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Pity the parent who stands between a child and his favourite sneakers. Maybe it's peer-group pressure, maybe it's cartoons and videos, maybe it's because parents care so much about what they wear, but many children have very clear ideas about clothes almost from the time they can walk. These don't always coincide with their parents' ideas. We asked six mothers to choose ideal outfits for their children (shown on the left in each case), and then asked the children for their choice KAY KING on ALICE, aged 7: Alice loves dressing up. She disappears into a fantasy world with her imaginary friends. Sometimes it'll be the ballet theme with leotards, sometimes it's the vamp look with an extremely short Lycra dress, sometimes the disco look or possibly the look she's got in the photograph, the Princess look. Occasionally she'll come and show me what she's wearing, but generally she comes downstairs as if I'm not there - deep in conversation with her "friends". When I buy her clothes, I get the boring practical things from Peter Jones and the party things from Young England.

Occasionally I'll go to Marks & Spencer. Alice is perfect for Gap and we sometimes get party shoes from Next. Poor old Alice - she's second-hand Rose to a certain extent; she inherits quite a lot from her sister and some things from her brother. But I'vealways made a point of buying her a new party dress, maybe twice a year. I think the green dress is a very nice compromise between smocked dresses, a style she's slightly grown out of, and dresses that are much too grown-up for her.

ALICE: After school I usually dress up and play with my imaginary friends. I play with my daughter who's called Rosie, and has long brown hair and quite a dirty face. Most of the time she never has a bath and she has a teddy called Brown Bear. Sometimes I give her a bath with my friend Sophie. My favourite dressing-up clothes is a leotard with stars on it, which my Mummy bought me from Mothercare. I've got a sweatshirt with big numbers on the front. One of the numbers was red and I was wearing pink and I said to Mummy, "I don't want to wear it because it clashes," and she said, "You've got to. I don't care if it doesn't go." My favourite shop is the Gap and I've got one jumper that used to belong to my sister.

Left: Alice's green cotton velvet dress with headband and handbag (not shown), £140, from Young England, 47 Elizabeth Street, SW1; tights, £2.25, from Marks & Spencer nationwide; shoes, £42, from Buckle My Shoe, 19 St Christopher's Place, W1; Right: pinksatin bridesmaid dress hired from vast range at the National Theatre, prices from £30 plus VAT per week (071 587 0404). Pink tights, £1.95, by Elle from Selfridges, Oxford Street, W1. Accessories: Alice's own.

ANASTASIA MORRELL ON SIMON, aged 5: Simon fixes on certain things - at the moment it's a pair of red wellington boots and his jacket (above right). He wears it all the time and I'm always saying, "No, take it off, it's too small and it's really tatty." He just turns up in it and I say, "No", and he has to go back and change it. Basically he likes clothes that are easy to wear. I generally let him pick what he wants if it doesn't matter where we're going. If it does, I'll just get his clothes ready and he's usually quite happy to wear them. Occasionally he'll refuse to wear something and we'll battle it out. I'll either compromise if he can find an alternative, or I'll win. We live on a very tight budget - you have to with three children. I go to John Lewis or Marks & Spencer for certain quality items, like a school jumper. I almost always buy Clarks shoes because Simon has wide feet. I buy most of his clothes from One Up or Adams in the Kilburn High Road. Sometimes I look in Mothercare, but I never find anything there except for braces. Then there's Mr Cod, also in the High Street. It's a cheap shop with cheap clothes but you can sometimes find something really nice. Mr Cod? It used to sell fish and they've never changed the sign! SIMON: I liked the tracksuit better than the clothes my mummy chose. I sort of liked them, and I would wear them if I had them. But I wouldn't wear the tights because my brother would tease me and say I was a girl. My favourite clothes are some red wellington boots which are like cowboy boots. My favourite trousers are jeans. My favourite pyjamas are my Zig and Zag ones. I like my school uniform - except for my tie because it strangles me a lot. My mum does my tie and she does it up too tight. I want to be a policeman when I grow up. I would have a helmet and a police horse, because I like horses very much. I wish I'd been given a policeman's dressing-up outfit for my birthday.

Left: Simon's burgundy cotton velvet knickerbocker suit, £299, from Please Mum, 69 New Bond Street, W1; white tights, £2.25 from Marks & Spencer; patent lace-ups, £52, from Buckle My Shoe, as before. Right: navy jacket, Simon's own; cotton roll-neck, £3.99, and track pants, £4.99; trainers, £7.99; all from Adams, selected branches nationwide (0500 330040).

ALEX SMITH on NATALIE (left), aged 9, and TANYA, aged 6: Nine times out of 10, I'll buy their clothes on my own. If they don't like it I can take it back. I look at Hennes, the Gap, Marks & Spencer and sometimes Selfridges. I try to buy them four or fivedecent outfits a year every season. I suppose I spend £800 a year on them. Natalie is OK to go shopping with; Tanya is a pain. I prefer them both to wear sloppy clothes during the day, but Tanya likes to wear frilly things all the time. She'd go out in six different colours as long as they all had frills and lots of jewellery and make-up. She dresses up when she gets home from school and she'll put all this gear on and it will look absolutely hideous - but she thinks it looks wonderful. Natalie's become very grown-up in the past year. She wants to look cool and trendy and sexy. She likes music, like Michael Jackson and East 17, Home and Away and Neighbours.

NATALIE: I love clothes, especially black and denim and jeans. From what I chose, I especially liked the body because I like clothes that stick on to you and are not baggy, and I love the boots. I didn't like the shirt Mummy chose much because it didn't have a collar, and I don't like wearing my hair in a pony-tail. I used to wear little pink party dresses, but I hate them now. TANYA: I like the black dress I wore in the photograph. I think it cost £5,040. I like the shoes because they've got bows on them. The jewellery is very nice because whenever you look at them your eyes go funny and you think "Oh, my God these cost hundreds of pounds" I didn't like the dress my Mummy chose very much, because it had light pink on it and it was blue and I don't like blue much. I liked the boots but I didn't like how they went together.

Left: Natalie's patchwork cotton shirt, £18, and jeans, £25, both from French Connection, 249 Regent St, W1; booties, £19.99, from BHS branches nationwide. Tanya's navy brushed-cotton dress, £30, from French Connection, as before; tights, £3.50 and booties, £19, both Marks & Spencer; stool, £75, Aero, 96 Westbourne Grove, W2. Right: Natalie's Zebra cotton body, £29.95, and beaded choker, £4.95, from Selfridges; black Lycra jodhpurs, from £12, Marks & Spencer; jodhpur boots, £47, from Buckle My Shoe, as before. Tanya's cotton velvet dress with lace collar, £450, to order from The White House, 52 New Bond Street, W1; tights, Marks & Spencer; shoes, £44, from Buckle my Shoe; diamante hair clips, £36, by Colette Malouf, Space NK, Thomas Neals, 41 Earlham Street,WC2 (mail order 071 379 7030)

SUSAN TIMNEY on MAX TIMNEY, aged 10: I buy Max's clothes everywhere, from Marks & Spencer to Paul Smith. I think Marks have some good things for boys if you choose carefully. Their rugged everyday stuff is so durable and has such a common sense approach you can't go wrong. But when you need a special thing to pull a whole look together you have to go somewhere else. The detailing and cut at Paul Smith you can't get at Marks. Sometimes we buy at Benetton. Millets is also very good - they have that outdoor look that Max likes. He's very interested in clothes - he's been interested since he could discern colours. He reads about them in Smash Hits and I'm always getting little drawings shoved under my nose from him saying: "This is what I would like to wear". Choosing his clothes carefully is very much part of his daily routine. If he went out and bought things on his own, his taste would be quite different from mine. We go and buy his clothes together, but he has such strong opinions we have to compromise on the shop floor. His taste is very good in terms of selecting from what we have bought together. But I don't know how long this will go on. I think we're starting a different stage as far as clothes are concerned.

MAX: I wouldn't be seen dead in the Paul Smith clothes my mother chose. They were just too plain and easy; they were sad. I think hers make me look stupid and mine make me look good. My Mum has bought me the hat and the shoes, though. If I could choose, I'd buy my clothes from Mash, Classic Clothing and other shops from Kensington Market. I'd call the style I like New Skool, and I also like Old Skool clothes - they're the Adidas and Puma things from the Seventies. The other boys in my class don't know what I'm talking about when I talk about New and Old Skool. They're not interested. Sometimes I get up and my clothes are out and I just don't like them and I get out different ones and my Mum's angry with me. But it doesn't happen very often- maybe twice a week. I should definitely have more say in what I wear.

Left: Max's navy polo shirt, £29; chinos, £44; navy and grey wool zip cardigan, £57, all by Paul Smith for Children, 44 Floral Street, WC2; loafers, £79.95 by Dexters from The Natural Shoe Store, 21 Neal St, WC2. Right: Max's tartan bomber jacket, £75, and cap, £18, by Custard Shop; T-shirt, £18; shorts, £32 and pendant, £5, by Dosse Posse; all from Classic Clothing, Kensington Market, W8; Puma trainers, £49.99, Office, 60 Neal Street, WC2 (mail order 081 838 4447).

MARY ROBSON on MAX, aged 5: Max has always been very clear about what he will and will not wear. At three, he would only wear jeans that had a worn-through knee. He refused to wear his new ones because they weren't wicked - a word he never uses now. He'sgot a cupboard full of clothes he won't wear any more. But I think we've hit on a formula now: it's basically Doc Martens boots, Gap jeans and T-shirts. He won't wear jumpers or shirts except for one his Dad bought him from Hennes. It's got Andy Warhol-style Mickey Mouses on a background of paint strokes. This he teamed up (for his 5th birthday party) with Madras bermudas and Argyle socks. It was certainly a combination I wouldn't have chosen or even thought of. But it was his party. He goes regularly to Camden Lock with his father (I refuse to go, having spent most of the Sixties down Portobello Market) and usually comes home with nose rings, ear clips, or stick-on tattoos. I asked him what his favourite clothes would be, and he said a pair of black leather trousers, but they couldn't be had for love nor money. Given the choice, I'd dress him in French or Italian children's clothes and classic English ones, but I don't. So at the moment he wears his black jeans and his Alchemy T-shirt. He rather sweetly checked if he could wear it when his grandmother came to stay, but she didn't seem to mind. It was relatively tame compared to when he had all his hair shaved off with a number 0 razor.

MAX My favourite T-shirt would have a skull and cross bones, a few pirates, a bit of blood and a rose on the front and a lion and a tiger on the back. My other favourite clothes are my Doc Martens, my black jeans and my Lukes. There's a boy in Home and Away called Luke and he wears shorts in bed so I wear some old swimming shorts in bed and I call them my Lukes. I think pyjamas are stupid. I like those clothes in the picture a lot, and the guitar. I like the sound it makes. I don't think clothes are important. I just like wearing them.

Left: Max's blue cotton shirt, £39.50, by Turnbull & Asser; navy cords, by Fairbanks, £39.50, leather belt, £12.50 all from Harrods, Knightsbridge, SW1; socks, £4, from Marks & Spencer; loafers, £42, from Buckle My Shoe as before; Netherland dwarf rabbit, Max's own. His hair was cut specially by Geo Phountzi (081 749 7475). Right: Max's own black T-shirt with sewn-on Alchemy patch, £4, from Metalhead, 17 Ganton Street, W1; black jeans, £11.99, from Next branches; Doc Martens, his own, but also from £20 at Dr Martens store, 4 King Street, WC2; electric guitar, Max's own.

GEETA KAPILA on RIDHI, aged 7: If we go out to a big Indian party, or a wedding, Ridhi loves dressing up in Indian clothes. She loves the bangles, the chana, the bindi and always wants to wear make-up, which I don't allow. But sometimes I let her wear a bit of lipstick. I like dressing up myself and she always comments: "Oh, mum, you are looking lovely." She has actually modelled in two Indian fashion shows which she loved (though she'll say it was boring), but it isn't something that she sees herself doing. She says she wants to be a teacher. When she gets home from school I like her to change out of her school uniform to keep it clean, and then she can choose what to wear. She used to hate trousers so I stopped buying them, but then all of a sudden she doesn't want to wear dresses. She goes through moods. She usually likes what I buy her, but even when she doesn't I can persuade her to wear it. I never take clothes back to the shop. I believe in quality, so I usually buy her clothes from Marks or Debenhams in Hounslow. Cheap clothes don't last, and the quality is never that good. I can't put a figure on what I spend on her clothes but I know I spend quite a bit. Whatever I earn I spend. I don't save a penny.

RIDHI: I have modelled in two Indian fashion shows. We had to walk down this stage, turn round, walk back, then turn around then walk back all the way down the stage. It was boring. I would not like to do it again. No way. I would have my photograph taken if I don't have to wait so long to have my hair done. I didn't like the dress in the photograph (left), because it made my neck hurt, but I liked the shoes. I don't like wearing trousers and I don't like wearing hot shirts but I have to wear them in winter. My favourite sari has a long skirt and a flowery top. My mummy looks lovely when she wears one of her saris. My favourite one is the pink and gold one. When I get home from school I sometimes put on my Beauty and the Beast nightie, then watch television, have something to eat, then go to sleep. My mummy told her friends that I was going to be in the newspaper. At first I was a bit cross but now I like the idea, and I'm telling everyone I'm going to be famous.

Left: Ridhi's red and green cotton floral dress, £19.99, sizes 0-10 years; tights, £2.79; shoes, £4.99, sizes 6-2, all from Adams, selected branches nationwide (0500 330040). Right: authentic Indian outfit and accessories, Ridhi's own.