Ben's mum may not approve of his chosen fancy dress outfit, but 99,999 other parents in the last couple of years have forked out pounds 29.99 so that their offspring can prance around as a Power Ranger. According to Clive Jones, marketing director of Dekker toys, the largest manufacturer of children's dressing up clothes in Europe, these days children want character outfits. Since 1990, when the film Batman was released the demand for cowboys and Indians and Robin Hoods has dwindled - they've even discontinued the clown. The boys want to be Batman, Spiderman and Superman and the girls want to be Esmerelda, from Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Fifteen years ago children might have had one cowboy outfit - now it's not uncommon for them to have several character outfits.

Meanwhile, in a little shop in Kensington mummies are still buying cowboys and nurses and fairy outfits by the hundred. Janey Hillborough and Hannah Doherty started by selling traditional toys and games by mail order. Last year they added dressing up outfits to their list and opened a shop, "The Hill Toy Company".

They don't do specific characters - their outfits are more generic. Hannah feels the film Pocohontas had an influence on the sale of wigwams and Indian brave outfits, while 101 Dalmatians probably contributed to the popularity of Dalmatian outfits. "Last year we were fantastically successful our traditional fairy" says Hannah. "And we did brilliantly well with the Dalmatians."

Max wears a guardsman's outfit, pounds 32.95, from The Hill Toy Co. "I don't go to dressing-up parties. When I get home from school I change into jeans and a T-shirt and a denim shirt. When I go to bed I wear swimming trunks and a non-sleeved T-shirt. I don't watch Power Rangers any more. I liked Batman Forever, but I wouldn't like to dress up as Batman."

Ben wears a Power Ranger playsuit, pounds 29.99 from Hamleys. "My mummy thinks Power Rangers are violent. I think they're quite amusing and Daddy thinks they're violent and Hannah [aka Garden Fairy] thinks they're excellent. I used to watch them on television, but when I came upstairs after watching them I wrecked the bedroom when I was fighting with my sister and my mum said 'if you don't stop fighting, I'm not letting you watch Power Rangers'. So we went on and on fighting and that was the end of us watching Power Rangers. But I'm not said - I like watching Paddington Bear. It's my birthday tomorrow. I can't wait to be six - I can beat-up my friend, George."

Hannah's Fairy outfit came from Cheeky Monkeys: dress, pounds 24.99, and shoes pounds 16.99. The wand pounds 1.25, is from Non Stop Party Shop. "I like to dress up as ballerinas, queens, princesses and rabbits. I don't have any dressing-up clothes at home - I only have toys and books. I especially like the crown."

Fiona's Esmerelda costume, pounds 24.99, Hamleys.

Katie's Nurse's uniform, pounds 15.99, and bag, pounds 21.95 are both from The Hill Toy Co. "I pretend to be a nurse at home and my sister pretends to be a doctor. My friend lies on my bed and I test her reflexes. I think when you get older you get kind of bored of the babyish things like fairy costumes and princesses. I was 5 or 6 when I wore them - now my four-year-old sister wears them."

Adam's Pirate costume, pounds 17.99. The hat, pounds 5.99, and hook pounds 1.25 are from Non Stop Party Shop. "My favourite thing to dress as is a cowboy, but I hardly ever dress up when I'm at home because my brother doesn't want to. I used to go to fancy dress parties, but not any more. They're for four- or five-year-olds - and I'm six. The last one I went to I dressed up as a clown. It's fun dressing up as a pirate because they're quite a lot more naughty than clowns

Zavina and her twin sister wear Dalmation suits, pounds 22.95 from The Hill Toy Co. "I like the Dalmatian costume but it's a bit scratchy. I want to wear it at parties and at school."

Where to get it

The Hill Toy Company: well made traditional dressing up outfits - guards, fairies, nurses and animals. 71 Abingdon Road, London W8 (0171-937 8797). Ring 01765 689955 for catalogue.

Cheeky Monkeys: has a good range of animal costumes, fairy outfits, and accessories. 202 Kensington Park Road, London W11, (0171-792 9022); and 24 Abbeville Road, London SW4, (0181-673 5215)

The Disney Store: Snow White, Cinderella, Pochahontas, Captain Hook et al. The Disney Store, 140-4 Regent St,London W1 (0171-287 6558). Call 01923 220022 for local branches.

Letterbox: transform your child into a giraffe, elephant or lion. Call 01872 580 885 for a catalogue

Dekker Toys: mostly character outfits for 2-year-olds to 6 plus. Toys R Us, Argos. Call 01727-844421 for nearest stockist.

Non-Stop Party Shop: great for accessories, especially for Hallowe'en. 216 Kensington High Street, London (0171-937 7200)

Hamleys has a strong selection of children's fancy dress outfits such as Esmerelda (see left). 88-96 Regent Street, London W1 (0171-734 3161).

Charlie Crow Costumes specialise in furry animal outfits for babies to 12-year-olds. Call 01782-417133 for local stockists.