You walk into the moody, darkened space, bass sounds thump-thump-thumping at a volume that makes it nearly impossible to have an intelligible conversation.  Provocative framed art catches your eye–atmospheric black and white photos of the scantily-clad decorate the walls.   You take a breath and inhale the noxious fumes of oversprayed perfume.  Pretty, young girls wearing tiny, tight clothing mill about, smiling at you.  The music is so incredibly loud you can barely stand it, but the girl who dragged you there has disappeared into the crowd.  You have no choice but to endure this attack of the senses, as you push through the madness to find her.

No, this is not the latest dance club.  Welcome to Abercrombie and Fitch, Northlake Mall.

My ten-year old daughter has officially become a label ‘ho.  I had hoped I could dodge this one for a bit longer, but Emma and her peers are a precocious bunch.  She is slowly becoming aware of, and enamored by fashion.  I can’t pretend that I have nothing to do with this either.  For better or worse, I have always been rather fashion-concious.  I read those god-awful fashion ragazines, and I tend toward the shopoholic.  I try not to make it seem like something that is more important than say, moral fiber or manners and kindness, but let’s just say, I don’t hide my love of pretty things.   Yet,  I have managed to, until today, raise a child who wouldn’t care if her clothes came from Goodwill (and occasionally they have, because if there’s anything I love more than shopping, it’s BARGAIN shopping .)  Emma has attended Catholic school for the past 5 years, the best part of which has been the blessed uniform.  No pressure to wear the latest styles.  No need to spend a fortune on back-to-school clothing.  No fashion crises over what to wear each day.  I LOVE the concept of uniforms in school.  So when she wasn’t in school, Emma was just happy to be able to wear anything that wasn’t plaid and polyester.

And then something happened.  I can’t pinpoint a particular turning point, but lately Emma seems much more aware of consumerism (thanks Disney Channel) and LISTENS a whole lot to what other, older people talk about.  She hears names floating about:  The Gap, Abercrombie, UnderArmour, Puma, to name just a few of the more popular labels among her peers.  She doesn’t always get them right (today for example, she asked if we could go to “Hollyester”.  Took me a minute to figure out she meant Hollister.  Thankfully there is some innocence left.) but the thought that my baby girl is suddenly becoming a target demographic for the pimps at Abercrombie, et al. is quite disturbing to me!

Today I caved and took her to the mall for some back-to-school shopping.  (She will be attending a public school for the first time in her life this year, when we move to NJ.  One of the many pluses of living up north is the quality of education there.  The public schools here are a disaster, hence our kids attending a private one until now.)  Emma, my sweet, innocent, in diapers just yesterday, little girl has a newfound obsession with malls.   To further emphasize her naivete, I have to tell you that she actually asked me the other day if New Jersey had malls.  She didn’t want to live there if there were no malls.  Needless to say, once I stopped guffawing, I explained the “8 malls per square mile” zoning law they have in Jersey.

So anyway, I popped an Exedrin in anticipation of the mall-headache I was about to suffer, and off we went.  You’d have thought we were heading to a birthday party at Zac Efron’s house and hosted by Santa Claus.  She was that giddy.  Not one to quash my child’s hopes and dreams, I gave in to her wishes to check out Abercrombie.  Personally, I have not stepped foot in one of those since around 1988, and really wasn’t even aware that they made kids’ clothes (being that all their ads show borderline pornographic images of young adults).  Apparently Emma, being able to read now, noticed the name her friend’s t-shirts.  Let me say this however:  Abercrombie’s notion of what constitutes “kid’s” clothing is a bit, well, FUCKED.  Not to mention their notion of what makes for a pleasant shopping experience.  My ears are STILL ringing 8 hours later.  I swear, if someone were to do a long-range study, come 2018, you’d see an entire population of former Abercrombie employees keeping Miracle Ear hearing aids in business.  It was so damn loud in that store that my daughter couldn’t hear me freaking out over the pricetags.  (I suppose that’s the idea–“ok, ok honey, just get what you want so I can get the hell out of here!”)

I approached a rack of what I thought was infant-clothing.  Cute little skirts with the moose logo embroided all over it, old-school preppy style.  Psych!  Those aren’t baby skirts!  As I learned, to my horror, the smallest size in Abercrombie Kids is about an 8/10 (Emma’s size).  Those abominations hanging there like handkerchiefs are for big girls.  Too bad there’s about 4 inches of fabric missing from them.  Ditto the shorts.  Just try to find a pair that cover much more than the buttcheeks and don’t scream “Abercrombie” across the ass.  Dear God.  I have officially become my parents.  I find myself saying (or more accurately screaming) things like “over my dead body”, “your daddy would kill me”, “where’s the rest of that shirt?”, and “are you out of your mind?!”  Meanwhile, little Sophia, who has been dragged along, is crying.  “Puhleeeeze, hurry up Emma!  This music is hurting my ears so BAD!”  I think even Emma had to admit that this place was not all it was cracked up to be.  She didn’t say it out loud though.  She walked around looking dazed, as if she’d just met Hannah Montana or something.  There would be no convincing her today that those “cute” shorts were nothing more than trashy, free advertising for this awful awful store.  Once again channeling my parents, and being progressively weakend by the earsplitting music, I gave in.  I suddenly flashed back 28 years, and remembered being Emma’s age, yearning for some hideous, neon-striped Forenza shirt from the Limited.  My mother blanched at the price and the look.  But it was “cool”.  It was “awesome”.  I had to have it.  All my friends had one.  I begged.  My mom relented. 

And so the generational cycle continued.  I considered my child’s pleas.  I reflected on what it was like being that age and how it is so very important to fit in.  I thought about how hard it is to please a preteen, and this one, small thing, would ease some of the strain that has become so much a part of the mother-(tween)daughter relationship.  It’s just clothes.  But it’s so much more. 

So we settled on this:

big girl in the big name label shirt, showing off her new backpack in the kid-friendly whimsical animal print.

Juxtaposition: big girl in the big name label shirt, showing off her new backpack in the kid-friendly whimsical animal print.

It didn’t offend my mommy sensibilities too much, and it made my blossoming little fashionista the happiest girl in Charlotte.  I guess that makes it money well spent.

Effing Abercrombie.

Oh and by the way, we also spent an equal amount of time in a store called “The Children’s Place”, which is chock full of adorable, age-appropriate and affordable clothing (and it’s label remains on the inside of the clothes).  Emma found just as much there that was to her liking.  It won’t be like that much longer, but I’ll take it while I can!