Samiksha Jaiswal (Editor)

Baby fashion

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Baby fashion

Baby Fashion is a social-cultural consumerist practice that encodes in children's fashion the representation of many social features and depicts a system characterized by differences in social class, richness, gender or ethnicity.

Contents

History

In the past centuries Baby Fashion assumed distinctive features between social classes. Dresses had a powerful potential in displaying social distinction. In general Baby Fashion was exploited by the high classes, or the so-called elite, to traduce symbols of power, wealth, richness. Children's appearance was useful to represent the family's position in the society. While, on the other side, the working classes were not involved in this kind of practice, since clothes should have been practical and not expensive. It must be remembered that in the feudal society, as in the industrial society, children worked as well as adults. The symbolic value of Baby Fashion between high classes and the nobility was not only a western peculiarity. For example, in some African or oriental countries colors and shapes took a particular importance, while Western elites concentrated on fabrics and precious materials. But probably Western European Fashion put a stronger stress on the representation of social position through clothing; in fact, this practice became customary already in the late 13th century. Family paintings and portraits were very common between the European high classes, so today we have plenty of examples of ancient Baby Fashion features. A particular characteristic of ancient Baby Fashion is the absence of marked gender distinctions between young children. After a certain age, girls were painted in big gowns, and boys in trousers, or commonly military uniforms. But before they reached ten years of age, usually, children were represented wearing gowns, no matter if they are boys or girls. The symbols of wealth and power are translated by these rich dresses, with huge gowns full of trims, ornaments, and embroidered details. This kind of style developed in the Spanish Court in the 14th century and became common also in other Catholic Countries as Italy or France. This rich style makes very difficult, almost for a modern observer, to recognize boys from girls. Many examples come from 17th and 18th century European Court, where family paintings where very important expressions of power. In France Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun's paintings represented young Mary Antoinette's children, and the younger Queen's son is dressed in a white, soft, traditional gown and coif.

Contemporary age

Clothes have long been used to hide sexual differences in its strong biological sense and, at the same time, to point up and signal it through assumptions concerning gender in clothing codes. Fashion thus helps to reproduce gender as a form of body style, producing a complex interplay between sexed bodies and gendered identities. If children's clothes, in the past, were used to differentiate those belonging to rich families from those coming from poor ones, today clothes are a symbol of gender differentiation. Moreover, the imitating model has changed over years. In the past nobility owned what was perceived as an ideal style paradigm. While nowadays, the upper-middle class embodies the ideal fashion; especially, in today's pop culture, this role is covered by celebrities and the so-called V.I.P.

Gender differentiation

Gender is a way in which social practices are ordered. In gender differentiation process, the everyday conduct of life is organized in relation to biological differences, defined by the bodily structures and processes of human reproduction. Bodies are therefore both agents and objects of practice. Such body-reflexive practices that define the social structure are not internal to the individual, but they involve social relations and shared symbolism. They may well involve large-scale social institutions. Within this body structured practices, particular versions of femininity and masculinity are materialized as meaningful bodies and embodied meanings. Through body-reflexive practices and through the biological division of human bodies into male and female, more than individual lives are formed: a social world is formed, modelled on the basis of gender stereotypes.

Stereotypes

By gender stereotypes we mean a representation, imagery or classification of men, women, or gender relations, that presents a simplified, conventionalized and selective picture of men's and women's lives. This representation is pretty often spread up also by the exposure to TV contents, which has been associated with more stereotypical sexual attitudes (i.e., the view that men are stereotypically sex-driven, the notion according to which women are sexual objects to be valued for their looks). Therefore, stereotypes frequently become vehicles for norms of inequality. For instance, a persistent devaluing of women can have the effect of celebrating masculine bodily power, or of believing that women and men should be confined to narrow and segregated social roles. In Baby Fashion, gender-differentiated consumption can go from toys to particular dressing accessories or objects of everyday life. This particular structured system becomes an important tool to maintain intact these constructed gender social identities. Despite the different gender studies that has been done during the last years, it seems that sex role theory, which is an old approach based on the power of custom and social conformity, seems to be correct about some still existing social constructions. Sex role theory explains gender patterns by appealing to the social customs that define proper behaviour for women and for men. People learn their roles, in the course of growing up, and then perform them under social pressures. According to this theory, children, since their first years of life, are distinguished into girls and boys. They are dressed with the respective gender identifiable colours, the typical pink and blue. The blue dressed children are supposed to behave differently than the ones dressed in pink: they should be ruder, aggressive, demanding and more powerful. On the contrary, the pink dressed children are supposed to behave in a passive way, to be obedient and even prettier. When the girls grew up they are dressed with cute dresses, they are given toys like dolls and make up accessories, and they are educated to always take care of their physical aspect, to be able to cook and to always be educate and gentle with others. On the other hand, when boys grew up they are taught how to drive cars, how to be competitive in the market in order to earn money and how to chase all those persons who were dressed in pink colours.

Consumerism

Speaking about baby fashion, it is important to stress the consumerism that is behind all of this. Buying infant clothing is becoming more and more a phenomenon of fashion so that, since they are mainly bought by parents, sometimes the purchasing action is brought to an upper level through the objectification of the child. In fact, it can happen that they are adopted as a means to demonstrate the capability of their family to follow most recent fashions. When clothes are used in a way that differs from the norm, this can attract attention and provoke reactions. This affirmation is supported by the many practices that define today’s society and that highlight a current phenomenon: the sexualization of the child.

Sexualisation

The acceptable sexual connotations expressed by clothing depends on both the era and the age of the person wearing the clothes. However, clothes continuously witness a phenomenon of sexualisation, resulting from a background that affects adults as well as children. Indeed, the body is more visible today than it was in the 1800s and in the first half of the 1900s. Clothes themselves are innocent, it is the way in which they are displayed that sexualizes them: this happens mostly because of the influence of various media (television, internet, music, social networks, advertising etc.), and the way in which children's clothes are disposed alongside the ones of adults. The automatic consequence is the association between the two types of clothes, summed-up in the common practice, carried out by manufacturers and retailers, of scaling-down adult version of fashion into a child one. In this way, instead of age-appropriate clothes, children wear those that in principle have been designed for grown-up people. This happens especially with young girls who, nowadays, can be easily seen wearing short skirts, high heels, very deep necklines, bikinis or padded bras, all available in fabrics and prints that most of the people would consider inadequate for them. In fact, fashion is seen as imposing oppressive forms of gender identity, embodying practices designed to objectify and limit little girls. At the same time, it will be difficult to ignore the limitations given to boys too. They are pressured by expectations about proper masculine behaviour from parents, school, mass media and peer groups. Masculine behaviour's role models are provided by sportsmen, military heroes, etc. and the social sanctions, from mild disapproval to violence, are applied to boys and men who do not conform to the role norms. This phenomenon is exasperated by the untimely sexual development of children that has been registered in recent years. As a matter of fact, it has been demonstrated that contemporary kids tend to reach a sexual maturity at an early age, accelerating therefore the mental, physical and emotional evolution and catching the possibility to wear daring dresses.

References

Baby fashion Wikipedia


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