpaca, but when the prevailing style is this monolithic, it erases all the beautifully diverse, playful, child-focused ways to dress a kid. As part of a balanced fashion diet, there’s a place for the urchin look; taken in concentration, it’s deadly dull. And worse, it reinforces the notion that white or Eurocentric people, history, or aesthetics should be the most interesting or default way of being. Snooze! And gross. Let’s diversify, please, in all possible ways.

The way I like to dress my son is usually stretchy, cozy, colourful, and easy to change a diaper. He has overalls from my childhood in Toyko, thirty years old and still wearing beautifully, that wouldn’t be out of place in a present-day rave. He also has band tee shirts, Uniqlo long johns, craft-fair beanies, and a lot of second hand stuff. We favour bright red, navy, gray, and black (okay, so not too colourful), with a lot of patterns and jersey. I draw his style influence from hip-hop videos, garden gnomes, African wax prints, Jughead, the 1980s, and college bros.

He can do a full squat in every pair of pants he owns. Everything goes in the washing machine. I hand-dry nothing. He looks great.

About the Author

Kaitlyn Kochany
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Kaitlyn Kochany is a Toronto-area freelance writer and editor. She had her son, NS, in January 2016, and has been trying to sleep and write since then.

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