Fashion Issues Of British Children Cultural Studies Essay

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Childhood can be defined in several ways with characteristics such as innocence, excitement and inquisitiveness; however it seems that innocence within childhood is what is lacking today. In Britain, children appear to act and dress ahead of their age, this is a fairly big cultural difference compared to European countries where children dress as children up to an older age. There is also more variety today; with an increased birthrate in recent years, (see Figure 1- Mintel) there is a higher demand for childrenswear so more highstreet brands are expanding to cater for this but also designer labels have begun making childrenswear for the luxury market.

It can be argued that there is no childhood in Britain, this is due to the overall environment that children are exposed to. The biggest influence is the media and the way it portrays celebrities, children want to act and dress like their idols and have such easy access to television, magazines and internet. Having an adult role model means that they cannot dress in a style that would be suitable for their age. Even though it can be argued that there are child style icons, none of them seem to dress age appropriate. Figure 2 shows two young American children both aged 9 promoting a new fashion line for children, that critics have said looks like adult lingerie. The brand 'Ooh! La La! Couture' used two Disney television stars to represent their line and therefore the brand becomes instantly more appealing to children wanting to look like their role models. By looking at the outfits worn by the child stars, most people would describe them as inappropriate as they are creating a sexualised image of young children, however the statement below is from the founders of the company describing their brand identity.

'Ooh! La, La! Couture is dedicated to making clothes that little girls love to wear, and that their parents love to dress them in. We make beautiful tutu dresses that are fun, fanciful and fabulous. We respect our customers and the quality retailers who sell our clothes, and we will never make anything that isn't age-appropriate.'

Ooh! La La! Couture Online

It is not just celebrities that are influencing children, it is the overall lifestyle. More children are living in a household where both parents are working, this means that children are getting less attention and have more freedom which can be misused by them. They have to learn to be more independent and make their own decisions, these may not be big decisions however a small decision such as choosing how to spend their pocket money could still have an impact on the economy and the future of childrenswear fashions. This could mean that it is more important to consider the needs of the children themselves and making the product appealing to them aswell as the parents as more children are spending their pocket money on fashion items.

Designer clothes are a sign of wealth and status, however this hasn't always been available in the childrenswear market until fairly recently. Children grow out of clothes very quickly so hand me downs and cheap throwaway fashions are common, but now it is becoming increasingly more popular that childrenswear is up to date with current trends and some even wear designer labels. Labels such as Gucci who are famous for their sexed-up aesthetic and racy ad campaigns have begun making their first childrenswear collection in summer 2010. Stella McCartney has also launched her childrenswear line in 2010 that is described as 'desirable, fun, wearable and affordable'. Ad campaigns showing designer labels are often trying to represent the ideal childhood image for example Burberry in Figure 3. The children are well dressed, this image shows luxury that would not be affordable for everyone, it is also showing stereotypes, that the brunette displays a serious expression in the background behind the blonde little girl with the most emphasis being on her in the recognisable Burberry trench coat. There is often a lot of emphasis on the ideal image whether it is for childhood or even family life. An example of this would have been the Estee Lauder advertisement for a men's fragrance in 1997, it shows a man and a boy in a hammock. A description of this ad is as follows.

'Both people are beautiful, and their hammock is slung above a watchful dog; behind them stretches a white picket fence: signs of peaceful, faithful domesticity'

Higonnet, Anne, Pictures of Innocence

This image was not ideal enough and by September 1997 it was withdrawn and in its place was the same image with the only difference being that a wedding band had been added to the man's ring finger. This suggests that they only wanted to appeal to the stylish yet traditional family ideal.

The use of child models has not always been effective. A Calvin Klein ad campaign in 1995 (Figure 4) used 15 year old models to show off their jeans but in a way that they became sexualised by having the models in seductive poses with low lighting. Although this caused the public to react very strongly it did increase jean sales significantly due to the increased publicity, but is it fair to use controversial images of children to generate publicity for sales?

The sexualisation of childrenswear within fashion has become increasingly common with celebrity style icons and fashion designers portraying an image that is unsuitable for young children. By looking at fashion icons through the decades you can see that it is becoming more unsuitable for children to have adult style icons due to the fashions that are around at the time. Examples of this would be to look at style icons from both the past and present. Figure 5 shows Audrey Hepburn and Victoria Beckham. Both have had a big influence on fashion and style but it is clear that there is a huge difference in what is classed as style in the past and present. Audrey Hepburn is dressed more conservatively with a high neckline on a long dress nipped in at the waist, however Victoria Beckham is wearing a mini skirt. Neither of these outfits would be seen as appropriate for children of any age and if they were or are aspiring to look like these style icons then it is obvious how the image of a child is being sexualised and adapted to look like miniature versions of adult clothing. Also the fact that these women are style icons is to do with fame and the media; Audrey Hepburn a famous actress always in the spotlight, and Victoria Beckham in a girl band with hits worldwide although she really became well known when she married a famous footballer. Since then she has been able to explore several different career paths mainly to do with fashion and modelling and she was even able to create her own clothing line, it can be argued that this would have been less likely to happen had she not married into fame and had so much of the media attention. This change in role models also reflects the change in society today and shows how the idea of fame has changed and what is admirable as a profession and lifestyle. Having discussed this, young child stars are exposed to so much media attention it would be difficult to prevent them from being affected and influenced by other celebrities.

David Cameron spoke out about the way that children were treated like adults in order for companies to make a profit. In January he claimed that if the Torys were elected he would ensure that the sexualisation of children by shops, advertisers and magazines would be stopped. This personally had an impact on Cameron as he himself has young children, he thought items such as BHS bras for under 10 year olds were extremely unsuitable. However it can be argued that due to the increasing rate in childhood obesity bras may be needed by children younger than 10 years old and so this is not sexualisation it is a practical solution meeting a demand for the needs of the children of today. Asda, the highest selling childrenswear retailer, were also forced to withdraw a range of padded bras for girls as young as 9 as a mother complained that the item risked "encouraging sexual abuse". The items were removed from the supermarket chain immediately. This statement from the angry mother could be seen as an exaggeration of the impact of sexualisation in childrenswear fashion and not necessarily be seen to link with sexual abuse at all. This is an example of today's society and how parents can often be too cautious and protective of their children due to all of the stories in the media. Older generations often say that it is so much more dangerous now, for example letting your child play in the street. Due to the mass media attention on kidnapping cases such as Madeline McCann parents feel like they can no longer let their children out of sight. This attitude has lead this worried mother to the conclusion that wearing padded bras would be linked to encouraging sexual abuse. This cautious attitude may also be passed onto the child making them less likely to take risks, these are the parents that will choose their child's clothing to make sure they are dressing age appropriate.

George at Asda is the highest selling childrenswear retailer in the UK according to mintel (figure 1), although it has had several controversial items for sale, including the bra mentioned previously and inappropriate slogans on t-shirts. Tesco also has school skirts that are 10cm shorter than other competing brands such as Asda and Sainburys. Although seen as unsuitable, the majority of the time it is the responsibility of the parents to buy these items for their child, particularly school uniform so if they feel the image is inappropriate then they could buy a different item instead. The biggest influence is the media so ad campaigns and television shows have a huge impact. In a Florida FootAction store the images shown in Figure 6 were seen to be hanging above the children's shoe section, these images show children in a very sexualised way, with the girl wearing a lot of makeup and jewellery with her dress low cut and something that a child would not wear, she looks to be around 10 years old with an older boys arm around her, the boy also styled to look older than his age. The images used as promotion in the store selling shoes do not even show any shoes in the advertisement, it is clearly an advert for luxury. Children do want to look older than their actual age and with this sort of advertising could become very easily impressionable and therefore could be taken advantage of by the media in a way that makes more companies profit and therefore benefiting the economy.

Primark, also one of the best selling childrenswear retailers, were in the media for selling t-shirts with unsuitable slogans on, for example, 'Future WAG' for a 3 year old (see Figure 7). This is linked to the glamorous life and idea of luxury and the ideal lifestyle. The idea of success to children seems to be through fame, Rankin did a photoshoot for M&S a highstreet brand selling childrenswear, it was all about showing their talent and what they wanted to be when they grow up. All of the childrens ideal jobs were in music, acting or gymnastics. The images can be seen in figure 8. Particularly the blonde boy with his hands behind his head is posed and styled in a very adult like way even though he is only about 10 years old.

'Everywhere we look, the image of childhood is changing, aided and abetted by eager media consumers of all ages. In many different ways, the image of the child is becoming more physical, and more involved in the world of adults.'

Higonnet, Anne, Pictures of Innocence (p12)

Much of the current fashions for children at the moment and throughout history are just scaled down versions of adults clothes so therefore are not designed with children in mind. This shows how children's fashion is influenced by current trends in mens and womenswear, there is also an example of how this can also happen in the opposite way for example children's fashion influencing womenswear. In the 1960s Twiggy made famous the look of childhood poverty. The androgynous poorboy style was popular with fashion-conscious teenagers and young women and it carried on into the 1970s. Fabrics such as corduroy and denim were worn with oversized caps and undersized knitwear to show off her extremely slim figure. Fabrics used in clothing were often dictated by social class in parents and their children's clothes. In the past, smart children's clothes often made them look uncomfortable with frills, ribbons and bows, they were most probably uncomfortable due to the fact that the clothing they were wearing was in fact just a miniature version of adult clothes not designed taking the child's needs into account. Poorer children often wore old adult clothes not fit to use anymore that were resewn to fit them. In the past due to high mortality rates and the need to earn money, children and childhood was seen as something to get through quickly and not fuss about. This attitude to childhood has significantly changed over time with the social revolution in the late 18th century allowed children to be seen as individuals in their own right. This is when it came about that childhood should be a happy and playful time, so this lead to the development of the idea that comfort and freedom became more important in both adult and children's clothes, this is when the differences between both fashions became apparent. The modern concept of childhood was said to be an invented cultural ideal and at the time that there was a difference between adult and child clothing art historians also observed that paintings of children underwent a major transformation, this was treated as the discovery of a natural truth and not pictures representing and invented definition.

The ideal image of childhood and childhood innocence needed visual evidence such as art and photography to prove that it was not just and invented cultural ideal. This evidence came from distilling and altering art from the past to create a new image named the romantic childhood in the 18th century. This new image was filtered down into the mass market through illustration, the media and technology, through all the interpretation of different artists and photographers the overall image of childhood became more commercialised and feminised. This may have been due to the fact that the only choice of subject for women painters at this time were children and the romantic childhood such as Kate Greenaway shown in figure 9. This ideal image of children young and older working together collecting flowers and playing instruments. Also the number of children indicates the large family sizes at the time and the image how children would help their parents contributing to the household whereas now people tend to be having children later and choosing their careers first resulting in smaller families and therefore changing the image of the family ideal. This means that fashions would change too due to practicality, the development in technology, skills and new ideas also the amount that parents are willing to pay for fabric or clothes for their children.

Photography was influenced by art at the time and it was suggested that it was able to show it in a more realistic and natural light than paintings. Even though this could be the case it is photography that had initially caused the problem with childhood imagery. Lewis Carrol, the author of Alice in Wonderland, was also a photographer of children, particularly little girls. He used an automatic camera and he thought that meant it was only possible for him to only capture the truth of childhood. Looking at the girls in his photographs the poses are very sexualised and would be too controversial and inappropriate if photographed today. He often showed little girls sometimes nude, sometimes scarcely clothed. See Figure 10. This could suggest that sexualisation of children had happened long before now. The trend of sexuality in photographs accelerated in the late 1970s, this caused major controversy, particularly from Robert Mapplethorpe, where nearly all of his photographs were nude portraits including those taken of children as well as adults. Controversial images often get more publicity and therefore it can be more beneficial to artists if their work causes a stir in the media. An example of this is Calvin Klein using child models in a slightly sexualised way, this got media attention and due to the publicity Calvin Klein resulted in extremely high sales of their jeans.

There were significant moments in time where there where major changes in what were acceptable clothing for men and women. One of them being the end of the Second World War marked the time of acceptance for women and girls to wear trousers; they were even accepted as school uniform. Boys under a certain age were no longer restricted to wearing short trousers and you could dress baby girls in blue. Even from wearing christening gowns they did not become gender specific until the twentieth century and that was only due to the colour coded ribbon trim. All toddlers were dressed androgynously in skirted, feminine clothing. Dresses and skirts were seen as appropriate clothing for small children with their gender not being taken into account, this was because children were seen innocently and it was thought that with their sexual immaturity they did not need gender specific clothing. This was at a time where adults could only wear gender specific clothes, only men could wear trousers and only women could wear skirts. Boys wearing skirts or dresses did not seem inappropriate as they spent their first years in a very feminine environment being cared for mainly by their mother. In the nineteenth century babies and young children wore white cotton dresses as they could be bleached easily without fading, this fabric choice was clearly based on practicality and not the aesthetic appeal. The dresses worn by newborn babies named 'long clothes' were longer than the babies body so that it could be tucked up underneath them for warmth, which is another practical element. Shorter clothes were needed as the child became more mobile, older toddlers would wear similar clothes in light colours and colourful prints were also incorporated in childrenswear up to the age of three or four by the middle of the century. The time in a boy's life where he got his first pair of trousers and no longer wore the white unisex dresses was known as breeching and marked a significant time in his life. As trousers were specifically just worn by men, the change into wearing breeches meant that society would symbolically see him as progressing into a man. In the 1800s boys younger than thirteen wore clothes than differed from men's clothes, therefore suggesting that the boys were not equal to men or ready to be men. For example men wore knee length tail coats and boys wore jackets cropped at the waist with no tail. This idea is different in 2010 where children's clothes are often just a replica of adult's clothes, this reflects the attitude about children today, they are seen as equal to adults and not inferior so the state of dress is similar adults and children alike. A more significant event for boys than breeching was the time where boys changed from short trousers to long trousers between the ages of twelve and fourteen. Unlike the boys, in the nineteenth century there was no dramatic change in girl's clothes as girls wore skirts as toddlers and as adults, the only variation being in details of the cut and style. The length of the skirt became longer as the girl grew older. In adult attire the bustle became popular in the late 1860s however children's dresses became more streamlined without a waist seam. In the 1820s the length of children's dresses were slightly below the knee and both boys and girls wore pantaloons or pantalettes underneath their skirts. This became quite controversial for girls to wear trousers as it was a sign or masculinity and power and by girls wearing them it was seen as undermining societies order. It eventually became accepted as it was covered and only worn as underwear which was no longer seen as a threat. A step towards trousers being acceptable clothing for women was when bloomers were worn without a skirt, however this was only for exercising. As time progressed more colourful and patterned clothes were introduced for children, by 1920s there were even floral and animal motifs displayed on them that were initially seen as unisex but gradually became more gender specific. For example images of dogs and drums were linked with boys, kittens and flowers with girls. As time progressed and clothes become more gender specific, certain colours started to be linked with each gender, mainly blue for boys and pink for girls, this began as early as 1910 but did not properly become specific until after the Second World War. In 1939 it was argued that pink, a pale tint of red, was associated with Mars the god of war and so should be linked with boys, and blue linked to Venus making it appropriate for girls. Boys clothing became less feminine over time and girls clothes more masculine due to introducing trousers.

In the seventeenth century the fabrics used were heavy, stiffened silk or wool, which was the fabric worn by older children and adults. Embroidery was very popular by the eighteenth century and was often shown on the linen or cotton, sewing techniques were used to strengthen the material as clothing was often passed down through families, sometimes being worn by children of opposite sexes. The increased availability of home sewing patterns made it possible for people with less money to keep up with current trends for example higher class women would be able to afford store-bought cage crinolines and bustles but home sewing patterns made it possible for lower classes to make these which could mean that their was a blur in fashion marking boundaries within social classes due to the fact that everyone could own these garments, the only difference would be in the quality of the fabrics used because of the expense. An extremely popular trend toward transgender dressing became clear in the 1980s, this consisted of mixing carefree, practical ready to wear clothing this affected the fashion for all ages. Mass Production also brought about a big change, where clothes were cheaper to buy rather than to make at home. This would have lead to a big boost in the economy and would also have created more jobs.

Increased exposure of children to the media has meant that the age of involvement in their own clothing choices has lowered significantly. The emphasis on designer labels and trademarks now has strongly affected children and their idea and choices of fashion as they can see them as a status symbol. This would not have been a problem in the past however changes in society and the media have bought about this change.

There are also cultural differences as the word 'fashion' means different things to many cultures. It can simply mean dressed in the latest trends, which is probably the most common meaning, it also is often linked to young women and has feminine connotations. Georg Simmel saw it as trickling down to the masses from the elites; however Roland Barthes viewed it as a silent form of communication. In India where draped clothes such as the sari are commonly worn any other 'fashionable' clothes are called 'Western' clothes. However it is defined it is clear that it is global and accounts for 4 percent of world trade. It was proposed that fashion actually began at a time where people started discarding their clothes based on style, not because they were worn out. Therefore the ancient Greek clothing that was draped and not cut were not classed as 'fashionable' due to the fact that it did not change significantly over time. Childrenswear is mainly ready-to-wear fashion which is mass-produced with current trends taken from men's and womenswear, but also styles from subcultures such as looking at street style, also reviving old trends or actually wearing the old clothes which is vintage fashion.