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Princess Charlotte and the rising trend for bygone babywear

Author: Dottie Maguire
by Dottie Maguire
Posted: Dec 01, 2015

We like to know where we are with the Royals. After all, if they don't uphold a bit of protocol, who will? And so it came to pass that the latest portrait of Princess Charlotte, released to her enthralled fan base around the globe yesterday, was the very image of tradition – right down to the tiny pie-crust collar on her flower print, smocked Edwardian dress.

Princess Charlotte’s christening back in July was like a scene from Mary Poppins - and not just because of the nanny (who was dressed in the no-nonsense uniform of the Norland College nanny training school). Prince George, who stole the show from his sleeping sister, might have just stepped off location for the film, which was set in Edwardian London in 1910. His traditional red and white smock with shorts, smartly tailored over his nappy, certainly would not have looked out of place in the carefully valeted wardrobe of the young Michael Banks.

The rest of the family too, had a certain vintage appeal. But it was the buggy - or 'carriage' - that really gave the game away. This was not just a Royal christening. It was a vintage christening with all the trimmings and traditions that show one British family, at least, hasn't get too caught up in the new-fangled vulgarities of the modern world.

And since everything the Duchess of Cambridge does seems to strike a chord with the public, while high street shops are bulging with comfortable, casual clothing for babies – read easy access pieces in cotton jersey that can be chucked in the washing machine – there’s a growing trend for modern mothers dressing their little darlings in clothes from a bygone era.

The designer responsible for George's smock set was Rachel Riley. She launched her Heritage Collection (a more formal collection inspired by London, fit for any parent's little prince or princess) in 2012, when she knew there was to be a new heir to the throne and a new generation of Royals. Riley collects and reworks children's and babies' clothes from flea markets and antique markets and the outfit was inspired by a vintage piece from her own archive.

"It was delightful to see how lovely they all looked," said Riley, who does 40 per cent of her business in the US and revealed the traditional two-piece smocked set George wore (which retails for £85) was an instant hit on her website.

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Riley began her business in 1994 and opened her first shop in 1998. Business has been growing steadily ever since, but this year looks set to be one of her busiest yet as the demand for traditional children's clothing shows no sign of waning - part of a nostalgia for a simpler life. 'When children are small there's that innocence - they are very charming, they don't know about all the difficulties of the world and we as adults like to protect them from that."

Riley also has a theory about dressing children properly. "If you dress children smartly, you help them to understand you don't have to lie on the floor and run around, and disrupt other people's whatever. It's part of their education - if they are dressed for a special occasion they will be aware of that and their manners might reflect how they were dressed."

But it's not just the Royals who are caught up in a wave of nostalgia for a time when children looked smart and we well behaved. The children's market in general is taking a trip down memory lane, to altogether more innocent times, when a child's clothes would have been handmade by mother, or knitted by granny.

John Lewis is doing brisk business with its Vintage Floral Babywear range and there is quite a flurry of nostalgia-based children's brands snapping at Rachel Riley's Start-Rite heels. Elfie (whose smocked rompers sell for £38) is another British brand set up by sisters Rafaela Van der Heyden & Victoria Roper-Curzon whose base their design ethos on 'the magic of Old England'.

Caramel Baby & Child is another British success story playing on tradition. Founded in 2000 by Eva Karayiannis, its 11 stores worldwide – from London’s smart SW3, to Madison Avenue and Moscow ­– are stocked with childrenswear which blends the formality of continental Europe with a laid back English air (think Peter Pan collars, princess coats and vintage prints).

"Why shouldn’t children’s clothes be beautiful and tough-wearing at the same time? Why shouldn’t they be luxurious, but also with a refined simplicity?" says Karayiannis whose website styles up outfits fit for a future king and queen.

Similarly, the Hampstead boutique La Coqueta imports traditional children's clothes from Spain, including a classic sailor's outfit and a great range of Pierrot-collared tops for girls.

According to Wayne Hemingway, who has built a business on creating retro events (including the Vintage Festival, which celebrated the 175th anniversary of Cunard in Liverpool this year) the "Cath Kidston community" - as he describes fans of cup cakes, bunting and all things trad - has reached its peak.

"What I don't like is when it becomes fancy dress; there is sometimes a fine line between vintage and 'retro'," he says. "There's a lot of people doing it - it's reached the high street. It's everywhere now."

But he is all in favour of handing down items through generations - like the Millson pram Princess Charlotte is ferried about in. "They are harking back to a more genteel time. I don't see what's wrong about being nostalgic about family and people you've loved and times you've loved. If the pram is a family heirloom, that's nice."

And if Charlotte's pretty, flower-print dress and George’s shorts suited the pram, then, he says, they were probably the right decision - just as long as they can wear some "normal" baby clothes too.

"There's nothing wrong with dipping into the past," he says, "just as long as you don't live in it totally."

Also Read: country bridesmaids dresses

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Author: Dottie Maguire

Dottie Maguire

Member since: Mar 05, 2015
Published articles: 117

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