Fashion Bytes

Image via Smithsonian

In April the Smithsonian ran an article about the history of colour-stereotyping for children, specifically, the creation of the “pink is for girls, blue is for boys” idea post-World War II.  Up until World War I children had been dressed in gender-neutral (though to our eyes they are frequently seen as effeminate) white dresses for purely practical reasons: skirts are easier to deal with when changing diapers, and white cotton is easier to clean because it can be bleached when messes inevitably happen with small children.  The article has multiple photos available, including several paper doll sets within the Smithsonian’s collection of little boy dolls with pink outfits or rompers with lace collars as part of the wardrobe, all dating from before 1912.

Jezebel (and many others), republished the piece for their readers, largely because they had previously posted their own theories about the gender-stereotyping. They proposed that it was being foisted on young children by society through consumer-based television commercials and other mediums. The humanities and culture blog, Brain Pickings, reported in December about The Pink and Blue Project, which suggests that it is the over-use of political correctness that has created a cross-cultural stereotype.

I am fascinated by how people express their identities through dress, but it seems perfectly natural that identity can also be influenced by what we are told we can or can’t, or should or shouldn’t wear as children.  This is particularly evident in one woman’s account of her son’s fear and bravery when he chose to dress as Daphne (from Scooby Doo) for Halloween, and the commentary he faced from adults rather than his peers about his choice of costume.

Tove has written multiple times about the borrowing of fashions across genders both in history or in political contexts. And challenging stereotyping either of gender or sexuality is exactly what several of our Anarchists of Style such as Quentin Crisp, Barbette or Claude Cahun seemed to be doing with their intentionally androgynous or even cross-dressing styles. More recently, Jon-Jon Goulian seems to be carrying on the tradition. Gender association with colour seems to have originated in the United States. At the de Young’s Balenciaga and Spain exhibit, there is an enlarged photograph used as a background which shows several matadores entering the bullring in their embellished boleros and breeches, and wearing tights of vibrant fuchsia. The matador is a stereotype that has been considered the epitome of masculinity at times in Spanish culture, and yet they do not seem to feel that pink garments (or sequins or beads) are for women only.

What are your opinions? Is it an American-created stereotype that has been mass-marketed to the world? Do you feel it is political correctness, or consumerism, or a little of both?  Do you have your own theories?  Is cross-dressing or intentionally andgrogynous clothing a deconstruction of an identity forced on people in childhood?  Please share your thoughts.

Thanks to WT-reader Harlo Petoskey for forwarding the Smithsonian piece to me.

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  • Yuichi November 19, 2012 09.52 am

    At first when I had my girl baby, I hated the “OMG she has to have little dreesss!” kind of thought. Then I learned how much easier it is to deal with diaper changes when your baby is wearing a dress. I’m all for bringing back dreesss as a unisex fashion.


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