Guest blog post by Kate Canales

Ever wondered why we think of blue for boys or pink for girls, or why bows and floral designs are absent from boys’ clothing? These aspects of children’s clothing – along with the history of boys in dresses and the taboo of trousers – are just a few of the subjects which will be touched upon in a new talk entitled Made to Wear: The role of material culture in constructing children’s gender identities. The talk has been devised by Katy Canales, Assistant curator at the V&A Museum of Childhood and will be delivered at the upcoming Gender and Education Association conference on 23 June 2017 at Middlesex University.


For the last two years Katy has been responsible for the V&A Museum of Childhood’s childhood clothing collection. Her talk has been inspired by this remarkable collection, which spans over 400 years and includes everything from hand-sewn swaddling bands to mass-produced NHS spectacles. Made to Wear will examine the function of clothing beyond the provision of warmth, support and modesty, to convey messages of wearer’s gender, social circumstances, values and community. It will explore the impact of agency as well as socialisation in shaping what children wear.

Using examples from across the collection, Katy will illustrate the emerging trend for gendered children’s clothing and scrutinise the factors that motivated it. Items such as the Layette footwear will be used to pinpoint attitudinal shifts between what was once considered universal, masculine or feminine wear. Ultimately, she will demonstrate how clothing across the centuries has been used to construct the wearer’s gender identity and can be found to inhibit and hinder childhood behaviour. The subject of this talk is part of a future exhibition exploring gender and childhood, which is planned for the V&A Museum of Childhood.

Image courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.

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