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Instagram Is Turning Children Into Fashion Monsters

There has perhaps never been a more fashionable child than the five-year-old featured yesterday on New York mag’s The Cut, who—with the languidly bored face of a Brazilian supermodel—flaunts his stylishness in photo after photo: here he wears a bomber jacket and drop-crotch camouflage pants, there a Gucci belt and a blazer that looks tailored for a teddy bear, or a pair of combat boots and oversized shades. The boy is Alonso Mateo, the son of a private equity CEO and a freelance stylist, and the latest in a string of hapless child fashion icons to take the Internet by storm.

New York’s Joy Adaeze cites some of these children in her very funny piece: Alexander Wang’s toddler niece Alia, proud owner of her own miniature Chanel purse; Thylane Lena-Rose, notoriously photographed in stilettos and bright red lipstick in Vogue at age 10, and, of course, Hollywood royalty Suri Cruise and Maddox Jolie-Pitt, best-dressed-list fixtures since exiting the womb. Adaeze also interviews poor Alonso Mateo, who, when asked to elaborate on his distinctive fashion sense, offered: “I love suits, sneakers, and sunglasses.”

Sadly absent from the piece is the best recent contribution to the online canon of juvenile style celebrity: the Pinterest “My Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler Daughter,” which features hilariously captioned images of children in inconceivable outfits. Beneath a photo of two little girls staring blankly at the camera in lavish fur stoles and cheetah print wraps, the caption reads: “Quinoa and her BFF Chevron were not only ready for their field trip to the zoo, they could barely contain their excitement.” An impossibly leggy child in ballet flats and a slouchy cashmere cap is labeled: “One time when Quinoa and I got separated in a busy train station, she thankfully remembered our safety training: stay in one place, look spectacular, and don’t talk to poor people.” It’s a perfect spoof on the growing phenomenon of parents trotting out well-dressed children who are visibly too small and indifferent to dress themselves. 

Of course, kids today are photographed more than ever, now that the baby-photo album, once inflicted mainly on houseguests, has gone digital. And so this has launched a whole cadre of babies decked out in curated camera-ready attire. Scrolling through the “Imaginary Toddler Daughter” Pinterest, I thought of last year’s Vanity Fair profile—titled “Little Lord Fauntleroys?”—of Peter and Harry Brant, two teenage dandies who have made a career of looking chic at charity balls and once, on Twitter, described their job as “icon.” “It’s not like we’re Suri Cruise,” one brother said in the article. “Have you met her?” replied the other. “I haven’t. I want to though. She’s one of my idols.” “She has amazing style.”

But Suri Cruise does not have amazing style. Suri is a tiny mannequin in kitten heels and a beret, a walking projection of our fascination with the weird brand of hybrid celebrity produced by famous couplings. Alonso Mateo did not need to be Suri Cruise; he was not born with a paparazzi camera flash in his face. And yet scrolling through his photos provokes roughly the same discomfort as a tabloid sighting of Suri—at the creepy precociousness, the reflected vanity, the absurdity of investing in a three-hundred-dollar hat that will soon be outgrown or dirtied, the craftsmanship foisted on this little person with his funky haircut and his bottomless closet of shoes. Social media clearly encourages treating children as trendy accessories and potential photo ops, as pint-sized extensions of an adult aesthetic. But it’s not easy, I imagine, to take on the playground in drop-crotch pants.

Follow @lbennett.