Monday, January 25, 2010

Punk Rock and Peace Kids: Projecting Parental Identity

Child’s Play: Aesthetics, Gender, and Children’s Clothing features a pair of cute toddler forms in yellow and black silkscreened onesies. These two pieces represent a contemporary trend in infants’ and children’s clothing, while expressing vastly different sentiments.

Peace dove onesie and turtle hat by karmabee, 2009

Grenade onesie by My Baby Rocks, 2009

Today it isn’t unusual for a child to display his or her parent’s identity via printed apparel items. Whether it’s a sport, music, political, or religious affiliation, children are being used as billboards for their parents’ beliefs. Long before a child can express any interest in the Indianapolis Colts, Ramones, anarchism, or Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, parents can speak for them via their clothing. Functioning like an adult’s printed t-shirt commemorating a special race, beloved band, or political candidate, these children’s clothing items project a message to the world. For those parents who may hold such beliefs may but be uncomfortable wearing them on their own bodies, subcultural and political messages in tiny dimensions are tempered with a cuteness unavailable in adult sizes.

from the Another Mother for Peace website.

While statements of peace and love hearken back to the 1960s/1970s and seem a natural fit with the contemporary view of childhood as an innocent, idealized state, subversive and political messages on infants’ and children’s clothing are a more recent development. Parents and gift givers can choose from grenades, brass knuckles, camouflage prints, and guns, symbols previously unheard of in children’s wear. (Though, ironically, ownership of actual “real" toy guns is frowned upon by many parents today). One might expect parents interested in these kind of items to ignore gender-typed clothing, but it's there in full force, as seen in the pink "Punk Rock Princess" and "Diaper Pirate" pieces.

As children of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s who identified with alternative or particular subcultures such as skate or Goth matured and started having children of their own, a desire to parent in a way that harmonized with their lifestyle choices gave rise to the demand for images and slogans for children that echoed those found on their own t-shirts and gear. At the same time, the (DIY) do-it-yourself movement empowered those seeking such apparel to create for themselves and others what couldn’t be found in stores. Today, the Internet provides an efficient way for small businesses to advertise and distribute their wares.

The skull, a frightening symbol that was previously reserved for Halloween only, has caught on with mass merchandisers in a big way (see here and here). The success of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and its compelling lead character Jack Sparrow (played by Johnny Depp), as well as the sweet darkness of Tim Burton movies The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride, has made the skull, a symbol of death and violent piracy, almost as ubiquitous and nonthreatening as the smiley face.

What do you think of this trend in children's wear?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Before Pink and Blue: Baby Clothes Before Babies had Gender

Prof. Jo Paoletti

The Indiana University Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design will host University of Maryland Professor Jo Paoletti, the department's 2010 Bill Blass Fashion Design Seminar Series speaker, Wednesday, January 13 at IU Bloomington. This free, open-to-the-public lecture, "Before Pink and Blue: Baby Clothes Before Babies had Gender," will be held Wednesday, January 13, 4-5:15 pm in the Whittenberger Auditorium of the Indiana Memorial Union.

Paoletti's lecture is made possible through the Bill Blass Fashion Design Seminar Series established in 2002 with a bequest from fashion designer Bill Blass, a native Hoosier and friend of Indiana University. The Bill Blass Fashion Design Seminar Series is presented and hosted by the department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design and the College of Arts and Sciences.

Paoletti is an Associate Professor in American Studies whose training is in apparel design and the history of textile and clothing. She has spent over thirty years researching and writing about children’s clothing in America, particularly the development of gender differences. The University of Utah Press will publish her monograph, Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America, in 2010. Most recently Paoletti has been focusing on everyday ethical concerns such as conscious, ethical consumption, frugality and voluntary simplicity. You can visit her blog dealing with those issues at

"Before Pink and Blue" is presented in conjunction with Child’s Play: Aesthetics, Gender, and Children’s Clothing, an exhibition of more than 50 ensembles from The Sage Collection exploring the dynamics of aesthetics, gender, and fashion. The Monroe County History Center is located at 202 E. Sixth St., Bloomington. Child’s Play closes February 27.

For more information on Child's Play or Professor Paoletti's lecture, contact Kelly Richardson at or phone 812-855-4627.