Minority Report | Pink and blue aren’t people


Minority Report | Pink and blue aren’t people

Last week, as part of its bi-annual fashion event in Mumbai, Lakme Fashion Week’s (LFW) Winter-Festive 2014 included what it billed as the “first ever kids fashion show”.

Contestants in the age group of 6-12 years had been selected through workshops and auditions conducted across Indian cities by the show’s sponsors, which were primarily big toy brands like Hamleys, Hot Wheels and Barbie. The queue outside the show area was choked with excited parents and families of participants. The levels of enthusiasm and cheering were so high in the audience that it was easiest to be a clapping member.

But I have to admit I went in a bit unsure whether kids should be encouraged to dress up, don professionally created hairstyles and preen on the fashion ramp—a very adult place for many reasons.

There is little doubt that kids’ fashion is now a big commercial segment across global retail. Premium brands such as Esprit, Benetton and Gap have become rather sought after by parents wanting to dress their children in well-made, good-quality, fuss-free fashion. For the really indulgent, there is Armani Kids and for the organic-conscious there are handmade brands—many of them made in India—committed to environmental responsibility.

Indian lifestyle brand Good Earth’s line Gumdrops for kids is particularly pleasant—it only uses organic cotton and adopts a soft, no frills, luxe-because of-comfort approach to infant clothing. And if you are looking for a baby star to emulate, there is Prince George of Britain. When his fashionista mum Kate Middleton dresses him in Rachel Riley or Aden+Anais, the websites of these labels crash with the traffic they generate. It’s a commercially pink world out there, let’s say. But the impulses I observed at the LFW kids show weren’t about getting the clothes right, which is of relevant interest and practical concern for parents of young kids. While the cuteness, confidence and the delight that shone on the faces of the 20 boys and girls was a treat to watch and carry back as a lovely memory, the stereotypical categorization of children based on their gender wasn’t as funny.

Boys were grouped under “Pit Crew” and “The Boy in all of Us” and wore bomber jackets, T-shirts, denims, shirts and shorts. Some carried cross-body bags, helmets and other “male” gear such as gloves and bag packs, their caps twisted to the side, a swagger dictating the walk of some.

Girls on the other hand had been dressed to look “pink, playful, glamourous” with “Fab Icon”, “Sweet Socialite” and “Pink is the New Black” as the three themes dictated by Barbie, the sponsor.

They wore sparkly dresses, layered blouses, frilly pink skirts in what the world calls “girlish” pastel colours with ballerina pumps and matching accessories. Totally contrary in body language to the boys, the girls preened and giggled, they coquettishly looked here and there, played with their hair or their dresses and generally, looked like, well, girls.

It was not just about clothes. This gender-based behaviour and dressing in pink and not pink left me thoughtful. Parents seemed too ecstatic to even debate if in the India of 2014 where gender stereotyping is at the root of so many issues adults face in society, it is something that must be clapped for.

“There are so many talent shows on television for kids these days; everyone wants to be a celebrity, everyone wants their 15 minutes as soon as it is possible in life, so what’s wrong with a fashion show?” said someone sitting next to me with whom I shared my thoughts.

By and large, talent shows don’t stereotype children by gender. They encourage playing to the gallery; yes, which in our celebrity culture is perhaps something unavoidable, as some insist.

But shows that teach a little girl to be a “Sweet Socialite” and a boy to be a “Pit Crew” guy only work as reminders of gender limitations. At an age when children are only realizing through experiential stumbling who they are, assigning pink frilly dresses, twirls and curls to girls and helmets and gloves to boys (instead of mixing up the dressing impulses in both genders) isn’t “cute”.

It is a bit foolhardy. Because fashion, with its enormous possibilities and range of accessories and props, can instead be used as a great workshop to suggest role change, offer freedom to create one’s own look or if not just enable choice.

Stylists of kids’ fashion shows could open a closet full of clothes and accessories to kids and let them choose what they want. Otherwise it is as limiting an exercise as gifting books to children whose titles read Fairy Tales for Girls and Illustrated Stories for Boys. Not fashionable at all.