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Dolled up


Fancies of the fashion world are often dismissed by the general public. The latest wacky get-ups from the runways of New York, Paris and Milan are greeted by just plain folks with derisive hoots or profound puzzlement over who in their right mind would want to wear such stuff. The newest concept from the couture capitals also appears worthy of laughter, except that response might downplay an idea more disturbing than those fashion designers tend to serve up.

Yes, it's hot, it's to die for, it's -- the baby doll look for grown women! It comes complete with little cutie-pie dresses, white ankle socks, patent leather Mary Janes and other articles of clothing from the closets of 6-year-old girls. As last Sunday's New York Times Magazine reported, "Lolita seems to be a comeback kid. Granted, it's not every woman's look, but lots of designers . . . are betting that by next spring more than a few women past the age of puberty will want to dress up like little girls."

We're surely not the only ones to detect the not-so-subtle suggestion of kiddie porn in this look. As Marjorie Garber points out on the page opposite, society is deeply ambivalent about children and sexuality. If fashion in general works mainly as a means of attraction, of sending signals to other people, then what else could the designers be thinking with the baby-doll line? At a time when the news is filled with stories about the sexual abuse of children, this fashion statement seems a tasteless joke at best.

Meanwhile, as women literally get dolled up, it seems more young girls are dressing "older." Maybe they're imitating their heroines of the increasingly sexy media, or maybe they've simply had to grow up faster in a world that allows kids less time to be kids. Maybe both reasons, and others, apply.

In any case, the girls could hope the baby-doll look stays around so they might eventually live out the childhood years they never fully savored.

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