Increasing Awareness of Children’s Fashion in the Ottoman and Arab Middle Classes as a Parameter of Social and Cultural Changes in the Late Ottoman Period

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The economic and cultural encounter between the Ottoman Empire and the West during the nineteenth century influenced both Ottoman and Arab societies. Both underwent a process of redefining themselves as modern societies that was also affected by the rise of patriotism among the Arab and Ottoman middle classes, which led a redefinition of the family. The place of women, and by extension children, was reinvented in the sense that children were considered to determine not only their families’ future but also that of society and the Syrian/Arab or Ottoman nations and thus became more central in society. This familycentered attitude was partly influenced by the discourse on domesticity taking place at that time in Europe and America, which brought with it an intensive wave of consumerism.

Relying on some of the insights from Aspers and Godart, I discuss the expansion of child consumerism, especially children’s fashion, to show that like other manifestations of culture, the way children were clothed reflected the social and cultural attitudes of the time. I also emphasize that children’s fashion made them more visible in their societies and families and may have helped both boys and girls to be more aware of themselves. This article draws mainly on Arabic but also Ottoman journals that were published from the second half of the nineteenth century to the turn of the twentieth century in the Arab provinces in cities such as Beirut and Cairo as well as Istanbul. I concentrate on advertisements, articles, home management/home economics columns (tadbir al-manzil), which included copious advice and illustrations of women’s and children’s fashion. I also examine manuals of child-rearing to better understand the evolution of attitudes toward children’s moral and mental development.

While most of the articles in the issue apply to the subject of children’s and material culture in southeastern regions of the Ottoman Empire, this paper concentrates on the similarities of children’s material culture between the Ottoman Empire and its Arab provinces. It will show how the global process of children’s and material culture, which occurred in the European part of the empire, took place in the Ottoman Arab provinces as well.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-336
Number of pages18
Journal Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2022


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