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Feeling your age: pre-teen fashionable femininity

Feeling your age: pre-teen fashionable femininity
Feeling your age: pre-teen fashionable femininity
This thesis explores the importance of clothing in the lives of pre-teen girls; how do girls of 8 to 9 and 10 to 11-years-old understand both the discourses of fashion, that suggest how girls’ bodies should be dressed, as well as the material garments that they chose to put on their bodies, and make sense of these meanings on and through their bodies? What part does clothing play in their understanding of personhood and in particular the interconnection of gender, age, class, ethnicity and sexuality? What might the study of young girls and fashionable clothes tell us about the creation and negotiation of contemporary young feminine identities?

Much popular discussion in the twenty-first century, including government policy debate, has focused on the sexualisation of young girls, and the wearing of certain fashionable dress is seen as a contributory factor in this sexualizing process. Academics have begun to assess what fashion means to those who consume it, yet this literature usually assumes an adult consumer. Turning to the sociology of childhood and the recognition of childhood agency, this thesis suggests that girls’ own relationship with fashion needs to be investigated in order to consider if, and to what extent, this sexualisation is taking place, to add to our knowledge both in childhood, and fashion, sociology. This thesis examines girls as meaningful consumers of fashion and explores the relationship between clothes and identity for these girls. By carrying out focus groups, asking participants to photograph their clothes and undertaking interviews with those photographs, this research asks girls what fashion means to them. In response to concerns raised in popular debate about the ‘loss of childhood innocence’ through fashion consumption, the girls’ consumption of dress is explored in relation to the following of fashion trends, the emulating of pop stars and parental influence. This thesis refutes any simplistic mapping of these influences onto girls’ ways of dressing, demonstrating the complexities of girls’ interactions with popular ideas about what to wear and how clothes are understood. Rather, I argue that girls’ negotiations of sexuality, subject positions and fashion are complex and nuanced.

This thesis addresses key themes arising from my data that show that girls in my research are alert to social expectations and deem dress to be context-dependent. The sample demonstrated a thoughtful, thorough sense of learned social rules and taste, and individual aesthetics. Moreover, evidence from this study shows that girls are able to create multiple, fluid identities through dress, from the habitual, everyday self to the hetero-sexualised ‘girlie’ girl and back again. Clothes prove useful tools in thinking through what it means to be different types of person, but also enable girls to display kinship and friendship.

Another crucial element of fashion arising from this research is that of materiality and temporality. Dress is inextricably linked to memory and biography, acting as a memento of past events or important relationships but also enabling girls to articulate their own biographical narratives. The materiality of clothes on the body also informed them of the passing of time, acting as transitional objects. An original contribution of this thesis is a demonstration of the ways in which girls positioned themselves in the present, through previous interactions between body and garments, and the increasing tightness of those garments as the girls grew. Yet girls also tried on future identities through experiencing certain clothes on their bodies. The sensuous experience of dress allows girls to feel that they are growing up and therefore to situate themselves temporally on their life course as, this thesis argues, we may all do.
University of Southampton
Blanchard, Julie Louise
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Blanchard, Julie Louise
f43f5616-2734-4ec1-a5b0-58753e7717de
Halford, Susan
0d0fe4d6-3c4b-4887-84bb-738cf3249d46
Leonard, Pauline
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Blanchard, Julie Louise (2017) Feeling your age: pre-teen fashionable femininity. University of Southampton, Doctoral Thesis, 231pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)

Abstract

This thesis explores the importance of clothing in the lives of pre-teen girls; how do girls of 8 to 9 and 10 to 11-years-old understand both the discourses of fashion, that suggest how girls’ bodies should be dressed, as well as the material garments that they chose to put on their bodies, and make sense of these meanings on and through their bodies? What part does clothing play in their understanding of personhood and in particular the interconnection of gender, age, class, ethnicity and sexuality? What might the study of young girls and fashionable clothes tell us about the creation and negotiation of contemporary young feminine identities?

Much popular discussion in the twenty-first century, including government policy debate, has focused on the sexualisation of young girls, and the wearing of certain fashionable dress is seen as a contributory factor in this sexualizing process. Academics have begun to assess what fashion means to those who consume it, yet this literature usually assumes an adult consumer. Turning to the sociology of childhood and the recognition of childhood agency, this thesis suggests that girls’ own relationship with fashion needs to be investigated in order to consider if, and to what extent, this sexualisation is taking place, to add to our knowledge both in childhood, and fashion, sociology. This thesis examines girls as meaningful consumers of fashion and explores the relationship between clothes and identity for these girls. By carrying out focus groups, asking participants to photograph their clothes and undertaking interviews with those photographs, this research asks girls what fashion means to them. In response to concerns raised in popular debate about the ‘loss of childhood innocence’ through fashion consumption, the girls’ consumption of dress is explored in relation to the following of fashion trends, the emulating of pop stars and parental influence. This thesis refutes any simplistic mapping of these influences onto girls’ ways of dressing, demonstrating the complexities of girls’ interactions with popular ideas about what to wear and how clothes are understood. Rather, I argue that girls’ negotiations of sexuality, subject positions and fashion are complex and nuanced.

This thesis addresses key themes arising from my data that show that girls in my research are alert to social expectations and deem dress to be context-dependent. The sample demonstrated a thoughtful, thorough sense of learned social rules and taste, and individual aesthetics. Moreover, evidence from this study shows that girls are able to create multiple, fluid identities through dress, from the habitual, everyday self to the hetero-sexualised ‘girlie’ girl and back again. Clothes prove useful tools in thinking through what it means to be different types of person, but also enable girls to display kinship and friendship.

Another crucial element of fashion arising from this research is that of materiality and temporality. Dress is inextricably linked to memory and biography, acting as a memento of past events or important relationships but also enabling girls to articulate their own biographical narratives. The materiality of clothes on the body also informed them of the passing of time, acting as transitional objects. An original contribution of this thesis is a demonstration of the ways in which girls positioned themselves in the present, through previous interactions between body and garments, and the increasing tightness of those garments as the girls grew. Yet girls also tried on future identities through experiencing certain clothes on their bodies. The sensuous experience of dress allows girls to feel that they are growing up and therefore to situate themselves temporally on their life course as, this thesis argues, we may all do.

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Feeling your age: Pre-teen fashionable femininity - Version of Record
Available under License University of Southampton Thesis Licence.
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Published date: 2017

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 422172
URI: https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/422172
PURE UUID: 23a92116-a15b-4456-acc7-edb6dd357f23
ORCID for Pauline Leonard: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0002-8112-0631

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 18 Jul 2018 16:30
Last modified: 14 Mar 2019 01:52

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