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Baby got swag -- no, really

By Ann Hoevel, CNN
updated 11:40 AM EDT, Thu August 1, 2013
The latest craze of parents' photos floating around the Internet: children with style and swag. By now you might have seen a Tumblr or Pinterest board with pictures of toddlers striking sassy poses. Julia Samersova, a casting director and blogger who runs "Planet Awesome Kid" in Brooklyn, sees kid swagger in her neighborhood every day. Here, her own daughter, Violet, strikes a pose in a purple furry coat. The latest craze of parents' photos floating around the Internet: children with style and swag. By now you might have seen a Tumblr or Pinterest board with pictures of toddlers striking sassy poses. Julia Samersova, a casting director and blogger who runs "Planet Awesome Kid" in Brooklyn, sees kid swagger in her neighborhood every day. Here, her own daughter, Violet, strikes a pose in a purple furry coat.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Blogs, Pinterest and Tumblr showcase photos of children wearing high fashion
  • Blogger: "The kids in Brooklyn dress better than the adults in most of the rest of the country"
  • Some says it's parental pride, kids expressing themselves, or satire on style
  • Psychologist: Be careful that photos don't become exploitative, creepy

(CNN) -- Hands in pockets, a downward glance, tiger print glasses and Ralph Lauren from head to toe. Sounds like a fashion spread in a magazine, right?

Except the model is a toddler from New York City, one of many whose notable outfit and saucy pose has inspired an audience online.

Shoulders-up school portraits, these are not. These kids wear labels and looks usually designated for adults, and they wear them with panache. Some are more notable for the combination of clothes, for the slick lighting and scenery, or the oh-so-adult face they put forward for the camera.

You'd probably call it swagger. When kids have it, they essentially look like petite versions of models in a Hugo Boss ad: A cool air of confidence exuded for camera-wielding parents.

But is that swagger because kids are more fashion savvy? That the proud parents are just taking more photos? Or that fashion these days is more impressed by the sartorial choices of 3-year-olds?

Maybe a little bit of everything.

Julia Samersova, a casting director by trade, runs "Planet Awesome Kid," a blog started in 2009 that catalogs the street fashion sense shown off by Brooklyn's youngest residents, and the attitude that goes along with it. Adler started by taking photos of children she saw around her neighborhood that had something special -- a great haircut, a really unique outfit or really great energy. It's a diverse, artistic community where the parents and kids have a high capacity for fashion, she said.

"We never got a 'no' from a parent, ever," Samersova said. "The kids in Brooklyn dress better than the adults in most of the rest of the country, which is the truth."

But it turns out that the young and stylish are everywhere.

"We were getting e-mails from people all over the world, from China to Russia to Israel. From everywhere. From Africa." she said. "People were like, 'Oh, you think your kids dress the cutest in New York? Look how cute my kid is in wherever.'"

Luxury brands embracing babies

Planet Awesome Kid is hardly the only place on the Internet devoted to kid swagger: Pinterest and Tumblr have given rise to devotees of kiddie fashion. Some children, like Alonso Mateo, have fan pages devoted to his natural ability to put a high-fashion outfit together.

Who knew they made this for bald babies?

On Tiffany Beveridge's viral Pinterest board, "My imaginary well-dressed toddler daughter," there's a less serious approach to the trend. It started out innocently enough -- a catalog for the adorable little girls' clothing that came across her Pinterest page -- but her sense of humor quickly got the better of her.

Baby business booming in U.S.

"I began finding all the elaborately dressed and highly styled kids," said the the freelance copywriter from Philadelphia. Her immediate reaction was to add captions about the fantastic life of a fictitious daughter, whom she named Quinoa.

"Quinoa says why walk into a room when you can SHAZAM! into a room?" she wrote under a photo of a solemn blonde child in a black dress and ballet flats, kicking one leg behind her.

"When Quinoa wants volume, she doesn't just tease her hair, she relentlessly bullies it," Beveridge labeled a photo of a wide eyed child with mile-high red hair.

"It was when Quinoa demanded a miniature deer at her Pre-K portrait session that I truly began to understand her gift," she posted on a quirky photo of a girl with a messy updo, red tights and an ultra-short mushroom print dress, standing over, yes, a miniature deer.

"It was also around that time that quinoa, the grain, had become extremely trendy, which I found hilarious. I mean, come on, a trendy grain? I figured it was only going to be a matter of time before somebody named their kid Quinoa," Beveridge said, "and then I realized that person would be me."

Most of the images come from ad campaigns, but Beveridge has found that fashionably dressed tots have a large geographical footprint.

"I'll get tweets from people all over the world about 'Quinoa sightings' in their area," Beveridge said.

What's less clear is how people feel about it. Some adults really love the looks. Some think it's cute or hilarious. Some find it weird, or even offensive.

"Is this cute and harmless or kind of perverse," Beveridge said.

Kiddie swagger might be off most parents' radars, said Kevin Everhart, a clinical psychologist and professor in Denver who specializes in child psychology.

Despite any artistry or irony these images present, they can have a much different meaning outside of Brooklyn or the fashion community, Everhart said. He worries about the potential for exploitation in mature styles that are sometimes picked, posed and photographed by adults, but very much featuring children.

"That sense of feeling creeped out is there for a reason," Everhart said.

It's murky territory even for parents collecting, posting, organizing and distributing the images, he said. If parents actually focus on the social cachet of a child's outfit, they could end up objectifying their children.

"To some extent, these are children being treated like poodles," he said.

Mass merchandisers and baby boutiques cater to that parental pride, and sometimes take advantage of it, he said. For example, baby shirts emblazoned with the logos of rock bands from the '70s and '80s say more about the parent than the child.

"They're selling an idea to a parent that says 'My child is cool; I'm cool. I'm much older, but I haven't lost it. I'm still just as happening as I was before," he said.

Encouraging the sort of "Zoolander" affectations in kids is as easy as laughing at them or taking their picture. It teaches children that they get attention if they act that way, Everhart said. Often that's a completely unconscious exercise, for parent and child, he said. After all, it's not unusual for children to emulate what they see in pop culture.

"Every generation recreates its pop idols," he said, "and much of what we see in youth culture is a response to the adult world."

But playing dress-up, after all, is one way toddlers learn about self-expression, Beveridge pointed out.

"We all know that toddlers can be extremely opinionated, so with these well-dressed kids, it begs the question of who's in charge," she said.

"I think we like to imagine both scenarios: Maniacal parents forcing this on their kids, as well as headstrong kids throwing a tantrum because they really, really want that Armani jacket."

There is something a little strange about just how much sass her 4-year-old daughter can show, said Samersova, the Planet Awesome Kid blogger.

"When I turn a camera on her, she automatically goes into some kind of weird, funky, funny pose," she said.

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

But don't feel too bad if you've done your fair share of spamming Facebook or Instagram with your child's personal fashion show.

A photo of a kid with swagger isn't necessarily creepy, or bratty or parental pride gone wild.

"It comes from, 'Oh my God, that dress is so cute on my daughter,'" Samersova said. "It doesn't have to be any deeper than that."

Do you think these kids are just expressing their natural fabulousness or that their parents need to step back and prioritize other qualities over fashion? Share your take in the comments section.

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