There is a vast choice of clothing for babies and children today. For babies there is no end of cute outfits in the traditional pink and blues, stretchy sports type material for comfort, lightweight jeans and pretty dresses. Most designs take into account the comfort and safety needs of little ones whilst balancing the parents need for frills and bows.
For toddlers the choice continues with all sorts of television characters on t-shirts and trousers, the youth fashions start to creep into the design of clothes for children over 5 years old. There is a definite divide between clothing styles that are considered suitable for adults, styles for teenagers, and then the styles and fashions for younger children. Usually nothing too unsuitable makes it to the shops for under 16’s, although there have been suggestions in the news recently that we are over sexualising our children far too soon with styles of clothes and toys which would be more suitable to adults.
Children’s clothing throughout history has generally resembled scaled down versions of adult clothing in turn reflecting the fashions and social aspirations of the day. Social class dictated the clothes of parents and their offspring with fabrics and clothing being a luxury. Portraits of wealthy children show them looking smart if not uncomfortable in their best clothes with frills, ribbons and bows. Poorer children are quite often depicted in tatty dirty clothes, most likely adult clothes, no longer fit for purpose, re-sized and resown to fit till they resembled rags. Babies had their movements restricted by swaddling in long clothes with frilly bonnets and lots of petticoats, all overly decorated with lace and frills in times of affluence.
Children and childhood, most likely due to the high mortality rates and the need to earn a living, was seen as something to get through quickly and not fuss about. As a result children’s clothes had no accepted fashion, they existed as a necessity, adorned and exaggerated to please their parents. Children were seen as just a phase before adulthood and the quicker they got through it the better.
However attitudes towards children and childhood have changed drastically over recent history, the social revolution of the late 18th century allowed children to be seen for the first time as individuals in their own right. The use of violence and fear in teaching methods was frowned upon and the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau put forward the idea that childhood was to be cherished for its playfulness and potential for happiness.
This led to a rethink on both adult and childrenswear with the idea that comfort and freedom were important and it was from this point that the distinct difference between adult and children’s clothes styles came about.
Up to the present day children’s clothing has made the subtle and not so subtle changes in line with that of adult fashion. Major changes since the end of the second World War such as the acceptance of trousers for women and girls to the point now where even the school uniforms accept that. Boys under a certain age are no longer are confined to short trousers in the winter and you can dress baby girls in blue, although I have yet to see a baby boy in pink. A friend bought my youngest daughter some clothes in brown when she was born, she said that she had had enough of seeing baby girls in pink. I was a little taken back as I liked pink on my baby and dark colours show up posset stains so easily. Makes you wonder that even with the freedom we have today in what clothes are available for us to choose to wear and where we are allowed to wear our styles, that the choice of clothes for children is mostly about what the parents want.