Infant clothing

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Infant clothing or baby clothing is clothing for infants. Baby fashion is a social-cultural consumerist practice that encodes in children's fashion the representation of many social features and depicts a system characterized by differences in social class, richness, gender or ethnicity.


Infant and toddler clothing size is typically based on age.[1] These are usually preemie for a preterm birth baby, 0 to 3 months, 3 to 6 months, 6 to 9 months, 9 to 12 months, 12 months, 18 months, and 24 months, though there is no industry standard definition for those sizes.[1] Most retailers provide sizing charts based on a child's weight, height, or both, and the child's weight and height percentile may also be used for properly sizing clothing for the infant.[1]

In an article in the October 1945 issue of Ladies' Home Journal, B. F. Skinner stated that clothing and bedding "interfere with normal exercise and growth and keep the baby from taking comfortable postures or changing posture during sleep".[2] An infant may stretch, necessitating clothing that is sufficiently loose to allow movement.[3]


Marie Antoinette and her Children by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun
A photo of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1884, illustrating typical gender-neutral baby clothing at the time.

In the past centuries Baby Fashion assumed distinctive features between social classes. Dresses had a powerful potential in displaying social distinction. In general Baby Fashion was exploited by the high classes, or the so-called elite, to traduce symbols of power, wealth, richness. Children's appearance was useful to represent the family's position in the society. While, on the other side, the working classes were not involved in this kind of practice, since clothes should have been practical and not expensive. It must be remembered that in the feudal society, as in the industrial society, children worked as well as adults. The symbolic value of Baby Fashion between high classes and the nobility was not only a western peculiarity. For example, in some African or oriental countries colors and shapes took a particular importance, while Western elites concentrated on fabrics and precious materials. But probably Western European Fashion put a stronger stress on the representation of social position through clothing; in fact, this practice became customary already in the late 13th century. Family paintings and portraits were very common between the European high classes, so today we have plenty of examples of ancient Baby Fashion features. A particular characteristic of ancient Baby Fashion is the absence of marked gender distinctions between young children. After a certain age, girls were painted in big gowns, and boys in trousers, or commonly military uniforms. But before they reached ten years of age, usually, children were represented wearing gowns, no matter if they are boys or girls. The symbols of wealth and power are translated by these rich dresses, with huge gowns full of trims, ornaments, and embroidered details. This kind of style developed in the Spanish Court in the 14th century and became common also in other Catholic Countries as Italy or France. This rich style makes very difficult, almost for a modern observer, to recognize boys from girls. Many examples come from 17th and 18th century European Court, where family paintings where very important expressions of power. In France Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun's paintings represented young Mary Antoinette's children, and the younger Queen's son is dressed in a white, soft, traditional gown and coif.

In the United States, before the 1890s children predominantly wore clothing made by their parents.[4] By 1910, retailers had formed a "publicity structure" toward children for the sale of children's goods, which resulted in a significant increase in the sale of manufactured children's clothing, sportswear, candy, and baby clothing.[4] By 1915, baby clothing had become one of the nation's largest industries.[4]

In the 1980s, infant and toddler clothing fashion design became an increasing source of revenue for US designer labels and fashion design houses, such as Polo Ralph Lauren and Guess.[5] Gap Inc. established Baby Gap in 1990, four years after it had introduced the Gap Kids line.[6]

The age of first-time mothers has been increasing in Western cultures, from 21.5 years old in 1970 to over 25 years old in the early 2000s, and hence they have more disposable income to spend for infant goods, including clothing.[7]

Infant clothing is within the retail and wholesale trade categories of the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). For the 2012 revision, wholesale infant clothing is in category 424330 (Women's, Children's, and Infants' Clothing and Accessories Merchant Wholesalers)[8] and retail infant clothing is in category 448130 (Children's and Infants' Clothing Stores).[9]

Role models[edit]

The imitating model has changed over years. In the past nobility owned what was perceived as an ideal style paradigm. While nowadays, the upper-middle class embodies the ideal fashion; especially, in today's pop culture, this role is covered by celebrities and the so-called V.I.P.

Gender conventions[edit]

Clothes have long been used to hide sexual differences in its strong biological sense and, at the same time, to point up and signal it through assumptions concerning gender in clothing codes. The manner in which an infant is dressed "affects behavior toward the infant".[10] Clothing may be sex-typed by colour (e.g. - pink or yellow for girls, blue or red for boys), or by style (ruffles and puffed sleeves for girls).[10] If children's clothes, in the past, were used to differentiate those belonging to rich families from those coming from poor ones, today clothes are a symbol of gender differentiation.

A 1985 study found that US parents were not "bothered by strangers' mistaking the infant's sex".[10]

Gender differentiation[edit]

Gender is a way in which social practices are ordered. In gender differentiation process, the everyday conduct of life is organized in relation to biological differences, defined by the bodily structures and processes of human reproduction. Bodies are therefore both agents and objects of practice. Such body-reflexive practices that define the social structure are not internal to the individual, but they involve social relations and shared symbolism. They may well involve large-scale social institutions. Within this body structured practices, particular versions of femininity and masculinity are materialized as meaningful bodies and embodied meanings. Through body-reflexive practices and through the biological division of human bodies into male and female, more than individual lives are formed: a social world is formed, modelled on the basis of gender stereotypes. [11]


By gender stereotypes we mean a representation, imagery or classification of men, women, or gender relations, that presents a simplified, conventionalized and selective picture of men's and women's lives. This representation is pretty often spread up also by the exposure to TV contents, which has been associated with more stereotypical sexual attitudes (i.e., the view that men are stereotypically sex-driven, the notion according to which women are sexual objects to be valued for their looks).[12] Therefore, stereotypes frequently become vehicles for norms of inequality. For instance, a persistent devaluing of women can have the effect of celebrating masculine bodily power, or of believing that women and men should be confined to narrow and segregated social roles. In Baby Fashion, gender-differentiated consumption can go from toys to particular dressing accessories or objects of everyday life. This particular structured system becomes an important tool to maintain intact these constructed gender social identities. Despite the different gender studies that has been done during the last years, it seems that sex role theory, which is an old approach based on the power of custom and social conformity, seems to be correct about some still existing social constructions. Sex role theory explains gender patterns by appealing to the social customs that define proper behaviour for women and for men. People learn their roles, in the course of growing up, and then perform them under social pressures. According to this theory, children, since their first years of life, are distinguished into girls and boys. They are dressed with the respective gender identifiable colours, the typical pink and blue. The blue dressed children are supposed to behave differently than the ones dressed in pink: they should be ruder, aggressive, demanding and more powerful. On the contrary, the pink dressed children are supposed to behave in a passive way, to be obedient and even prettier. When the girls grew up they are dressed with cute dresses, they are given toys like dolls and make up accessories, and they are educated to always take care of their physical aspect, to be able to cook and to always be educate and gentle with others. On the other hand, when boys grew up they are taught how to drive cars, how to be competitive in the market in order to earn money and how to chase all those persons who were dressed in pink colours.[13]


Speaking about baby fashion, it is important to stress the consumerism that is behind all of this. Buying infant clothing is becoming more and more a phenomenon of fashion so that, since they are mainly bought by parents, sometimes the purchasing action is brought to an upper level through the objectification of the child. In fact, it can happen that they are adopted as a means to demonstrate the capability of their family to follow most recent fashions. When clothes are used in a way that differs from the norm, this can attract attention and provoke reactions.[14] This affirmation is supported by the many practices that define today’s society and that highlight a current phenomenon: the sexualization of the child.


The acceptable sexual connotations expressed by clothing depends on both the era and the age of the person wearing the clothes.[15] However, clothes continuously witness a phenomenon of sexualisation, resulting from a background that affects adults as well as children. Indeed, the body is more visible today than it was in the 1800s and in the first half of the 1900s. Clothes themselves are innocent, it is the way in which they are displayed that sexualizes them: this happens mostly because of the influence of various media (television, internet, music, social networks, advertising etc.), and the way in which children's clothes are disposed alongside the ones of adults. The automatic consequence is the association between the two types of clothes, summed-up in the common practice, carried out by manufacturers and retailers, of scaling-down adult version of fashion into a child one.[16] In this way, instead of age-appropriate clothes, children wear those that in principle have been designed for grown-up people. This happens especially with young girls who, nowadays, can be easily seen wearing short skirts, high heels, very deep necklines, bikinis or padded bras, all available in fabrics and prints that most of the people would consider inadequate for them. In fact, fashion is seen as imposing oppressive forms of gender identity, embodying practices designed to objectify and limit little girls. At the same time, it will be difficult to ignore the limitations given to boys too. They are pressured by expectations about proper masculine behaviour from parents, school, mass media and peer groups. Masculine behaviour's role models are provided by sportsmen, military heroes, etc. and the social sanctions, from mild disapproval to violence, are applied to boys and men who do not conform to the role norms. This phenomenon is exasperated by the untimely sexual development of children that has been registered in recent years. As a matter of fact, it has been demonstrated that contemporary kids tend to reach a sexual maturity at an early age, accelerating therefore the mental, physical and emotional evolution and catching the possibility to wear daring dresses.


Excessive thermal insulation has been associated with an increased incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The primary causes are an excess of bedding or clothing, soft sleep surfaces, and stuffed animals.[17] The odds ratio of SIDS associated with thermal insulation at least two togs above the lower critical value (after adjusting for season and confounding factors) was 1.35 in a New Zealand study, which also found that SIDS had some correlation with too little thermal insulation.[18] A 1984 study of 34 infant cot deaths found that for 2/3 excessive clothing and over-wrapping was a contributing cause.[19]

Clothing was responsible for an increased incidence of congenital hip dislocation (CDH) in Japanese infants. By custom, a diaper and clothing had been applied to the infants "with the legs in extension".[20] Before 1965, the incidence of CDH in infants was up to 3.5%, but a national campaign established in 1975 "to avoid prolonged extension of the hips and knees of infants during the early postnatal period" led to a reduction in incidence of CDH in infants to 0.2% by the early 1980s.[21]

Fire hazard[edit]

Close-fitting nightwear is "invariably safer than long, loose nightwear".[22]

Canada prohibits the importation, sale, or advertising of classes of clothing and other consumer products that do not meet the minimum flammability standards.[23] Standards for infant and children's sleepwear were defined in 1971 and amended in 1987 as part of the Hazardous Products Act.[23] Any textile product must also satisfy textile labelling requirements specified in the Textile Labelling Act administered by the Competition Bureau of Industry Canada.[23]

In the United States, textile flammability is subject to the U.S. Flammable Fabrics Act. A study found that children less than five years old had a higher incidence of sleepwear fires than other age groups, and that they had an "unreasonable risk of death or injury from fire accidents involving sleepwear".[24] This led to the first flammability standard for infant and children's sleepwear.[24] On 30 April 1996, the Consumer Product Safety Commission relaxed standards for children's sleepwear flammability, allowing retailers to sell "tight-fitting children's sleepwear and sleepwear for infants aged 9 months or younger" that does not meet the flammability criteria.[25]

An infant clothing retail shop in the old town of Čakovec, Croatia.

Hygiene and health[edit]

Infants may have allergic reactions to certain materials, especially synthetic fibres such as polyester, rayon, and nylon, and natural fibres such as wool.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Consumer Reports.
  2. ^ Skinner 1945.
  3. ^ Beegum 2005, p. 18.
  4. ^ a b c Leach 1994, p. 85.
  5. ^ Peterson & Kellogg 2008, p. 360.
  6. ^ Condra 2008, p. 225.
  7. ^ Danziger 2004.
  8. ^ United States Census Bureau: NAICS 424330.
  9. ^ United States Census Bureau: NAICS 448130.
  10. ^ a b c Shakin, Shakin & Hall Sternglanz 1985.
  11. ^ Connell, Raewyn. Quality of human resources: gender and indigenous – Quality Gender, men and masculinities.
  12. ^ Bogt & Rutger C. M. E. Engels & Sanne Bogers &Kloosterman. Shake It Baby, Shake It: Media Preferences, Sexual Attitudes and Gender Stereotypes Among Adolescents. Sex Roles; 63; pp.844–859; 2010;
  13. ^ Connell, Raewyn. Questioni di genere. Il Mulino; 2009; pp. 167–168
  14. ^ Klepp; Storm-Mathisen. Reading Fashion as Age: Teenage Girls' and Grown Women's Accounts of Clothing as Body and Social Status. Fashion Theory, The Journal of Dress, Body and Culture;
  15. ^ Klepp; Storm-Mathisen. Reading Fashion as Age: Teenage Girls' and Grown Women's Accounts of Clothing as Body and Social Status. Fashion Theory, The Journal of Dress, Body and Culture;
  16. ^ Bailey, Reg. Letting children be children. Report of an Independent Review of the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood. Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Education by Command of Her Majesty, June 2011;
  17. ^ Fleming et al. 1993.
  18. ^ Williams, Taylor & Mitchell 1996.
  19. ^ Stanton 1984.
  20. ^ Ishida 1977.
  21. ^ Yamamuro & Ishida 1984.
  22. ^ Gordon & Pressley 1978.
  23. ^ a b c Health Canada.
  24. ^ a b Sita 1977.
  25. ^ Cusick, Grant & Kucan 1997.
  26. ^ Beegum 2005, p. 19.



  • Bailey, Reg. Letting children be children. Report of an Independent Review of the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood. Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Education by Command of Her Majesty, June 2011;
  • Bogt & Rutger C. M. E. Engels & Sanne Bogers &Kloosterman. Shake It Baby, Shake It: Media Preferences, Sexual Attitudes and Gender Stereotypes Among Adolescents. Sex Roles; 63; pp. 844–859; 2010;
  • Bragg; Buckingham; Russel; Willet. Too much, too soon? Children, ‘sexualization’ and consumer culture. Sex Education, Sexuality, Society and Learning;
  • Callahan, Colleen, and Jo B. Paoletti. Is It a Girl or a Boy? Gender Identity and Children's Clothing. Richmond, Va.: The Valentine Museum, 1999;
  • Cherney; London. Gender-linked differences in the toys, television shows, computer games and outdoor activities of 5- to 13-year-old children. Sex Roles 54; pp. 717–726; 2006;
  • Connell, Raewyn. Quality of human resources: gender and indigenous – Quality Gender, men and masculinities.
  • Connell, Raewyn. Questioni di genere. Il Mulino; 2009; pp. 167–168
  • Johnson, Charlotte. An infant’s clothing-swaddle, gown, shirt and coif. Atlanta kingdom arts and science festival, March 2006;
  • Klepp; Storm-Mathisen. Reading Fashion as Age: Teenage Girls' and Grown Women's Accounts of Clothing as Body and Social Status. Fashion Theory, The Journal of Dress, Body and Culture;
  • Leinbach; Hort (University of Oregon); Fagot (University of Oregon and Oregon social learning center). Bears are for boys: metaphorical associations in young children’s gender stereotypes. Cognitive development; 12; pp. 107–130; 1997;
  • Twigg. Clothing, identity and the embodiment of age. In Powell and Gilbert “Aging and identity: a postmodern dialogue”, Nova Science publisher, New York, 2009;
  • Wright, revised by Constance Kratzer. Clothing hints for young children. Mexico State University, department of agriculture operating;

Further reading[edit]