Private Eye’s killer observational headline “WOMAN HAS BABY”, responded to the royal birth of Prince George Alexander Louis as matter of fact. No unnecessary glitz (or excessive coverage), a baby has been born and now its parents need to take care of it. Nationally, the numbers of births in the UK are rising, 22% since 2001 in England and Wales alone1. I want to know, how well designers and brands are geared up for delivering the appropriate goods when the babies have arrived and need dressing. The estimated expense in pregnancy and through the first year of a babies life, ranges £4,000 to £10,000. A fair portion of this will be used for clothes with an incredibly short life span as babies rapidly grow out of them. You’ll need to allow a considerably large percentage of that budget for baby fashion if yours is wearing Gucci baby original GG canvas sneakers for example.2
I don’t have a baby (yet), nor do I know many people that do. I’ve worked as a childrenswear designer but that was a very long time ago. I did what I do know, I Googled “baby clothes”. The top brand suggestions included three ads from Debenhams, La Redoute and Ralph Lauren, followed by top hit sites House of Fraser, Mamas & Papas, Very (quite, Very who?), and George by Asda, all of which made my lips curl to the side. As an adult dresser and out of touch childenswear designer, I can’t relate to any of these brands because they don’t sell clothes for me. In need of help, I went looking for some Mums, to see if they think designers and brands are hitting the spot.3
The babies discussed here are all under a year, out and about with their mummies. I was after an honest, more intimate take on what the mums wanted from baby clothes, particularly when I felt so lost scrawling through pages of clothes that to be honest, mostly looked the same. All of the mums I met answered practical questions with equally practical advice, uncovering tips for the makers, anyone new at the baby dressing game and equally interesting to everyone else.
George, the first baby I met, was with his mum Daniela. Daniela says her favourite brands are Tommy Hilfiger, Mammas & Papas and Mothercare. “I like the way they make the clothes and the materials. I find it difficult because he’s bigger than his age, but these brands let me buy bigger than his age and they fit.” Her advice to new parents is to measure your baby, because sometimes the size of the clothes doesn’t fit the age and size of your baby. “I’ve found sometimes I’ve bought clothes that are too small but I’ve already washed them and go to try them on him and they don’t fit. Then you waste money for nothing.” She would like designers to consider bigger sizes for babies. She says she’s spoken to other mums who have the same problem, the sizes are too small. There are special sizes for smaller babies, she told me, but not bigger ones. Daniela explains, she wants top quality and then goes on to say why she doesn’t like appliqué and polyester.
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Mum of baby Bo, Melissa, gave her tips for clothing brands she rates, “H&M, Polarn O. Pyret, Gap. Petit Bateau too, but they’re quite an expensive brand, so I also do a lot of charity shopping4. Fara is a good charity shop.” Why those particular brands? I asked, “I like things that aren’t too kidish with cartoon characters, I like stripes and spots and quite plain things. Nothing too frilly. Hennes has a really nice value range and they do non-fussy things. And the Polarn O. Pyret do really good quality jersey things in fun and bright colours. Mothercare for leggings and Jools Oliver’s range, Little Bird for Mothercare, that’s really lovely, Jools does quite a lot of liberty vintage print styles. Nothing frilly, oh and I don’t like anything with teddy bears or that kind of thing and Marks and Spencers and Next do quite a lot of that, and I don’t really like that. Durability, price and colour are my top three requirements.”
Melissa has a friend who only dresses her baby in vintage clothes which she says she knows sounds pretentious “..But it’s not, she finds amazing really good quality clothes for 50p sometimes.” She gives her top tips and requests to designers. From car boot sales, to blogs, and saying ‘no’ to Mickey Mouse appliqué!5
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Mum Debbie, with her baby Luly-Grace, told me the brands she prefers, “Mothercare, Marks & Spencer and Asda”.6 She says she likes Asda the most because she gets good bargains, good value for money and Mothercare and M&S have really good sales, with better quality products. They sell the best. “ I like nice bright, colourful and comfortable clothes made with nice soft materials. They need to be good quality because you tend to wash them a lot.” Her top tip is to be open to cheaper brands.
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Alexandra, mum to baby Beatrice who was sleeping with the do-not-disturb sign up.7 Alexandra gave us her advice, starting with her favourite brands for baby clothes, “Beauty and the Bib in Greenwich Market, H&M and baby Gap, Boden for treat outfits and Joules have some lovely things as well.8 They need to wash well and go on well. It’s awkward when you’ve got awkward buttons and zips that don’t work, and just a bit of colour that’s fun, instead of mass produced.” She said she wants colour, price and practicality as her top three requirements. “I looked at a dress in H&M the other day and it was beautiful, but it looked like a grown up’s dress in baby size, it had too many buttons, and I thought that’s going to be a pain to wash and dry so I went for a t-shirt dress instead.” Alexandra offers further useful tips to new parents and designers alike.
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It seems there is room for improvement, quite literally in the case of bigger babies like baby George. I can appreciate the predicament of having to design clothes that fit a little wriggler, like my friend Rachel’s baby, Martha. She’s 5 months old and just experiencing a growth spurt. The suit she’s currently growing out of is from Mothercare, pack of 7 for £10, which does sound like extraordinarily good value.9 Rachel says “They will have many outfit changes during the day so you can’t be too precious, and the baby doesn’t care if it is fashionable or not.” Certainly high on the list of considerations for all the mums, soft fabrics that are washable. Martha always wears pure cotton. “She’ll wear a dress for special occasions but anything too fussy, gets chewed.” Chewing, something else you don’t tend to have to consider when designing in other areas of fashion. Designers also have to deal with the feat of abstaining from most types of fastenings, meaning no zips, coggles or other harder materials which may be harmful to a baby, all of which are fundamental to a garments fit and access in and out.
Mums looking for further advice, could try the community at netmums.com, they seem very friendly and knowledgeable in all matters of taking care of a baby.10 Designers and brands facing of the challenges, you might want to listen to mums a bit more, too.