University of Cambridge > > Pedagogy, Language, Arts & Culture in Education (PLACE) Group Seminars > ‘Never a frivolity’: children’s literature, fashion and dress.

‘Never a frivolity’: children’s literature, fashion and dress.

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Alongside and as part of the growing field of fashion studies, a great deal of serious scholarly analysis has been devoted to the relations between dress and other forms of cultural production in recent years. In addition to forms necessitating the creation of actual dress (such as theatre and film), scholars have also considered the representation of dress in painting and literature. Within the latter, work has been carried out with reference to a wide array of canonical writers from Cervantes to Zola, across a range of periods and national contexts. By contrast, very little research has as yet been undertaken on the extensive interrelations between children’s literature and dress. In this paper I will suggest reasons for this neglect and, drawing on an extensive corpus of children’s literature from the mid-nineteenth-century to the present day, will indicate the many interesting ways in which the discourses of fashion and productions of the fashion industry intersect with writing and illustration for children. Distributed between text and image in various ways which are yet to be fully explored, dress constitutes a key theme within works for young readers and an effective means of understanding character and characterisation. Moreover, dress enables an innovative approach to child-centred reception studies, providing insights into the intergenerational and performative nature of children’s literature which, in play and fancy dress, is more or less willingly borne around in minds and upon bodies, even when physical books are far away.


Kiera Vaclavik is Senior Lecturer in French & Comparative Literature at Queen Mary, University of London. Her research focuses on children’s literature and childhood culture from the nineteenth century to the present day. She is currently writing a monograph on Carroll’s Alice in relation to fashion and dress in the Victorian period and curating a related exhibition ‘The Alice Look’ (2 May-1 Nov 2015) at the V&A Museum of Childhood.

This talk is part of the Pedagogy, Language, Arts & Culture in Education (PLACE) Group Seminars series.

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