Blog: Leonie BarrieChildren's clothing with a conscience

Leonie Barrie | 6 June 2011

It's hard not to question the ulterior motives of the UK retailers who have put their names to new 'good practice' guidelines for stores selling children's clothing. Indeed, of the nine high street chains and supermarkets claiming to "take our responsibilities seriously" when it comes to making sure they don't sell sexy or exploitative clothing for the under-12s, five have already been hauled over the coals in recent years for selling inappropriate garments for kids.

Public outcries forced supermarket retailer Asda to withdraw padded bras for children, while Marks & Spencer was criticised for selling a crop top that looked like a bra for girls as young as six. Concerns have also been levelled at padded bras on sale at Tesco, and online at Next and Peacocks.

Today's code of conduct coincides with the launch of a government review into children's sexualisation, which recommends the retail industry signs up to new guidelines that checks and challenges the design, buying, display and marketing of clothes for children. Cynically, it's hard not to believe the two are connected. So perhaps it's the threat of criticism and possible new restrictions resulting from this investigation that has really pricked the retailers' collective conscience.

And there's also something disheartening about the fact that not only has it taken a government review to spur retailers into issuing advice, but that that advice has to state what, surely, should be commonsense. 

So we're told "fabrics and cuts should provide for modesty," "slogans and imagery must be age appropriate and without...suggestive, demeaning, derogative or political material," "the length of skirts and neck-lines need to be considered," thongs are not appropriate," "no mention should be made of 'enhancement' or 'under-wiring' in any children's [bra] ranges," "underwear should never be modelled on children."

But then, as the mistakes of the past show all too clearly, unsuitable designs do make it all the way to production and retailing without being spotted. Only time will tell if the new guidelines make a real difference.


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