Like many children born in the mid 80s my pre-teen sartorial options included the sailor suits that my mother took a certain macabre delight in dressing myself and my brother in, a vast variety of leggings paired with scrunchie socks and a permanently falling out ‘hair fountain’ atop my head. Perfect, really, given that I spent much of my time scrabbling up trees, scabbing my knees and generally being a reasonably charming, albeit very grotty child. But was my childhood any more authentic than that of Alonso Mateo, a Gucci Horsebit loafer wearing, Ray-Ban toting five year-old man about town? Well, that depends on both who you are, and how you define a happy childhood. Also perhaps on how much you care about fashion.
The impeccably stylish kindergarten-er has become the latest Instagram street star success. As The Cut points out, the photos of him on his stylist mother’s feed now reach 127, 000 followers. There are more than 230,000 Google images of him doing such things as pensively shoving his hands into his impeccably tailored drop crotch trousers, or actually pulling off a pocket kerchief. He is absolutely adorable. Like any true fashion icon, Mateo is a chameleon; he can do both bonafide dapper in his ankle cropped pants and skinny blazers, and loutish boy band member in beanies and Jeremy Scott high-top sneakers. But is it weird that you really wish your boyfriend would dress like someone who probably can’t read the labels he’s so effortlessly pulling off? Should a kid be wearing labels anyway? And won’t someone think of the children?
Comments on some of the photos of Mateo have expressed concern that the kid isn’t getting to enjoy his childhood; that he is dressed like a ‘miniature adult’. For eminent child psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg the photos of Mateo in his designer duds are something that he sees as alarming.
“[T]his is out and out adultification of children. He should be making mud cakes and playing with play doh - wearing shorts and an old t-shirt - not modelling designer clothes - let kids be kids ... who's needs are really being met here?” he says.
It’s a valid point. As anybody who has ever given a toddler a present only to have them be more interested in the box it came with (so ungrateful!) we have to wonder why a parent would bother to dress their kids in head to toe labels other than as a (very cute) status symbol. According to Mateo’s mother it is – mostly – Mateo who picks his looks.
As she told The Cut “I’ll help him coordinate outfits so that they make sense, but mostly it's him.”
But that sentence sticks in the craw, right? I don’t think the kids who choose to wear their Spiderman outfit down the street are concerned with their outfits “making sense”. Let any kid pick their own outfit unencumbered by thoughts of what ‘goes’ with what, I’d guarantee there would be some quite spectacularly nonsensical, and outright fabulous, outfits. Besides that, clothes 'making sense' belongs in the same ridiculous fashion bible along with "pieces", "anchor" and trouser as a singular.
Even still, for Dr Fiona Barlow, a fellow in the psychology department of the University of Queensland, her first impression of Alonso Mateo’s swag is that it isn’t necessarily something to worry about. Especially since the images are not inappropriate, or sexualising Mateo in the same way that, say, beauty pageants or child modelling can.
“He looks pretty happy; he’s having a fun time. What I see is a young boy and his parents, out and about," she says.
What’s more, says Barlow, while little girls are encouraged to experiment with fashion there isn’t really a lot of scope for boys to have fun with, and care about fashion. In that sense, says Barlow, Mateo and other little boys like him are broadening the “restrictive gender roles we impose on young children.”
Indeed, if we look at fashion as an agent for expressing our individual personalities, then Mateo and his thing for a well cut blazer become not just merely cute, or alarming. They become him, Alonso Mateo, likely the coolest five year-old ever.
In an article earlier this year for the Financial Times about whether we needed to worry about the introduction of a children’s fashion week journalist Vanessa Friedman (who does worry, for interesting reasons) wrote of kid’s clothes,
“[Kids’] fashion, on the other hand, should be—even more than adult fashion—a place of freedom for children to start playing around with identity and perception."
But who’s to say that a bespoke suit isn't the essence of a five year-old, in just the same way that my collection of garishly bright leggings were me as a ragged, tomboy-ish 8 year-old?
While it is tempting to think that Mateo and other pint-sized style icons such as Aila Wang and the Jolie-Pitt brood are having their childhood snatched from them in a haze of ‘Gucci Gucci, Louis Louis, Fendi Fendi Prada’ (thanks Kreayshawn), it might just be that the kids are not having the childhood that we had. And that’s OK, as long as they’re being kids in their own way. Plus, it's very unlikely that Mateo understands the cost - money and otherwise - of his favourite threads. Hopefully he will, one day.
As The Cut reported, he’s making his own photo shoots with his Ipad, he has his favourite boots, and he knows what he likes. My favourite photo is the one where he’s laughing in the unabashed way that five year-olds laugh. It's a reminder that he's just, and still, a kid. Albeit one that definitely dresses better than all of us, which is probably concerning.