Gender, Dress, and Manners
Clothing was an important signifier of status and gender and became more closely associated with childhood health and well-being during the first four decades of the nineteenth century. Although the importance of appearance within fashionable society has long historical antecedents, during this period children’s costumes became part of the discourse of good parenting. Children and infants were more intensely scrutinized for their appearance, and bourgeois parents were under more cultural pressure to ensure that their children had the accoutrements of healthy childhood. Within the deeply hierarchical social world of nineteenth-century Ireland, personal image was consistently conflated with public position. Children’s fashion represents adults’ social and gendered expectations of their children, while also depicting the physical world children inhabited during early childhood. An increased emphasis on accruing artefacts of childhood became tied to middle-class identity and respectability. Purchasing the newest toy or children’s book indicated not just an anticipation of the child’s needs but was a symbol of social status.
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