OPINION29 March 2010

Lamb dressed as mutton: The rise of the kidult

Youth

Kidulthood is a 2006 film telling the story of a number of West London schoolchildren forced to grow up fast as they deal with gang culture and the suicide of a classmate. However, I’d like to use the phrase slightly differently – to refer to the growing trend of girls as young as eight emulating their teen icons; encouraging them to dress beyond their years and enter a world they cannot make sense of.

With the accessibility of high fashion, you don’t need to go far to witness 40-year-olds and 14-year-olds clad similarly in leggings or skinny jeans. From the back, it’s often difficult to tell age apart. Is this a sign that fashion democracy has gone too far? Will it become the norm that children as young as eight are dressed up in adult finery, often bordering on the provocative?

Katie Price and Katie Holmes have both been publicly chastised for dressing their young daughters in designer outfits and heels with accessories inappropriate for their years. We may find it easy to coo over their ‘cuteness’, but we should not underestimate the darker side of this phenomenon. As a society so concerned about online grooming, are we not encouraging at even legitimising adults to ogle these ‘Mini Mes.’ You only have to take a look at the news headlines to see the potential ramifications of this sinister trend; a case in which a 10-year-old girl was raped by a 20-year-old man. The short prison sentence provoked an angry response after the judge ruled that the victim had dressed ‘provocatively’.

Miley Cyrus aka Hannah Montana has now reached the ripe old age of 19. Her real life ‘sexy’ persona has been vilified for being very much at odds with her goody two shoes screen character. As she approaches adulthood it is now her nine-year-old sister Noah (yes I really did say nine) cashing in on the act, launching a tween ‘couture’ fashion range entitled ‘Ooh! La La!’ – with clothing more suited for a night on the town than for a young girl’s social life, which can’t stretch to more than a day out at the local shopping centre or a trip to the cinema.

As the boundaries between childhood and adulthood become increasingly blurred, we have simultaneously witnessed the youth ‘tribe’ diminish in recent years – due partly to the rise of pop music and associated fashion eclecticism. There is no longer a need to pigeonhole yourself and be defined by a particular genre of music or fashion as mainstream pop and characters like La Roux and Lady Gaga pave the way for a melting pot of different looks and styles. There is nothing new in young children wanting to emulate their heroes but with the accessibility of throwaway fashion, kids as young as eight can get in on the act. What will this mean for young adults? Will they get fed up of ‘children’ getting in on the act – and what might this rebellion consist of?

More importantly, what does all this mean for fashion brands? It is becoming harder and harder for high street stores to understand their target audiences. The boundary between kids, teenage and adult clothing is becoming increasingly blurred with traditional ‘youth brands’ such as Miss Selfridge and Topshop attracting three generations within the same family. While this is no doubt good for revenue, it makes it harder for brands to accurately segment their audiences. Furthermore, there is ever-present anxiety around becoming a leader of so-called ‘Kidulthood’ and in so doing, abandoning more traditional values of social responsibility.

For now, it seems that Kidulthood is here to stay, but only time will tell if this is merely a celeb-led fad or the new normal.

1 Comment

11 years ago

Ooh La La make tutu dresses. Why would you suggest a little kid wearing a tutu is inappropriate?

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