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SHRINK RAP FROM BABY TEES TO THE SHORTEST OF SKIRTS, JUNIOR FASHIONS ARE A SHADOW OF WHAT THEY USED TO BE

The Gap shows the shrunken look. Seventeen magazine fills its pages with it. And, of course, it's all over MTV and the Fox Network.

Skimpy T-shirts -- appropriately called baby tees -- are layered under short, slip dresses or worn alone with jeans, cut-offs or skirts. Cropped cardigans and twin sets cover the midriff -- but just barely. Shrunken preppy polos refuse to stay tucked in. Even sleeves look teeny.

And while some tops are skimpier than anything seen in years, others are parent-friendly. A cropped T-shirt may meet the waistband of jeans, for example, and feature a shape that's fitted without being snug. Similarly, skirts may be short, but many are flippy rather than skintight.

Of course, there are plenty of them designed to expose the stomach -- the type of tight top Tori Spelling may wear on "Beverly Hills 90210." Nor will juniors have to look far to find stretchy tank dresses that feature a tighter fit than, say, the floaty rayon jumpers in style right now.

Preteens and teens have definite thoughts on the trend, naturally.

"I like short, tight stuff -- especially kilts with knee-socks," said 11-year-old Heather Riggi, of North Tonawanda.

"I like short tops, but I don't wear a lot of short skirts," said Kim Borowski, 16, of Lancaster.

But the look is not for everybody. "I still like oversized," said Juanita Davis, 16, of Buffalo.

The shrunken trend has been inching into the junior market for a couple seasons now.

"It began last year with the little jumpers with spaghetti straps worn over baby tees," said Debbie Sidel, owner of Half & Half Clothing Co., 1088 Elmwood Ave.

The baby tees, which fit close to the body to avoid bulkiness, provide more coverage.

"As soon as you put a T-shirt under it, you have a layered look and a more practical look," Mrs. Sidel said.

Prompted, perhaps, by the popularity of body-conscious fashions popular on the West Coast and on television, the trend took off.

This spring, shrunken pieces also include tennis-inspired looks, such as cropped argyle vests, as well as preppy fashions, such as polo mini dresses and shirts.

College-age women like the shrunken tops for another reason: Some of them have pierced their navels -- a fad supermodels Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington showed on the runways more than a year ago.

But for teens, the cropped look has appeal for other reasons.

For one thing, it may be a reaction to the oversized clothing they grew up in. Their parents -- many of whom equate oversized clothing with comfort -- dressed their children the same way.

"A lot of these kids were born into wearing the baggy look. Now they're calling their own shots. My daughter, Simone, is 11 years old and this is the first time she is wearing 'small' clothes. She said to me, 'Mom, I want a shirt with my belly showing.' Before that, she had been wearing sweat pants and her brother's old flannel shirts," Mrs. Sidel said.

It could also be a reaction to the grunge-look from a few years back. Junior fashions, in particular, tend to have wide mood swings.

But don't think that the shrunken look is only for the pencil-slim. While today's trendy crop tops and leggy skirt looks can alienate less-than-lean girls, cropped crochet cardigans worn over floral rayon dresses also are hot.

In fact, while the shrunken look is often cropped and body-conscious, it can also be cropped and wide.

Nor is it reserved only for 15 years olds.

For spring, designers in Paris, Milan and New York all show tops that bare the midriff.

DKNY, Donna Karan's secondary line, includes plenty of baby tees with the DKNY logo. Jones New York Sport and Calvin Klein Jeans feature cropped tops. And Ralph Lauren shows baby polos described in the press kit as being "shrunken to their sexiest ever."

Even the more conservative Ellen Tracy line includes some body-baring bra tops and dressy T-shirts for women: Designer Linda Allard shows stretch satin cropped T-shirts under linen jackets and skirts, for example.

And why not?, some ask.

"If women are working out, why hide it?" Mrs. Sidel said.

As for fashionable teens forever on Trend Alert, not many try to figure out how the shrunken look fits into the broader scheme of things.

"It's fashion. Kids don't see it as good or bad; they just see it as cool," Mrs. Sidel said.

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