4 September 2010

Playing Dress-Up

The development of a sense of dressing is for me related to the development and awareness of self.  Dress in its freest form is an expression of self, and as such the cultivation of dress as a process only ever begins in earnest once the individual has an awareness of self.  The development of this process ought to be organic, just as the discovery of self needs to be organic, for otherwise the individual can never truly flourish.  The process of self discovery is a lifelong pursuit, as is the development of a personal sense of dressing, or as we tend to call it, style.  The early years truly are a discovery, the latter more a refinement of what one has discovered.   

However where does the journey in style begin?  Arguably it from the moment the individual, as a baby, has an awareness of self.  A baby will have the preference for one toy over another, or one colour over another, or one flavour over another.  These small preferences are signs of the individuality of the baby, speaking of their character and self long before their mouths can express the eloquence of their brilliant minds.  As the baby grows, they become an individual with tastes, preferences and likes.  It is the formation of these predilections, and the evolving nature of their unique predilections, which informs the development of their style as they become aware of clothing. 

A baby will happily wear whatever you happen to dress them in, provided it is comfortable for them.  A toddler however displays the charms of a self-aware individual, in that they begin to express themselves in terms of dress.  They will choose one pair of trousers over another, or one colour of sweater over another, not simply due to the comfort and physical sensation of the garment, but due to the aesthetic.  They begin to choose the clothes they like the look of, whether that be a miniature tweed blazer or a teddy bear outfit.

Hackett Kids
Autumn/Winter 2010

In the early years of childhood, as the child is expressing an interest in dress, choosing their own garments, I believe a certain amount of freedom and encouragement of their expression is called for.  Just as we encourage young children to paint or sing, encouraging them to make their own choices about what they wear is important to their personal development.  In a society where children are forced to grow up far too fast, where girls are sexualized from far too young, the delightful innocence of childhood is unfortunately sometimes lost.  

Children need the time to be children.  They need the time to wear a Spiderman costume for the day because they like wearing it, if only for the fact that it is the only time in their life that they really can (a grown man going to the supermarket in a Spiderman costume would cause quite the stir, not so a toddler).  That is not to say that they ought to be given free reign, for at such a tender age, being able to make well-informed decisions is not that easy, although indeed nor is it really any easier with age.  Rather their sense of self-expression ought to be encouraged within a safe and secure framework. 

I am not particularly comfortable with the idea of children being dressed by their parents as young adults, just as I am not comfortable with the idea of a young child wearing only what they want (a young child wearing the same outfit for a week is not exactly hygienic).  Childhood and fashion can be a very dangerous mixture.  Being of the moment defines fashion, it is therefore overshadowed by an ever-present anxiety, that of the individual no longer being in fashion.  It would be unfair to subject a young child to that type of pressure, although admittedly they are perhaps subjected to a number of more unreasonable pressures from society anyway.  

Children will always have trends and fashions of their own, modeled by adults creating products targeted specifically at them, whether it be of needing the latest toy or indeed needing the latest pair of trainers (who remembers L.A. Lights?).  However I think the idea of specifically designing fashion for children can be a precarious pursuit.  It is not only the danger of exposing children to the anxiety of fashion, but also one of not allowing them to make their own choices in the foundational years of self-development when it is so important for them to do so.  

Besides creating fashionable clothing also risks the danger of essentially creating miniature versions of clothing for adults, which is perhaps in contrast the way many people wish to raise their children.  Historically speaking of course this argument is somewhat a modern invention, for in the past children did quite literally wear miniature versions of adult clothing in many instances, although even so children-specific clothing has always existed in some form or another.  The very fact that there are even debates over dressing children like adults is fascinating to me, for it highlights the important impact clothing has on the development of identity, and the importance of clothing in the social sphere.

Clothing designed for children can of course be fashionable, provided it is age-appropriate.  I like the idea of traditionally inspired clothing, for history provides a delightful nostalgia and charm perfectly suited to dressing children.  I had actually originally planned to post on the menswear campaign, however having seen the adorable children's Autumn/Winter 2010 campaign from Hackett, I was immediately taken by it.  Rooted very much in traditional styling, the collection is one of nostalgia and childhood innocence that is far too often missing in children's clothing today.  It is admittedly the nostalgia of adults, that of adults dreaming of clothes they wish they had worn as children, however in that respect I find it charming and still appropriate.

I have always thought that when I hopefully have children of my own one day, I will allow them the freedom to develop their own style.  However, if only for one day a week, they will wear an outfit of my own choosing.  Indeed I love the idea of traditional smart clothing for children - of bow ties, of shorts and high socks, of tweeds and wools, of grazed knees and disheveled hair.  For to me such clothing is evocative of a type of childhood innocence, and indeed it some respects, it is evocative of childhood itself.  These looks are fun, smart, chic, but most importantly - it is clothing that really is for children, not just for their parents.    

Whilst not all children would find these clothes to their tastes, as a child, I would have loved them.



  1. These are so adorable. I love the nostalgia of them. I'm happy that my mom always dressed me for play. My brother wore a lot jogging suits when he was young..either from lounging around gaming to going outside. I always had leggins and lots of long sleeve T's..but my Mom would make lots of long vests out my dad's plaid shirts..as a cover up..or an apron perhaps. She was learning to sew and maybe taking revenge on Dad's flannel shirts, but she seemed to manage to dress us for the world and what might happen during the day. My brother and I were messy people.

  2. I've really enjoyed your recent posts about style.
    This brings to mind something that happened recently: there was this little boy (maybe about the age of the kids here, if not a little younger) that really wanted this particular tie (it was a man's tie). His father really wanted to make sure he wanted it, actually he was more trying to talk his son out of it. The boy was so set on having this tie. I remember it as a green repp tie that he was looking to match his suit and tie. The boy and I thought it matched, the father didn't. I told the father that I was on the boy's side. And he said, "I'm the one with the money." Then the boy said how he had gift cards to pay for it. Before they paid, the father said to his son, "you better want to wear this tie for a long time." and the little boy said he'd wear it when he got married. The dad bought the tie and the kid said, "thank you daddy." He was the sweetest kid. We were all moved by it, and we tied the tie for him.

  3. i have to agree with you, style does come from a young age and a kid shouldn't be dressed by the parent, they should have the option to choose which they prefer and not !

    have to agree with most your points you have made in this post


  4. very cool, love the lil dude in the grey suit and red hat

  5. I SO want to outfit my toddler in a little suit! What darling duds for kiddos!

  6. Really nice work and I like how you showed the process.

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  10. whhhhaaaat so cute

    cannot wait so see how my children's personal style begins and develops as they grow up... really must get round to making children soon .

  11. also sorry about all the comments up above, the commenting machine was just being funny