My complicated feelings about the skulls on Chloe’s pajamas

October 21, 2010

close up of dress fabric, pink and black and decorated with skulls

image courtesy of crafty_dame via flickr

For this entry, I’m going to take a break from the subject of disability and write about something that concerns every parent–kid’s fashion. Recently, I’ve noticed a trend in clothing for small children: death. More specifically, the skulls that once signified poison, pirates and anti-social sentiments have joined the ranks of hearts, rainbows, cars and cute animals as appropriate images for kids to display.

Of course, skulls-as-fashion-accessory is not a new trend.  In Mexico, the Day of the Dead is celebrated with images of every kind of skull you can imagine.  The difference is that these skulls, no matter how jolly they look, clearly signify death.  They are reminders that, no matter what we are doing right now, no matter how loved and important we are, every human being is actually a walking, breathing skeleton, which will spend a lot more time on this earth dead than alive.

Is that what I am supposed to think when I see a two year old in a pink, glittery shirt decorated with a grinning, heart-eyed skull?  Did her mother wake up that morning and think, “I’m going to put Emily in her skull shirt today as a reminder that one day we’ll both be rotting corpses”?  Somehow, I don’t think so.

So where did this skull theme come from?  Like most kid’s clothing designs, it must be targeted at the parents at least as much as the kids, which means that originally, designers were probably thinking about parents who spent their teenage years listening to the Misfits or the Grateful Dead.
Grateful Dead Skull and Roses

I supposed this is just another example of the way fashion evolves over time–things that start out as edgy, images that are associated with strong feelings and beliefs, become familiar and commonplace.  But not all images can or should lose their meaning so easily.  Most people do not wear crosses, Stars of David, or Islamic crescents without thinking about their religious significance.  And can you imagine a swastika, a Hindu symbol that will probably never recover from its Nazi associations, decorating pajamas alongside hearts and rainbows?

What does the skull trend say about our culture?  Have we overcome death, reducing it to a fun hobby, like gardening or bird watching?  Not likely. Maybe, with concerns about healthcare, school shootings, global warming and war looming over us, we figure that if we gloss over death, if we cutesy it up a bit with pink hearts and bows and proclaim that it’s nothing more than a kid’s fashion accessory,  we can reduce it to something more manageable.  Obviously, this plan is doomed.  Just like we all are.  Think about that next time you pull the grinning skull shirt over your child’s own grinning skull.

Updated: okay, so a friend of mine has pointed out that the skull thing was probably started by the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Duh. Most of this still stands, except that any trend that involved Johnny Depp can’t be all bad, right?

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One Response to “My complicated feelings about the skulls on Chloe’s pajamas”

  1. Grandma Says:

    I just want to make it clear that Chloe and her cousins will not be receiving any grinning (or frowning) skull apparel from this grandma. I can only hope “Emily’s” grandmother feels the same way ( :


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