Playing dress up or being dressed up?

This article, underpinned by historical and anthropological approaches, will question the absence of consideration of children’s views in the creation of their everyday fashion.

The daily handling of their clothes is a fundamental aspect of children’s lives and a major challenge for their carers, helpers and educators, especially in a school environment. Undertaken over the last five years, interviews and observational field work with teachers and nursery staff in both the UK and in France have revealed the complexity and time-consuming task of dressing or undressing at school[iii]. Several times during the day, children take off their coats, put their slippers on; dress up again to go in the playground or for an outdoor learning session; they change into their gym kit, put their trainers on; they get changed if dirty; and the young ones get themselves comfortable for a nap. Fastening buttons, closing zips, manoeuvring an awkward sleeve, tying the shoelaces, making good decisions regarding what to wear and how to wear it. Despite the current debate across Europe on the responsibility of the school to address the failure of parenting by supporting children in the learning of these common skills, these are all the activities that, from an early age, children have to do on a daily basis in a socialising environment. From their interactions with their peers and from their confrontation with the consumer culture within and outside of school, children learn the norms and the rules of a society where the dress code shapes the identity: they learn that attending school in a super-hero outfit is definitely not appropriate; that they need to dress up to go to a party with their friends; that they have to keep their coat on because it’s too cold, or because it’s not appropriate to take it off. Understanding clothing as a socialising tool is as crucial as using clothing to develop children’s motor skills. Most of the time, they are helped and guided by an adult in these tasks. Their progress and autonomy in what needs to be considered as a daily learning process is encouraged. Encouraged, but never monitored.

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