Time was, little kids wore what their parents put them in. These days, even kindergartners are right on top of each season's trends and guiding use of the parental wallet.
"I can tell you one of my employees has six-and four-year-old daughters," Kevin Meloche, Zellers' general merchandise manager for children's wear, said in an interview. "She had to meet them at the mall yesterday.
"They have an opinion. They were walking by, and (one little girl) saw these rubber rainboots - chocolate brown and pink polka-dots - grabbed them and had to have these, and she's six. That's real young," Meloche said. In case you are among the uninitiated, chocolate brown and pink is as hot as you can get.
Wired kids have up-to-the-minute knowledge of the trends and are more fickle than ever, Meloche said. As a merchandiser, there is no room for error.
"You better have the right trend on the floor, because if you don't, it's not going to sell," he said.
While adult runway fashions used to take a year to appear in the children's market, they are now appearing in the same season, he said.
This spring, think '60s love, peace and flower power mixed in with '80s high colour penetration. Think citrus bright, acid-washed and tie-dye, he said.
"The graphics are '80s-inspired. They are vibrant; they are bright ... In girls it's all about butterflies and small floral prints. Lots of peace signs."
You'll see colourful leggings beneath casual tunics reminiscent of the movie "Flashdance," and plenty of that aforementioned brown and pink, Meloche predicted.
Boys' clothing is all about extreme graphics with skulls and crossbones, iron crosses and eagles. It's a skateboarder feel, Meloche explained. Even the polo shirts have extreme graphics across the shoulder or on the bottom of the shirt.
Also big this spring is nautical styling - wide-legged sailor pants, with a crisp red, white and blue colour palette, said Stefanie Missler, an owner of Dandelion Kids in Vancouver and Port Moody.
Vans has created a boat shoe with a "cooler, skateboard-y thing going on. It's got lacing and is in navy," Missler said. "The traditional deck shoes are the domain of preppy teenagers. This is a bit edgier and not as literal. It has a thicker sole and the tread is really flat.
"We're seeing lots of jumpsuits, which I love," Missler said. "We have one in particular, with beehiving and balloony pants. It's a voluminous and comfy, funky little outfit they can still climb trees in, for ages one to nine years."
For girls, she's seeing little tunics with tiered ruffles in small floral prints and punchy '80s colours.
At the top end, Laura Spencelayh, manager of Babes on Fourth said Burberry is their most popular line this season.
"I think it's because there's a real big trend of parents wanting to show off their kids," Spencelayh said.
"It's only our second season with Burberry, and we are just amazed at how popular it is. It's a very traditional, classic look. ... We have a fabulous white, yoked girl's raincoat ($300). It's one of those you could buy now, put your kids in it and save it for your grandkids."
Other popular items this season are, for girls, polo tops with puff sleeves in the traditional Burberry plaid with white Bermuda shorts, and for boys, black cuffed shorts in both Hugo Boss and Burberry with orange, blue, red or white polo shirts.
Babywear reflects trends in children's wear, said Lisa Malcic of Beba Bean, which sells baby gifts and apparel in Coquitlam. Pantone, the colour company, has chosen turquoise as its colour for spring-summer 2010. In baby wear, it translates into soft turquoise, and for tweens, it's almost fluorescent.
Lisa Will of Stonz children's outdoor wear, which makes its product at Venables and Commercial in Vancouver, said plaids are so big she's had trouble finding them for her boots. Parents might choose conservative tans for themselves, but they are adventurous with kids' clothing.
"Dark brown with dusty rose or denim blue is still our bestseller," Will said. "Brown with lime green is also hot."