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Blue for Boys and Pink for Girls: Since When?

Did you know that, until the 1940s, no one thought blue was for boys and pink was for girls? As a matter of fact, gender-neutral clothing reigned supreme.  And if they advised clients on which baby clothes to buy, many stores would say that boys, in fact, looked better in pink.

In 1927, Time ran an article with a chart that detailed ‘boys colors’ and ‘girls colors’ according to U.S. stores by region. Many major retailers – such as Filene’s, Marshall Field, and Halle’s – said that pink was for boys, as it was viewed as the more ‘masculine’ color.  Blue was ‘softer’ and looked better on a baby girl. That’s if you were going to assign a color to a sex at all, which most shoppers at the time didn’t. 

So, how did we get to today’s strongly gender-oriented clothing and obsession with blue for boys and pink for girls? According to Jo B. Paoletti, professor and author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America, the change began after World War II, when manufacturers determined that customers wanted blue/boy and pink/girl. Even after that point, many baby products were still gender-neutral because parents couldn’t reliably determine the sex of their baby in advance. Once ultrasounds improved in the early 1980s, there was a boom of gender-specific toys, gear, clothes, and diapers.

Interestingly enough, in the 1970s, during the height of the feminist movement, the Sears Roebuck catalog featured no images of baby girls in pink outfits for two years in a row, according to Paoletti. “One of the ways [feminists] thought that girls were kind of lured into subservient roles as women is through clothing,” says Paoletti in this interview. ” ‘If we dress our girls more like boys and less like frilly little girls . . . they are going to have more options and feel freer to be active.’ ”

Fun fact: For centuries – even up to the early 1900s – parents dressed their children in all-white dresses, regardless of whether they were a boy or a girl. The dresses were easy to clean and change. Little boys wore the dresses until they were 6 or 7, at the time of their first haircut!

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