Store-Bought Fun for Preteens; Family Activities at Home Give Way to 'Fantasy Boutiques'

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 28, 2005 | Go to article overview

Store-Bought Fun for Preteens; Family Activities at Home Give Way to 'Fantasy Boutiques'


Byline: Jayne Blanchard, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A new Club Libby Lu - a pink and purple-hued fantasy boutique for tweens - has opened with a fusillade of glitter and fairy dust at Columbia Mall in Maryland, joining its sister store at Tysons Corner. Oh happy day.

Just what every girl needs, another spot to drop her parents' hard-earned cash to buy a fake tiara, fuzzy pink slippers, and bath gel that smells like Froot Loops.

At Club Libby Lu, preteens can also indulge their inner Hilary Duff or Ashlee Simpson, donning sparkly makeup and glitzy duds so they can pretend to be a pop star. Or a princess (the store is big on ersatz royalty, dubbing customers VIPs - Very Important Princesses). Or a movie star, or a celebrity - no option for epidemiologist or civil engineer in sight.

Club Libby Lu is the brainchild of Mary Drolet (the store is named for her imaginary childhood playmate), formerly of Claire's, that mecca of dime store bling found in every mall in America. It is meant to cater to tweens, girls ages 6 to 13, who are too old for Build-A-Bear and too young for Victoria's Secret.

Wait a minute - 6? Childhood now ends at 6? So now you go from Pull-Ups to thongs?

Census 2000 figures report that tweens are more than 20.9 million strong. That's a lot of high-pitched squeals. It also translates into about $550 billion spent by families of preteens on products and services. On their own, tweens spend roughly $10 billion, according to the book "The Gnat Tween Buying Machine" (Paramount, 2001).

Club Libby Lu is the latest way to attract this potent youth market, who look and act like kids but aspire to be teenagers. The store offers makeovers - dubbed Libby Dus - so that now these little girls can even get a head start on the debilitating self-consciousness and anxiety about looks and body that afflict teen girls today.

Perhaps even sadder than indoctrinating young girls into a lifetime of not feeling like they measure up is the whole idea of "shopping events." Places like Club Libby Lu - with their areas where youngsters can play dress-up or create their own bubble bath or lip gloss - provide experiences children used to get at home.

Today's parents have outsourced childhood.

Instead of sitting at the kitchen table with a coloring book, moms can drop the children at the Crayola Store, where they can have a coloring "experience. …

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