Card image cap
Card image cap

Distinguished children. Clothes and social distinction within middle and upper class families.

Martine Court

Research Framework: In all strata of society, clothing is a privileged instrument of social distinction. In a way that is not necessarily conscious, it allows individuals to make an appearance that gives them – at least in their own eyes – some form of excellence, and to make a difference between them and social groups to which they do not want to be assimilated.

Objectives: The objective of this article is to analyze how this logic of distinction guides children’s clothing practices. By focusing on the case of the French middle and upper classes, we wish to show that the choices made by parents when dressing their children are the product of relational tastes and distastes, in response to the tastes of those who occupy different positions in the social space.

Methodology: The article is based on a qualitative interview survey conducted in France between 2010 and 2012 with 26 parents of ten-year-old children from the middle and upper classes.

Results: After highlighting the existence of a taste for distinction, which leads many parents to buy their children clothes that distinguish them, the text details different forms of distaste with the taste of others: an aversion to certain clothes associated with different fractions of the working classes, on the one hand; a distancing of tastes attributed to other fractions of the middle or upper classes, on the other hand.

Conclusions: These analyses indicate that children – very precisely the practices and consumption intended for them – play an important role in building barriers and symbolic hierarchies between classes.

Contribution: While consumption for children is almost never mentioned in La distinction, the article shows the relevance of the theoretical model developed by Pierre Bourdieu to account for this consumption. Beyond the case of clothing alone, it invites us to analyze other childish practices in the light of the proposals put forward in La distinction.