Every mother in my 1-year-old's play group has a different approach to dressing her kid. One dresses her son in a new outfit every day (train conductor, Polo prepster, cowboy). One frets that she dresses her son in colors that are too "girly" (she doesn't, but people keep stopping her on the street to admire her "daughter," and that can get to a mom). Another does dress her daughter in bright, colorful girly attire, the exact opposite of her own wardrobe. And me, I'm accused of dressing my daughter like a boy.
However you dress your tyke, you'll find what you're looking for at the children's stores below. Enjoy them while you can. After all, during the layette-toddler stage, it's all about us: The kids have yet to build their own fashion sense, and once they do, the fun is over.
46 East 21st Street; 212-420-9878.
Cynthia Radoczy has run this boutique for twenty years, but it has remained so hip and fun you'd think it had just opened. Check out the faux-fur jackets for girls, sleeveless beaded dresses ($130), sparkly shoes, and all the most covetable brands -- Petit Bateau, Lili Gaufrette, Charlie Rocket, and IKKS. The sales help are quick to offer their assistance, and you'll need it because there's so much eye candy here that it's easy to forget what you came to shop for.
280 and 284 Mulberry Street; 212-965-8910.
This small downtown boutique makes shopping a breeze. It carries Bu and the Duck sweaters and pants, Patrizia Novelli coats and sweaters, wooden Montgomery Schoolhouse toys made in Vermont ($10-$25), and Malina coveralls in silk and cashmere in a divine brown ($95), but the real find is the hand-crocheted booties ($35) and hats ($35-$55) in wonderful bright colors made by the store manager, Ana Torres. For summer she crotchets sandals, sun hats, and bathing suits, all one-of-a-kind; they make wonderful gifts if you can resist keeping them for your own child.
969 Madison Avenue, near 76th Street; 212-737-2037.
You know it as a pharmacy, but on the second floor it has a comprehensive children's clothing section. The store's been around for 45 years and used to be housed in the nearby Carlyle Hotel, but there's nothing old-fashioned about it. A real mix of traditional and hip, the shop knows its market. Start in the layette department, which carries everything from Carter's to designers like Versace and Nicole Miller. Check out the delicious Boule de lait cashmere cardigans in a variety of colors ($140), or the Joan Calabrese flower-girl outfits ($380) -- they also make stellar party dresses.
Bu and the Duck
106 Franklin Street; 212-431-9226.
Susan Lane's clothing is designed by her and unlike anything you'll find anywhere else. Scattered throughout in little nooks and crannies are outfits, sweaters, dolls, furniture, and separates. We loved the silky cotton leggings ($26-$32) and the side-button shirts ($32-$36); the patch-pocket pants (think Ali Baba) in silky rayon ($60), cotton, or flannel are so adorable, you're going to want them in every color for your boy or girl. Look for the handmade Raggedy Ann/Andy dolls ($200) made exclusively for the store. The dolls serve as a great gift, and they are not so raggedy -- you could learn a thing or two from their fashion sense.
Ibiza New York
42 University Place; 212-533-4614.
Pass through the adult section, go up a step, and enter this quiet children's boutique where Uma Thurman, Meryl Streep, and Susan Sarandon shop for their kids. European brands for boys and girls, ranging from practical but fun Zutano leggings ($10) to a Kenzo girl's coat ($116), are the stock in trade. But don't miss the Pamela & Co. tutus ($38), wands ($16), and wings ($20).
Talbots Kids & Babies
1523 Second Avenue, at 79th Street; 212-570-1630.
Not quite as dry as you remember: The preppy style is still their signature, and the the layette department is small, but for toddler basics like boys' Izod-type shirts (two for $29.50), you can't go wrong. In the girls' department, florals are big (blue denim jacket with little flowers, $58).
1522 Second Avenue, at 79th Street; 212-734-9292.
This place is not at all what you'd expect to find across the street from Talbots Kids. True, it has a "cruisewear" section, but otherwise it feels much more downtown than uptown. The Tangled tees that sparkle little diva ($17.90) and the red leather pants complete with white stitching ($129.50) draw hip moms who don't want to spend Scoop prices for their mini-me.