Childish behaviour

Try as you might, you'll never get your kids to dress well

This is a popular month to have babies in. I guess it's all that Christmas and New Year sex that people insist on having. If you are expecting your first, you will probably have very fixed ideas about how you will want to dress your baby. After all, you're probably deeply stylish and you don't see why this shouldn't translate to your child? Absolutely.

The conversations in your head probably go something like this: "Gosh, everything is either branded or coloured, or patterned, or pastel. Our baby will be dressed in simple white, minimalist like our house. Oh, and it will only have wooden toys." At first you will achieve this, because it's not difficult to find wooden toys or pure white babygros. Eventually, after about month four, you grow bored by looking at your baby in white clothes. You realise how cute he or she actually looks in navy, or deep pink, or something patterned. Then, after 16 weeks of no sleep, you become desperate for your baby to entertain itself while you zone out on the sofa with some refined carbs, and you fish out that plastic rattle/ game/ball thing that someone gave you. Well, it's only once . . .

The thing is, even if you really try, you can only control what your child wears until they're about three. We're not short nowadays of labels that make stylish, fairly plain children's clothes. But here's the thing: children have bad taste and they'll let you know about it. You may lay out, of a morning, that lovely little Zara skirt, or Boden pants and Petit Bateau jumper, but your child will go to the wardrobe and select the dress/Hawaiian shirt his or her aunt bought off a market stall and accessorise it with a SpongeBob Square Pants rucksack. Just say no, I hear you say. Ha! Children are masters at grinding you down. They don't know the meaning of "say it once with meaning". If you ever want a pay rise, send your child in to ask for you. Your boss will cry.

Have you ever noticed how celebrities always show off their babies and young toddlers and then, all of a sudden, they disappear out of the public eye? This is why: said child is ignoring all the tasteful corduroy in its wardrobe and dressing itself entirely as Spiderman. The key is never to let those errant articles into the house, but it's hard work weeding out the presents and hand-me-downs before the child spies the pink, the glitter, the logo.

A recent colour study, published a few weeks ago, said that girls naturally prefer pink and boys blue. Scientific writers have pooh-pooh-ed it, saying there is no basis for it. However, in my experience (which is not inextensive, as I co-run a parenting website), girls are attracted, as magnets, to pink and fluffy (never think it can ever, possibly, be pink or fluffy enough) and boys have no taste whatsoever in how they choose to dress. If your children are the exception, please don't write in; I like to keep my theories intact. But count yourselves lucky.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 17 September 2007 issue of the New Statesman, How the Americans misled Blair over Iraq