A More Colorful Future: Why Gender-Neutral Children’s Clothes Matter

How we got to pink and blue

It may surprise many that the pinks and blues of today's nursery wardrobe are relatively recent. It wasn’t until the 1940s - led by clothing manufacturers who would benefit from the divide of gender roles in children - when the suggested appropriate gender colors were determined did the pink and blue dissent began. 

Interestingly, there wasn’t a unanimous agreement about which color between pink and blue would be most suitable for girls or boys. In 1927, Time magazine published a chart (see Fig 1) showing the major retailers and which colors were considered appropriate for boys and girls - revealing the arbitrary nature of what color was deemed suitable for either gender. One thing that was clear throughout the debate is that the argument centered around which color represented strength for boys vs. delicate and dainty for girls.

Time Magazine Gendered Children's Clothing by Color
Fig 1. (Source: Time Magazine, November 14, 1927)

It wasn’t until the 1940s that “pink for girls” became an established norm (see Smithsonian Magazine: When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink). Before then, it was common for little ones, regardless of sex, to wear white dresses until the age of six – as seen in this early photo of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a family portrait (see Fig 2).

Franklin Roosevelt
Fig. 2 (Source: FDRLibrary.org public domain images - photo)

The impact on gender roles

I’m not saying that pink or blue is bad. My daughter’s three favorite things are unicorns, pink, and purple, and I want her to be able to choose her clothes and feel happy in them. However, I would not be surprised that these are her favorite things because much of the girl’s section in our local superstore is splattered with unicorns, pink, and purple. We see another area decked out in blues, browns, baseballs, spacemen, and dinosaurs in that same store. Somehow, she knows this section is not for her, and she dives deeper into the piles of pink.

The separation of boys' and girls' clothing options reinforces outdated views of gender roles. One that, as adults, we can make more intentional decisions. As parents, we have the opportunity to offer more choices to our children outside of many retailers’ polarizing gender role offerings.

We can do better

Now I’m not saying we should have all of our children running around in different shades of grey. Quite the opposite - I want to see an enormous range of clothes that society deems acceptable for children to wear, free from gender stereotypes. We are, after all, living in an ever-changing world that is becoming more accepting. So let’s continue forward by offering our little ones a world filled with color and choice.