So you don't think moms are, like, totally out of it?

Michelle Reifschneider, 10, a fifth-grader from Rio Rancho, N.M., might convince you. Her left hand is on her hip. Her right one's pointing at what seems to be a perfectly fine Tyrolean-patterned sweater at Kids R Us at Baileys Crossroads.

"My mom liked this," she says as contemptuously as only a kid shopping for school clothes with a woman who "picks out clothes that were in style, like, last week" can.

"I hated it," continues Michelle, whose family was vacationing in Alexandria. "Look at the puffballs on the front. And it's all the wrong colors. Dull. And it's not for someone at the age of 10. It's more for kindergarten. Too babyish."

Of course, she explains after showing the listener the "really cool" jeans she's picked, there's a good reason that Judy Reifschneider would try to palm off the disgusting sweater on her daughter.

"As you grow up, moms hate it," she whispers. "Because they enjoyed you when you were little. So they want to dress you like a baby."

Today, the last Saturday before school officially opens on Tuesday, the stores will be crawling with Michelles -- intent on buying what's in style this week -- and Judys, who must pay attention to their kids' execrable, unexplainable and change-by-the-hour tastes. The reason: Getting kids to wear un-cool clothes (read that "anything everybody else isn't wearing") is like trying to get a grown-up to admit that Bart Simpson is a better role model than Theo Huxtable.

Fat chance. In fact, the only thing that Jane Welsh Sleman of Olney won't let son Paul, 14, wear is Bart Simpson T-shirts. "She thinks he's the worst example for a kid," says Paul glumly as he watches his mother choose between striped ties and paisley ones for him to wear to Good Counsel High, where all guys wear dress shirts ("solid ones, no stripes," says Paul, even more glumly) and ties.

"The Simpsons are a terrible example of what the American family has turned into," says Jane Sleman, a tie clutched in each hand. Paul shrugs.

"I like Bart, myself. He's -- he's cool," the ninth-grader explains. And if he could pick his own clothes? "I'd have, maybe, two Bart shirts," he says wistfully.

Then his mom asks about a paisley number, "Do you like this one with the pink shirt?"

"Yeah, sure," he says, barely glancing at it.

"Do you care?" she ventures.


Michelle cares. And despite her mom's demonstrated lack of fashion sense where kids' clothes are concerned, she insists on helping choose her daughter's school wardrobe. No, really.

"She'll say, 'You wore this last week and you looked great!' explains Michelle. "And I'll say, 'It's not in style this week.' ... What she should do is just ask me. Instead of saying, 'Oh, look, aren't these cute?' and I say, 'No, because they are out of style.' Then she says, 'You'd look real good in them if you just tried them on.' I mean, it goes on forever!"

Exasperated, Michelle shakes her head.

"I'd have to say all mothers are like this."

Even some grown-ups admit to this. Like Mary Leigh, who is a manager at the Limited Too, a kids clothing store at the Fashion Centre in Pentagon City. Even though Leigh is old, like 21, she isn't a mom yet so she still has decent taste in school clothes. Listen:

"A little girl was trying on a pair of leggings the other day and her mother thought a sweat shirt looked best with them. She asked me to tell her daughter that. But I said, 'I agree with your daughter -- I like the blouse better.' See, kids are mean these days -- if you don't have the cool clothes, they can be cruel. So they know what looks good. I mean, I grew up {in Ravenna, Ohio} wearing brown pants. Kids definitely have a better fashion sense now."

They also lack the hang-ups that keep their moms and dads wearing the same tried-and-true (read that "boring") styles that they've worn since college.

Says Leigh: "Me, I'd walk into a store, see a great hat and say, 'I'm not a hat person.' {Kids} walk in here, plop one on their head and say, 'Let's go' ... and are not into 'Does this look right with my hips?' or 'Are my legs too fat for leggings?' "

At Montgomery Ward at Wheaton Plaza, Ellie Sanchez proves Leigh's point. "You like this?" Sanchez gently asks her ponytailed daughter Joyce about the bulky sweat shirt outfit the 8-year-old has just tried on.

Joyce nods an enthusiastic "Yes!"

Sanchez, being a mom, can't leave it at that.

"You don't think it makes you look -- big?"

When the fourth-grader violently shakes her head, Sanchez, comes to her senses. "Okay," she says. "You're the one who has to like it."

Moms are much too practical. They almost never want to buy you white pants or stuff because they'll "get dirty too fast" and they often have, like, totally stupid reasons for not wanting to buy cool clothes.

"My mom would look at these pants," says Hillary Elgert, 13, who has just shown a pair of ruffle-top jeans at Hecht's at Wheaton Plaza to her pal Shanna Lin. "And she'd say, 'Your shirt will just cover it up!' "

Both girls sigh heavily at the outrageousness of this. Then they giggle. It's not that kids don't like their moms, they add. Sometimes moms actually make decent fashion choices. Like today, when Hillary's mom, Ursula of Silver Spring, let her daughter buy the very jeans she wanted.

"Every once in a while," Ursula Elgert explains a bit wearily. I just say, 'Okay, go and buy it.' This is the once in a while."

Cassie Shoemaker, 13, of Kensington, describes her mom, Laurie Shoemaker, as "really nice, sometimes." But, she adds, "I don't like it when she picks clothes out. I don't know -- she likes out-of-style stuff. Moms are a different generation. ... They want you to look nice."

"Yeah," adds her sister Andrea, 12. "And you can't wear T-shirts that are, like, dirty."

"And she likes browns and oranges," continues Cassie. "She says she's an 'autumn' so she wears 'autumn' colors and I don't like them."

Of course, there are moms reading this who smugly -- and wrongly -- assume they have great taste in kids' clothes because their children are too young to protest the "cute" items they buy them. Or whose kids just don't care much about what they wear.

"I like my mom to pick my clothes -- because there is so much stuff for boys," admits Eric Redman, 6, whose mom, Crystal Taylor-Redman of Bladensburg, was shopping for shoes at Nordstrom in Pentagon City.

But ask this model child if he can think of something he'd like to wear that his mom might not like and he doesn't hesitate.

"A Ninja Turtle coat or something."

And then there are kids like Lourdes Diaz, 10, of Takoma Park. The Rolling Terrace Elementary School fifth-grader brightens when she's asked if she likes her mom to help her shop for school clothes.

"Yeah! She's always helping me out. Like when I forget what size I am, she reminds me."

Okay. But does she have good taste?

"Yeah!" says Lourdes. "She's not like other parents, who buy what they like. She buys what I like."

Amazing. How did her mom become so wise?

"When I was a girl in Peru," says Diaz, who shares her daughter's first name, "my grandmother wouldn't ever buy me what I wanted." That was many years ago, when you couldn't say to your grandmother, 'No.'

She laughs.

"Of course, now kids say whatever they want. It's a different time."