Top to Toe: Fashion for Kids at the V&A, London (to 19 April)


Top to Toe: Fashion for Kids is a major exhibition exploring the history of children’s fashion, reliving iconic and defining moments from the past 300 years of children’s clothing, vintage fashions, rare objects and photography.

Top to Toe: Fashion for Kids profiles the changing attitudes, themes and fads of one of fashion’s most intriguing and enduring demographics, and promises to provide nostalgic moments for all generations.

Mums and dads may recall evocative brands like Ladybird and Clothkits, or encounter classic memories from their own wardrobes such as parkas, knitted woollen swimsuits, leg warmers and ponchos.

The Museum holds one of the most significant collections of children’s clothing in the world with over 6,000 outstanding items ranging from the 1700s to the present day, over 100 of which will be featured in the exhibition. Other objects, including a group of paintings depicting historical outfits from the V&A’s main collections, will complement the clothing on display.

The exhibition will demonstrate how children’s clothing has changed over time, covering four broad themes: Milestones, Changing Fashions, Fashion Drivers and Practical Fashions. It will consider how materials, colours, shapes and styles have developed but will also show how many classic garments have remained unchanged or have been revived, due to practical design or enduring appeal.

Highlights include:

  • Luxury garments from the V&A Museum of Childhood collection, from a 19th century muff and hat made entirely of peacock feathers to a pair of popular children’s ‘Ugg’ boots from 2007
  • A beautiful pink silk and metal thread example or an 18th century ‘pudding hat’, commonly worn protect the head during inquisitive toddler years
  • A range of real clothes and vintage advertisements illustrating more recent and memorable childhood must-haves, such as the 1970s ‘snorkel’ parka coat
  • An exploration of the rise of commercially produced garments from ‘cool’ labels such as Converse to affordable mass-produced fashions at high street stores
  • Classic character merchandise clothing ranging from costume based on the illustrations by Reginal Birch for the book Little Lord Fauntleroy by Francis Hodgson Burnett (1886), the 1930s Shirley Temple clothing range to today’s ever-present film merchandising ranges.
  • A re-examination of common myths and questions. Were children always dressed in a mini version of adult garments? Why do we now associate pink with a girl and blue with a boy?
  • Examples of ‘fashion drivers’ such as today’s desire for branded clothes, the influence of celebrity and popular culture alongside those from the past such as the influence of 19th-century Royal children as a driver for trends like the sailor suit

Clothing has always played an important role in denoting status, wealth and self expression, through the child themself or through the tastes and aspirations of their parents. Today’s child is now targeted as a consumer in their own right – the choice of fashion for children wide-reaching, quickly changing and varied and the pressures of wearing the “right clothes” considerable.

V&A Museum of Childhood
Cambridge Heath Road
E2 9PA

Open daily from 10am to 5.45pm