Tuesday, November 18, 2008


One of the more maddening aspects of my life is how I only get smarter about things which no longer affect me. Daughter, being my daughter, has always been something of a maniac on the subject of reading so I have a deep and thorough knowledge of children’s literature, both classic and off-the-beaten-path, and for every age from newborn to eight years. Of course, we just had the one offspring and the youngest child among my immediate group of friends is four years old so all those wonderful titles I found for my daughter when she was three and younger are just clattering around in my head, squeezing out more immediate concerns like “Where are the keys?” and “I remember something about eggs. Is it that we need eggs or that I have to stop buying eggs?” and “Where did I put the cordless phone this time? Is it near the keys?”

So, to the person I accosted in the baby-book section of Barnes & Noble and made a flurry of unsolicited book recommendations: I can understand your confusion. No, I don’t work there, I just needed to feel competent about something. I would hang around children’s clothing stores if I didn’t worry about someone calling security because, you see, I am very well informed on the subject of girl clothing, three months to 6X. I know exactly what labels make the kind of smocked dresses I like for dressy-wear for Daughter. I know which cuts suit her. I’ve even made my peace with the reality that not all of us are flattered by navy blue. Without bragging, I’d say no one dresses my Daughter in partywear from size three-months to 6X better than I do.

Of course, she’s now wearing an eight.

This means that, once again, the Etch-a-Sketch which is my brain has been cleared and I have been left to relearn how to dress my child in a hostile and expensive marketplace. Why did no one warn me about the vast wasteland which is girl tweenage-wear? [And oh, how I hate that word. The only reason I used it here is that you cannot say “Tween” without whining and the racks of party clothes for her age group make me want to lie down on the floor and simper until a person more mature than I am picks me up by the arm and says crisply, “I see someone needs a nap.”]

We have a family event this month. For a while I pretended that Daughter could get away with a kilt and a cream turtleneck; then I started hearing rumblings from other family members that it was to be a bit more fancy than that. “Fine,” I thought resolutely, “I’ll just get her a party dress. Something classic and pretty. It should take no more than a day.” I thought this because I drink before noon.

For those of you who don’t have children -- or your children haven’t reached this age yet -- let me tell you about party dresses for the eight-to-eleven demographic: If you like your pre-adolescent daughters dressed up like bar girls in wartime, you’re in luck. I found endless racks of spaghetti-strapped or one-shouldered slip dresses in fabrics which had aspirations to work very hard and grow up to be rayon. Daughter could have attended the family event and then gone off for an evening convincing men to buy her two-hundred-dollar bottles of Champagne. I was willing to admit that maybe she was too old for the smocked dress, but I was still unnerved by dresses with built-in bras. She's EIGHT!

Okay, if I didn’t want my daughter to be a bar-girl, she could be a bridesmaid because the other default style seems to be a spaghetti-strap dress with a full bell skirt and matching jacket. At least the bridesmaid look didn’t cry out to be accessorized with plastic heels and a prescription for Valtrex, but I learned quickly that “Matching Jacket” meant “Over a Hundred Dollars.” Also, Daughter is very lean and the full skirt gave her a sort of “Where’s Waldo?” effect -- I knew there was a girl somewhere in that one-hundred-and-eighty-dollar explosion of fabric, but damned if I could find her. I was stumped and I was irritated. I was also finishing the rewrites on the book, which meant a) I really had no time to be thinking about this and b) I hated rewriting so much that I was prepared to make this party dress my life’s work.

[I’m haunted by how many of my decisions are based on “Sure, this task is dreadful, but it’s much less dreadful than this other thing I’m avoiding.” Then again, copper-bottomed pots don’t polish themselves. ]

Flummoxed, I called Veronica because she buys her equally-lanky daughter a new holiday dress every year, and we both have similar, passionate feelings about spaghetti straps.

“Go to Nordstrom,” she advised.

“I did,” I said peevishly. “That’s where I found the backless dress for the nine-year old model in the single-malt Scotch ad .”

“No. The Nordstrom in Topanga,” she said patiently, “I don’t know why, but they have the few remaining non-trashy pre-teen dresses in Los Angeles.”

I sighed. Topanga? I sighed again. Topanga is notable for being inconvenient to nearly everyone on the planet. If you are reading this in Kansas City or Nepal, know that Topanga is only slightly more problematic for you than it is for most people who live in Los Angeles. And, just to keep things lively, Topanga is up near the wildfires which were currently defoliating my city. We live nowhere near the fires and the air near our house had the consistency of granola. For two days, I'd been coughing up what appeared to be exercise balls -- I couldn’t even imagine what it was like right up there in the belly of the beast. And wouldn't it be sort of fiddling-while-Rome-burns to be comparison shopping just a few miles away from people were losing everything they owned? Shouldn’t I be donating blood or offering them my house to live in or something meaningful? I ruminated aloud, endlessly.

“Or...” Veronica drawled, neatly cutting me off. “You can go back to your writing.”

Veronica was right. Nordstrom in Topanga does, in fact, have dresses which are classic and pretty and within the proper price range. I found one which will not make Daughter look as if she should be sitting on the lap of a local warlord. With only a modest effort, a quick call to a friend and an endless drive through apocalyptic smoke, I was now that much smarter. Driving home, I reveled in my new information. I toyed with calling mothers with smaller children and working the conversation around to the topic of party dresses, just so I could know something new and relevant. I looked forward to years of droning on to polite victims about how you simply can’t trust any Nordstrom but the Topanga Nordstrom.

And then the ember of reality hit the tinder-dry tree which is my self-esteem. Daughter needed shoes and nearly everything I saw in her size had heels. I sighed tiredly. Well, there were two upsides to this: 1) I could get boring on a whole new topic and 2) driving all over creation looking for flat shoes is still better than rewriting.


Blogger Unknown said...

This is the same boat I am with my daughter. She is a slim size 8.

I mourned the day she was out of 6X!

And the the leap from 6X to "Young Girls" Is like the leap from Cinderella to Barbarella!

I cannot get over the plunging necklines and lowriders offered in her size. It's quite disturbing.

Peace - Rene

12:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"found one which will not make Daughter look as if she should be sitting on the lap of a local warlord" -- ha! If I do ever have kids and the Topanga Nordstrom's still has a buyer who likewise does not want to see their own daughters dressed like war-time bargirls, I will remember this.

12:44 PM  
Blogger guerrilla girl said...

As the mother of a tall, slim 11-year-old girl, I empathize. Completely. Totally. I mourn the loss of the Youth House, a tasteful clothing store for children that used to live on Lake in Pasadena. I mourn the loss of Talbots Kids. And if I'm going to drive to Topanga, I might just as well fly to Kansas City; I think the flight is shorter.

(NB: Nordstrom.com has been reliable for dressy flats for the girl with size 9 feet. Then again, there are always Bitsy's green shoes...)

12:46 PM  
Blogger WritingMom said...

Things only get worse from now on. My daughter is now a young teenager, and the clothes for teen girls are even more trashy and even more expensive. Fortunately, my daughter doesn't want the trashy clothes, so I only have to hunt high and low to find the clothes, without having to fight the battle to keep her from walking out the door like she's going to work on the corner.

2:24 PM  
Blogger Jan Ross said...

I am often horrified by what the elementary students wear to school. As they sit and listen to stories in the library, I'm constantly having to tell the girls to pull their pants up because their butt crack is showing. (I don't say butt crack. Obviously.) But even worse than the clothes is the huge, dangly earrings the girls wear. Fifth grade! What were their mothers thinking!

2:40 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:32 PM  
Blogger Swistle said...

Oooooo nooooooo! Am I going to have to learn to SEW?

4:25 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Don't bother coming to Kansas City. It's just as bad here.


5:41 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

I feel your pain. I had to find a suitable outfit for a new years eve wedding for my daughter a couple years back. Making things worse was the fact that my little slugger refuses to wear dresses and skirts, thus rendering the already miniscule set of choices even smaller. And for some reason anything we did find that was acceptable to her wasn't in her size. After three days we finally found a sort of gaucho pant singlet thing and covered the spaghetti straps with a jacket. I don't even remember what it cost. I would have gladly signed my own soul over just to have it done.

As for my wedding this March, her dress cost more than mine. But dammit, she wore a dress! Of course, I'll actually wear mine again (it was a beach wedding, so I basically wore a fancy sundress - I don't actually traipse about town in a train and veil). She's already grown out of hers.

Don't even get me started on shoes! Especially the why-you-cannot-wear-sneakers-with-a-dressy-dress discussion.

8:16 AM  
Blogger Heksje said...

This is precisely why I won't allow my 7-year-old to have a Bratz doll. Those dolls are dressed like Barbie's Fallen Cousin, and it gives her weird ideas on what a little girl *ought* to be wearing.

Maybe I'm an old curmudgeon, but I want my little girl to look like a LITTLE GIRL while she still is one. Time enough for tacky clothes and make-up in another seven years. *sigh*

10:01 AM  
Blogger BiPolar Wife said...

I have two teenage daughters, ages 13 and 15. Both are tiny, size 0 and size 2 respectively. The clothes that fit them they wouldn't be caught dead. We do a lot of safety-pinning at the waist of "cool jeans" because the ones that fit have Hannah Montana on the butt pocket. We tried finding boots the other night. For young girls who wear women's sizes (we all wear a 7), "Hoochie Mama" seems to be the look of the season. God bless the internet. At least I can shop with them at home without meltdowns that seem to happen whenever we enter a mall.

10:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two words: Hanna Andersson.

5:44 PM  
Blogger Rae said...

FINALLY! A mother that does not want/allow her daughter to dress like a bratz doll is nearly as difficult to find as a dress with a back. Good for you QC.

5:52 PM  
Blogger Sister Mary Martha said...

You may have to move to Utah. I'm sure they have lots of sensible clothing for girls there.

1:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now that you've solved that, can you figure out where adults get dressy dresses with sleeves? I am scheduled for an outdoor wedding, in November.

5:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Garnet Hill. I got their catalog yesterday - not trashy at all. Of course, I mostly shop Garnet Hill when ther eis a sale. You can monitor that at slickdeals.net

For me: thegood news is boys clothes are not so trashy, but I expect I'll have to deal with the future equivalent of saggy pants and non-stop hoods-up in about 5 years.


8:00 AM  
Blogger Robin said...

I so enjoy your every entry. :-)

I was a substitute teacher for a brief moment in time this past year, and I am still a bit horrified of the clothing I observed! haha

Take care,
Robin Raven

10:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is so true about Nordstrom's, I went shopping in La Jolla today after going to five different places beforehand (with hideous merchandise) - in the end, they had exactly what I wanted.
I am so grateful there are cool, sensible mothers like you (and my mom) who actually care what their daughters wear -

Kudos to you!

7:59 PM  
Blogger Pale said...

"One of the more maddening aspects of my life is how I only get smarter about things which no longer affect me."

That is the definition of parenthood, if I ever heard one. I like how you always put your finger on something I've thought, but haven't articulated. I think that is the reason I had a second and third child ... I kept thinking ... I did the learning curve before ... how much better would it be the next time around? Now it will be easy. Now I'll be really good at it.

Dork. The truth is they are all so different ... and you are different ... and circumstances are different. And yes, some things are easier. But not as many as I'd hoped. Not enough to make me waltz my way through like a swan.

I have an 8 year old dd ... thanks for the warning. Apparently I was in for a rude surprise the next time I shopped for dress clothes. GAH.

I tagged you today:



10:12 AM  
Blogger BiPolar Wife said...

Happy Thanksgiving, Quinn, to you and your family!!!

1:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your article. I went looking last night for a size 7 dress for my daughter who is tiny. The dresses up to 6X were cute and wonderful. I found it really hard to find anything appealing at all in the 7-8 and up range. Luckily, we live in Canada...Sears had a nice selection of decent, pretty and appropriate party clothes for older girls...but the selection was nowhere near as large as that for the younger girls. Why is it that the manufacturers just automatically assume that as soon as little girls turn 8, the height of fashion is suddenly defined by the tight, tight outfits seen on Bratz and Hannah Montana?

10:28 AM  

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