Tiny Fashionistas

I’ve been mildly obsessed with little girls’ fashion since I was a little girl, myself. The obsession gave birth (no pun intended) to my creative pursuit, Menina. To me, there’s nothing so charming as a sweetly dressed little girl, made all the more endearing if it seems she dressed herself. When I see a girl wearing a princess dress or fairy wings in public, I melt. Today I was treated to the sight of two girls on a street in Brooklyn, each expressing themselves through fashion, but with very different results.

The first was a girl of about three or four. I caught sight of tiny black ballet flats with ribbons, then my eyes rose to see black and white striped leggings, a pink floral skirt, and a pink hoodie emblazoned “Brooklyn” across the front. Nevermind the pinks did not match; the outfit was enough to render her cute as a button. But then, atop her head was an honest-to-gosh pioneer bonnet, à la Laura Ingalls. The bonnet was such juxtaposition to the hip little outfit- made of light blue cotton, with tiny pink flowers- and I am certain the little girl thought the bonnet was the pièce de résistance to her ensemble.

I looked to the woman whose hand the little girl was holding: a tall brunette, chic in heeled boots, jeans, and a mid-season leather jacket. My instant thought: “Now there is a confident woman, raising a confident daughter.” A woman less sure of herself would have insisted the little girl leave the bonnet at home. A girl less sure of herself wouldn’t have thought of the bonnet in the first place. They made a great pair and made me smile.

The very next people I saw were another mother-daughter combination, only this girl was slightly older. She was also wearing sweet ballet flats. and in the brief moment I passed her and her mother on the street, I heard the woman say, “See. Everyone else has their ankles covered.”

My heart broke a bit for this girl. I imagined the scene at home that morning: all she had wanted was not to wear socks, and battle ensued. Mom declared it was too cold to go sock-less; Daughter declared she didn’t care. Back and forth until Daughter won and was allowed to leave the house with bare ankles. But Mom was not going to miss the opportunity to point out Daughter was wrong in her choice, as all the world could prove, in their socks and boots and long pants.

The thing is, it wasn’t that cold. It wasn’t raining or slushy. The little girl was not going to catch pneumonia in her state of undress. But her life, I imagined, would be very different from that of the girl in the pioneer bonnet. This idea might be a major projection on my part, yet I wish both these little girls well in learning to express themselves through fashion, and in their relationships with the women who love them most in the world, and who may- or may not- guide them around pitfalls.

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Menina

Late in bed one night several years ago, I had an epiphany. I was frustrated by the lack of creativity in my career and searching for inspiration to fulfill creative desires in my day-to-day life. Sparing details of the history that led to the epiphany, let me just tell what happened: I mentally examined my stockpile of fabric, larger than anyone is entitled to; I reminisced on my love of vintage fashion; I considered my small collection of vintage children’s clothing (never able to pass up a wonderful find at a thrift store or rummage sale). Finally, I recalled living in Portugal in my early 20’s, a full-grown woman being called “Menina”- little girl in Portuguese- by the local characterful ladies. Suddenly it came to me: I would design and sew vintage-inspired fashion for little girls and I would call my enterprise Menina.

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Fast forward to the present time, Menina exists as both my pride and joy and a thorn in my side (as a human girl of my own might). She has given me the creative outlet I lacked, but has also been a source of frustration due to my inattention to building a business to match my original epiphany. Continue reading