Sweet Reflections

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Matching mother-daughter outfits are gaining some renewed status, their reappearance owing to a wave of nostalgia and more sophisticated styles that bridge the generation gap.

Many still cringe at the notion of mothers and daughters who dress alike, of course. They remember Mama dressed in a frilly outfit that made her look babyish, or daughters in clothes too sophisticated for their age.

Fortunately, fashion designers and manufacturers have found a pleasing middle ground that flatters both age groups.

Some have created identical outfits with simple silhouettes such as flowing, drop-waist dresses and jumpers that can be worn at any age. More often, they're changing the body style of the garments but using identical fabric to unite mother and child.

Designers have discovered that when the styles are right, demand is strong for mothers and daughters who want to dress like twins. The reason has a lot to do with nostalgia, romance and one's ideal of motherhood, according to Jessica McClintock, who creates a line of mother-daughter special occasion wear.

"Daughters always like to emulate Mommy when they're young--until they reach their teens and become exposed to the media. That's a different animal," McClintock says.

"As for mothers, well, there's nothing a mother loves more than her child."

McClintock makes coordinating dresses out of fancy brocades and tapestry fabrics. Her off-the-shoulder white lace and brocade adult dress ($271) complements the white lace dress for toddlers that has a rounded neck and capped sleeves, an empire waist and bloomers ($70), available at the Jessica McClintock boutique in Crystal Court, Costa Mesa.

There are mother-daughter outfits to suit almost any occasion, from formal to casual.

M.A.C., a line of cotton sportswear, makes fashions for mother and child that are anything but frilly. There are T-shirt dresses in matching pastels, waffle-weave knit tops and leggings, available at Rose LeDonne, a women's and children's boutique in Laguna Niguel. Mom can choose a slinky long knit skirt ($76), long button-front vest ($65) and long T-shirt ($47) in a pale yellow cotton, then put her daughter in a matching button-front dress with an empire waist ($28).

"This is definitely not frou-frou," says Slade Smiley, who co-owns the shop with his wife, Rose. "It's not uptight wear."

For dressier events, they can find flowing, rayon dresses in matching fabrics but with slight variations in style. One blue and white gingham dress by Chantel & Vickie comes with a scoop neck and flared skirt for mom ($95); a matching dress for daughter has a high waist and full skirt ($33).

Romantic country looks, especially floral chintz jumpers and dresses with drop or high waists, are complementary to both mother and child.

"You don't put them in a St. John Knit. You want the child to look like a child and the woman to look like a woman," says Mariann Reynolds, owner of Ducks & Co. in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa.

Designer Vera Bradley uses provincial fabrics with small floral prints to create quilted box jackets and skirts for moms and coordinating dresses and jumpers for their daughters. Moms can wear a red floral-print jacket ($116) and matching full skirt with border trim ($70) while their daughters can wear a dress with a full skirt and sash ($72) or a jumper with a quilted bib ($60).

"I've been amazed at the response," Reynolds says. "Moms and daughters wear them to a tea or school function or birthday party. I've seen them out shopping in matching outfits."

Clothes that look like they were homemade are especially popular. Most of Ducks & Co.'s mother-daughter clothes are produced by cottage industries.

"We'll find a little lady in Arkansas who started making things for herself and her daughter," Reynolds says. Two lines that bear a homemade touch: hand-painted cotton clothes by Anna Wear, including a T-shirt dress with a drop waist ($86) for mothers and matching children's T-shirt ($20) with a jumper ($48), or a line of matching mother-daughter jumpers by Sue McHale made of blue chambray with floral appliques stitched on the bibs ($140 for women, $60 for girls).

This spring Laura Ashley created a collection of nautical looks for its Mother & Child line. The collection gives parents and children the choice of wearing an identical outfit or a slightly different version.

"We change the style of the clothes to suit the personality of the wearer, so moms don't have to wear that cute little dress," says Helen D'Antoni, spokeswoman for Laura Ashley, Inc. in New York City.

The Navy Classics collection includes maritime-inspired dresses and separates. There are jersey dresses in kelly green with sailor collars trimmed in white rickrack for mother and child ($88, $44), as well as a matching dungaree for baby ($28) and mom-and-daughter white sweaters with navy trim ($78, $46) with a navy pleated skirt for women ($118) and navy cotton leggings for children ($18), available at Laura Ashley boutiques in South Coast Plaza and MainPlace/Santa Ana or from the company catalogue (call (800) 367-2000).

"They're wonderful for special occasions," D'Antoni says. "It shows the bond between the child and mother."

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