From Swaddling to Dresses: Infant Clothing as a Reflection of Emancipation and Secularisation in Reform-Era Russia




infancy; history of childhood; motherhood; history of clothes; swaddling; history of motherhood


This article fills an important gap in the study of early childhood culture in Russia and the social history of material culture between the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The authors argue that changes in children’s clothing reflected some important social processes through which a new type of parenting and maternity began to rapidly form in Russia. This was accompanied by the emergence of new features in the class difference visualisation and demonstrative behaviour of the elite. That people decided to stop swaddling infants and started making them dresses is associated with changes in child care practices. These changes were caused by the emancipation, the westernisation and secularisation of the educated classes in Russian cities, the commercialisation of infant fashion, and the influence of new agents (representatives of the medical community, atelier owners, fashion magazine editors, etc.) on the everyday life of townspeople in Russia. This illustrates the process behind the formation of ideas concerning gender differences and gender stereotypes in new conditions. The analysis of practices connected with dressing infants relies on the historical and anthropological approach and sociological theories of fashion, with reference to visual sources (museum artifacts, photographs, and advertising images), fashion magazines, ego-documents, and early medical literature. The authors demonstrate that until the eighteenth century, the practice of dressing infants from all classes was simple and universal: in the following period, which lasted a century and a half, there were considerable changes in the practices of dressing infants depending on class. During the second half of the nineteenth century, representatives of the educated urban class dressed their newborns in accordance with the demonstrative function of “conscious parenthood”. Children’s fashion was gradually turning into a special social institution. Despite the stability of swaddling practices in rural Russia, among townspeople the infant was “emancipated” rapidly: swaddling practices became less common. Infant fashion became independent. Between the 1900s and 1910s, tight corsets and bodices ceased to be used; infant clothes became functional, practical, child-oriented, and clearly gender-marked.

Author Biographies

Natalia Pushkareva

Dr. Hab. (History), Professor, Leading Researcher, Head of the Department of Ethnic and Gender Studies, Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

32a, Leninsky Ave., 119334, Moscow, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0001-6295-3331

Natalia Mitsyuk

Dr. Hab. (History), Associate Professor, Smolensk State Medical University.

28, Krupskaya Str., 214019, Smolensk, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0002-9862-1272


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How to Cite

Pushkareva, N., & Mitsyuk, N. (2019). From Swaddling to Dresses: Infant Clothing as a Reflection of Emancipation and Secularisation in Reform-Era Russia. Quaestio Rossica, 7(2), 648–666.