"I like shopping with Dad," said Heather Hadley, 15. "I just tell him, 'That's what all my friends are wearing,' and he goes, 'OK, get it.'
"With my mom, it's not quite that easy," she says.
Heather and her dad, Barry Maxwell of Orlando, Fla., were doing a little back-to-school shopping recently. For him, it was a first.
"My wife always took care of the shopping. But since the divorce (last August), Heather spends the summers with me, so now I get to do it. Or should I say, I get to tag along. She does the shopping," Mr. Maxwell said, eyeing his daughter's armload of bags from the Gap and Limited.
The number of fathers shopping for their children's clothes has risen in the past few years, say retailers.
"Not a big increase. Just enough to notice -- especially at back-to-school time," said Helen Cutler, manager of Belk Lindsey in The Florida Mall in Orlando.
Managers at Belk Lindsey, Target and J.C. Penney stores came up with this composite of the typical Shopper-Dad: He shops on Friday evenings and weekends and is more often spotted shopping with a son than a daughter -- especially a daughter older than about 12.
He asks more questions about sizes and styles, but he is easy to deal with because he is something of a pushover. "Dad goes with what the child wants. Mom has her own ideas about what looks good and what she wants the child to wear," Ms. Cutler said.
He doesn't read labels much and is somewhat less cost-conscious than Mom. "Dad will let the child try on a pair of expensive jeans. Then, when he sees the price, he'll say, 'OK, but only one.' Mom is more likely to know the price ahead of time. She'll say up front, 'Don't even look at those jeans,'" Ms. Cutler said.
He views shopping as a necessary evil -- not fun -- and does it as fast and infrequently as possible.
"I'd say the kids' freedom of choice is not as great with Dad because he just wants to get it over with and get out of there in a hurry," said Paul Nelson, business planning manager for the men's department at J.C. Penney.
"Dads, on the whole, are not born shoppers," he concluded.
But they're learning.
Some, through divorce or widowhood, have been forced to assume the role of shopper. Others, whose wives have full-time jobs or are tied down with younger children, volunteer to do their bit at the malls.
"I think it's a pain -- especially when everyone's getting ready for school and the mall is packed," said a father who asked that his name not be used.
Divorced, this dad has custody of his daughter, 16, and son, 12. Here's his approach to shopping:
"I don't know anything about styles so I let them pick out what they like. I only say no if the price is too high or it's a real punk style."
"They may not be the best-dressed kids in school, but they're not the worst, either."
His daughter, a high school junior, said shopping with her father has forced her to learn to make her own decisions.
"It's kind of like I'm shopping by myself. Dad just says, 'Get what you need.' He comes along mainly to see that I'm safe -- and sign the check. It would be nice to have a woman along sometimes, especially when I'm indecisive," she said.
Traci Singh, 10, has no problem shopping with her father.
"It's fun. Sometimes he lets me pick the clothes, but usually he picks what looks good on me. He picks real cool stuff," Traci said.
Her older sister, Lisa, 14, makes most of her own selections.
"I show him what it is, and he usually says OK. It's more fun shopping with other women, though. They understand clothes better."
Vernon Singh, who has raised Traci, Lisa and their three brothers since his divorce 10 years ago, admits he has "terrible taste" and hates to shop.
"But I try to make it fun. I take as many of the kids with me as possible, and they get up to all kinds of nonsense. We have a blast," he said.
Although he has noticed a few other fathers in the clothing stores of late, it's still "a pretty rare sight," Mr. Singh said.
Shopping for his daughters presents the biggest problems. "I get embarrassed when I have to buy for the girls. You'd think the sales staff would see a dad looking lost and ask if they can help. But instead they seem to avoid me. I think they see a man in the girls' department and figure me for a shoplifter -- or a pervert."
To solve this problem, Mr. Singh enrolled his daughters in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. "Now my girls have two lovely, educated young women to take them shopping for all that women's stuff."
Preston Marks doesn't have to concern himself with "women's stuff." He has two sons, ages 13 and 8, for whom he has been shopping since his divorce 2 1/2 years ago.
Were he still married, he would "absolutely not" be shopping, said Marks. "I hate it."
Still, he has figured out a strategy for making trips to the mall as easy as possible. He takes his sons separately to cut down on the competition for his attention; he has settled on a number of stores that offer the kind of classic sportswear he prefers his sons to wear; he buys fad clothing only as birthday or Christmas gifts; and he has learned that buying quality pays.