In honour of the 52nd Annual Grammy awards, Sammy Compton, sister of my special housemate Sookie, threw a lovely Grammys party, complete with many of my favourite things – tea, curry, and a dress-to-impress code. Of course, being a PhD student, which is just a nicer way of saying ‘I hide under a rock and eat a lot of lentils’, and having a rather strong attachment to the music of my childhood – they just don’t make songs like they did in the nineties – I wasn’t entirely au fait with all the celebrities strutting the carpet. I am, however, au fait with all things sparkly (again, as a result of that other 90s childhood staple – Baz Lurhman’s Strictly Ballroom), and felt thusly qualified to get my critiquing groove on.
And boy, was there plenty of sparkle and swagger. Some good (Katie Perry and Beyonce, USHER O.M.G. I LOVE RIGHT DOWN TO THE CREAM PIPING ON YOUR SUIT), some bad (Jennifer Hudson, YOU HOT, BUT NOT IN THAT DRESS), some ugly (Taylor Swift – NUFF SAID) and some just fracking weird (RHIANNNA. LOVE. HIRE A STYLIST).
But the show this year was really stolen by the under-four-foot crowd – and no, Rosie Bon Jovie, I’m not talking about the midgets – I’m talking about the kiddies. Of course, Beyonce and Jay Z’s nephew, who accepted the Grammy for Run This Town in the stead of Kanye (because if we learnt anything from the VMA’s, kids, it’s that Kanye, a mike and an award show do not mix) stole the show in his baby tux – but there were plenty of other kiddies, so much so that I wondered if Lady Gaga’s frock would be commandeered as some sort of playpen kiddycreche.
Perhaps this is the logical extension of our youth obsessed culture, but kids have become, suddenly, the new frontier of cool. The prevalence of beautiful celebrities with their beautiful babies is indicative of this. Whilst I think it’s great that we’re now moving towards a celebration of childhood, it also gives me the worries sometimes. Particularly when these celebabies (a celebrity baby – geddit???) are dressed as extensions of their mums and dads (Gewn Stefani, Brit Brit and Mr and Mrs Becks, report to my office immediately).
To betray my closet academic interest (and a terrible pun – closet meaning both SECRET and WARDROBE!), children’s clothing has, almost always, been a replica of the clothing of adults. It’s interesting to look at the way that children’s clothing through the ages denotes the way that they were related to by the rest of the community. In the not-too-distant past, for instance, babies and young children up to the age of about six were dressed all alike, irrespective of gender, in simple white frocks, and weren’t given proper ‘clothes’ until they started their schooling at about six or seven. Fashion theorists postulate that this is, in no small part, to do with shocking rates of infant mortality – that it didn’t serve anyone well to get too attached to an infant or very young child, or to view them as a person in their own right, and this extended to the clothing of children. Once one had passed through the hazardous years of infancy and early childhood, it was possible to be regarded as a potential adult – and thus, dressed exactly like one. For poor people, children were dressed in the hand-me-downs rags of older siblings and cousins, or wrapped in swaddling cloths – again, because why spend what little money you may have on clothes for a baby who, in all likelihood, would be carried away.
It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that upper and middle class parents began to dress their kiddies as…kiddies. Not as infants in swaddling cloths, and not as micro adults, but as something in between – as children. Of course, what age ranges constitute ‘child’, or what ‘child’ even means, have been up for negotiation ever since, and perhaps this latest incarnation of children as an extension of their parent’s look is simply the latest perambulation of our cultural attitudes to children and childhood.
But I can’t help but hark back to the brief moment a couple of decades ago – from the late 60s to the end of the 80s – where there was a certain playfulness and whimsy to children’s’ clothing – where children were encouraged to dress in clothes that they chose, that they liked, and that made them look – well, like kids. This was how I was dressed when I was growing up. For sure, I remember many a violent tantrum at mama-k’s insistence that I wear GREEN PLAID rather than PINK TULLE WITH SPARKLES AND LACE. But, at the end of the day, I was pretty much allowed to dress how I wanted to, and in a way that was entirely my own - not like a grown up, very much like a kid, and with a degree of personal latitude and creativity.
It makes me sad to think that, in our efforts to make our kids look just like us, we don’t give them the opportunity to look just like them. As much as I look forward to picking out outfits for the little tykes in my life, I look forward even more to seeing what they pick out for themselves. Case in point, and returning to the sister-themed origins of this blog post, Clementine Kemp’s little sister, and my absolute favourite six year old, LuLu, has perfected this art of dressing exactly like herself. With her artful draping of floral fabrics, held together with hairclips, she was a delight to behold at a recent afternoon tea at my house, and an example from which all of us could learn. Indeed, when children, left to their own devices, come up with the most ingenious creations, it makes me wonder why we’re not copying them, rather than trying to get them to copy us.