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project findings | PROJECT OUTLINE |

New Consumers? Children, Fashion and Consumption

‘Pester power’ may be familiar to many parents of children trying to cope with ever increasing demands for the latest trainers, CDs, mobile phones and computer games. The fact that children now represent a considerable market for producers and retailers of such goods might be well known, but the significance of consumption to their lives and to childhood more generally is not. Taking children’s consumption of clothing as its focus, our research has attempted to understand the place and significance of fashion amongst 6–11 year olds in different regions of England. Working in detail with children in eight contrasting families over the course of a full year, the research has looked at the place of labels and logos in contemporary childhood. Our findings highlight parental concerns about inappropriate sexualization through clothing and at the same time challenge the idea that all children want to look like their favourite pop star or footballer.

This project ran from April 2003 until September 2005

image illustrating findings

view the findings summary sheet for this project>>

Project team
Christopher Pole award holder
Jane Pilcher
Tim Edwards
Sharon Boden

Dr. Christopher Pole
Department of Sociology
University of Leicester
University Road

+44 (0)116 252 2724

Publications include:
Pole C. ‘Researching Children and Fashion: An Embodied Ethnography’, in Childhood: A Global Journal of Child Research, 14(3), (2006).

Boden S. ‘Dedicated Followers of Fashion? The Influence of Popular Culture on Children’s Social Identities’, in Media, Culture and Society 28(2), (Commentary Piece), (2006).

Boden S. ‘Another Day, Another Demand: How Parents and Children Negotiate Consumption Patterns’, in Sociological Research On-Line, (2006).

Boden S., Pole C., Pilcher J. and Edwards T. ‘New Consumers: Children, Fashion and Consumption’, in Sociology Review15(1), (2005) pp. 28–32.

Boden S., Pole C., Pilcher J and Edwards T. ‘New Consumers? The Social and Cultural Significance of Children’s Fashion Consumption’, Cultures of Consumption Programme Working Paper No. 16 (2004). view as word doc>>


Project outline

The following is the text of the project's original proposal


Little is known about children's involvement in the processes leading to the purchase and consumption of their clothing. Studies of family and domestic consumption have tended to neglect the role played by children, as have studies relating to fashion and to issues of identity. Similarly, published industry research on children's wear tends to focus on adults involved in the production process rather than on children themselves. At the same time, however, there is now a considerable amount of anecdotal and media attention given to such things as 'pester power', the rise of the 'tween-ager' and the significance of label culture to children and childhood.

This project seeks to address some of the deficiencies in the existing research and associated literature by making children the focus of study. Through an examination of the practices and experiences of children between the ages of 6 and 11, the study will advance understanding of the penetration of the domestic sphere by consumer culture, especially in relation to the intergenerational dynamics of consumption and to knowledge of the political and cultural significance of children as active consumers.

Research with children and their families, selected to reflect key social variables, will examine how the consumption of children's clothing is related to issues of cohesion and conflict in family life and in peer relations, especially in terms of social inclusion and exclusion. The study will also address the production-consumption interface, via interviews held with key agents who contribute to the 'consumption choices' made in children's clothing, including design consultants, and store buyers. The study aims to provide insight into the interconnected nature of consumption and production, seeing children's active consumption of fashion in the context of both 'push' (design, advertising, marketing) and 'pull' (pleasure, desire, need) factors.

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The key questions the study are:

  • What is the role of children as independent agents in the processes of selection and purchasing of their own clothing?
  • How is the consumption of children's clothing mediated through generational relations in the household and through peer relations and how does this change over time?
  • What understandings of the consumption of children's clothing are held by those responsible for its production (designers, buyers and marketers) and what is the relationship between these understandings and children's 'choices' as consumers?
  • What role does children's clothing consumption play in contributing to experiences of social inclusion/exclusion?

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The study is designed to engage with children's experiences as consumers, with a focus on the processes which surround and structure the purchase of clothing. Data collection methods will seek to capture the lived experience of consumption as an aspect of childhood by engaging with children's role in decision making about clothing and in purchasing clothes. To this end, the study will deploy a range of participatory methods designed to place children at the centre of the research and to yield qualitative data which reflect the significance of key social variables to consumption processes.

Whilst our units of research will be individual children, they will be identified and studied within the context of their families. The research will focus on eight families with children between the ages of 6 -11 years, whose purchases of clothing will be tracked for the period of a calendar year. Specifically, data will be collected via a range of qualitative methods which will include:

  • Unstructured interviews with all family members
  • Observation of family activities related to the purchase of clothing (for example shopping trips, looking through clothing catalogues)
  • Clothing purchase diaries to be completed individually by children and parents
  • Bi-monthly interviews with relevant family members on the basis of their diary entries
  • Photography, where children will be provided with disposable cameras and asked to photograph articles of clothing, whole outfits or aspects of the purchase process which are important to them. The photographs will then form the basis of further interviews
  • 'Write and draw' techniques will be deployed with younger children where other methods are deemed to be less effective.

Collectively, the methods will allow researchers to focus on the selection and purchase of children's clothing across a full year, giving attention to everyday/functional purchases, special purchases, for example for birthdays and at Christmas and other festivals, impulse buying, buying by children themselves and by parents and other members of the family and friends. As families will be selected to reflect key social variables which will include social class, gender and ethnicity, within both urban and rural locations, the methods will provide insight into the role of children as consumers within the context of different kinds of families and as independent consumers. They will allow the detailed exploration of the significance of social and economic differences between children to the experience of becoming consumers.

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In general terms the study will yield a better understanding of the role of children in processes of consumption. Whilst this will relate specifically to issues around clothing and fashion, our work will have a wider resonance for other areas where children are the focus of consumption. Work will be disseminated via articles submitted to key academic journals, presentations to national and international conferences and a book.

Research findings will be of considerable interest to the children's fashion industry, to those working in the field of child and family welfare as well as to parents and children more generally. Strategies to disseminate project findings to non-academic audiences will include contributions to trade journals. In additional we will also host a one-day conference for representatives of the fashion industry, children's and family charities, and children's fashion journalists.

The study has the potential to produce outcomes of relevance to academic, policy and commercial audiences.



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