Children and fashion: contextualizing issues, changing times

  There are three interlinked issues that need to be examined before starting to analyse the primary data that have been collected with children themselves.2 These are: contemporary consumer culture and its obsession with celebrity, the children’s wear market and its transition from traditional children’s clothing to more adultlike styling, and the status of the ‘tweenager’ as a significant social actor and consuming force.

  Taking these three issues in turn, celebrity and commodification indeed go hand in hand, the former being a ‘thing’ that needs to be continually produced to be consumed. As Rojek (2001) has argued, celebrities are cultural fabrications that embody social types and provide role models. These sociocultural functions are assisted by a range of intermediary factors that operate and stage-manage celebrity presence in the eyes of the public. While celebrity status can be achieved via a number of means – being on a reality TV show; having a famous person as a partner, sibling or parent; having a high-profile political career; starring in one of nation’s favourite soap operas – the bulk of individuals considered to be celebrities in today’s highly commercial and globalized popular culture are drawn from the spheres of sport and music. Chung (2003), for instance, in his analysis of the comparative celebrity status of a South Korean sports star and a rock star concludes that above all else they are both essentially ‘ “cultural products” of postindustrial capitalist society’. Sports, for example, according to Chung (2003), prizes traditional values such as hierarchy, patriarchy, male supremacy, heterosexuality and nationalism, and awards wealth and fame to those who have proven their athletic ability and can maintain their awarded status on and off the field. Sports businesses and sports media, moreover, are emerging as key components of the new global political economy (Cashmore and Parker, 2003). Needless to say, this increased exposure of sports stars via television coverage and commercial promotions, not to mention their rocketing earnings, has led to a number of individuals being raised to iconic status. Most notable, perhaps, is footballer David Beckham who has become the subject of a number of analyses (Burchill, 2002; Cashmore  2002; Cashmore and Parker 2003; Whannel, 2002). Beckham is hailed as a benchmark of social change, not only as the quintessential exemplifier of conspicuous consumption but also as a ‘fashioned’ representation of shifts in masculine constructions.

  Pop stars, equally, are influential figures in popular culture. According to Hawkins (2002), commercial pop is about patterns in consumption and production. In other words, the pop scene evolves stylistically with new artists showcasing their images and artists with longevity needing to continually reinvent themselves to engage with the identity politics of the time. Madonna, for example, builds her dentity on changing and often contradictory fashions and images and, in doing so, offers us a vision of a woman liberated from prescribed gendered codes of dressing and behaving (Chung, 2003; Schwichtenberg, 1993). So too, the Spice Girls used clothing to emphasize different aspects of their personalities, offering their audience a choice of female typologies (‘Posh’ always wore classic, black, cocktail dresses, ‘Baby’ preferred baby-doll dresses in pretty pastel colours, while ‘Sporty’ was rarely seen out of her tracksuit). As with the sports scene, pop music has been commercially enhanced through global television networks where MTV and many other music channels can visually promote the spectacle of the performing artist. This leads me to discuss the concept of ‘fashion’ itself and how it functions within the children’s wear market. In 2003 the UK children’s clothing market was worth £6.02 billion – accounting for 18.9 percent of the UK’s total clothing expenditure – with the ‘fashion’ end of the scale rather than traditional children’s wear being the ever-growing sector (, 2004). This translates on the high street into a shift away from more traditional chains such as Adams and Marks & Spencer’s to shops offering more trendy, covetable items (often celebrity copy-cat clothes) such as New Look and George at Asda. Lifestyle brands producing surf- and skateboard-related clothing are also making their mark as fashionable alternatives to bland, nondescript casual clothing lines.


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