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History of Pink and Blue

Visitors to the Little Yellow Bird online store will notice that we do not categorise products by gender - rather than 'mens' and womens' styles, we employ the terms 'fitted' and 'unisex' - commenting on the overall shape of the garment, not the body of the person who will wear it. Our strong belief is that anybody can wear any LYB product and feel good doing so.

The same theory applies to colour. We express ourselves through what we wear, and the colours that appeal to us as individuals are as varied as the rainbow. Many of us have been raised to view clothing colour as a gendered topic, which is quite silly when you think about it, and gets sillier the more you know about the history of so-called "appropriate" colours for boys and girls!

When we started looking into this, it turns out that the pink/blue gender colour norms that dominate modern culture have a fascinating history. 

For centuries all children wore white dresses and bloomers, easy to pull up and change diapers and also easy to bleach back to white. Clothing up until approximately age seven was treated as unisex which allowed parents with numerous children to use the same clothes for every baby.

Sister and brother, circa 1905, wear traditional white dresses in lengths appropriate to their ages

Boys were “breeched” at around age six or seven, in other words begun wearing trousers which differentiated from female attire.

Pastel colours began to be introduced in the mid 1800’s when commercial dyes became more widely available. Colours remained gender neutral in part driven by economic reasons. 

In Europe and America pastel colours were popular across the board as they were considered youthful. Pink was considered more flattering for brown eyes and blue for those with blue eyes. At this time colour was a matter of fashion - a temporary trend - not a gender-specific tradition. 

Between 1900 and 1940, there was a movement towards more gender distinction in clothing, first for toddlers and then for babies, including more frequent use of pink and blue to signify gender. 

Children's dresses became more feminised, with additional trims, decorative motifs and garment details slowly shifted the ‘all babies’ category towards a binary divide.

Unsurprisingly, it appears that the root cause of gendering colour was likely the brainchild of marketing strategists and clothing manufacturers who realised that they could simply double the amount of clothing sold by assigning specific colours.

Initially there was confusion among clothing manufacturers about which colour to assign to which gender. A Ladies' Home Journal article in June 1918 said, "The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger colour, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl."

Not everyone agreed. In 1927 Time Magazine printed a chart illustrating which sex-appropriate colours were approved by which major department store.

Chart illustrating which sex-appropriate colours were approved by which major department store

It appears that this arbitrary decision could really have gone either way, but post WWII consumer culture and the baby boom meant that gendered clothing became all the rage and by 1940 most advertisers agreed that “pink was for girls and blue was for boys.” 

By the 1960’s the women’s liberation movement ushered in a new era of unisex baby clothing once again. This remained in vogue until medical advances enabled parents to learn the sex characteristics of their unborn children and once again brands and manufacturers carved out a lucrative market for selling to prospective parents. Another byproduct of this medical advance? The now infamous “gender reveal party”.

Our latest collection is leaning right into some lovely shades of pinks and blues. We hope you feel empowered to purchase any colour that speaks to you and makes you happy. Pink? Perfect! Blue? Beautiful! Or why not both? Free from the restraints of gendered colours, we can be ourselves. If you receive your order and decide you want to change, no worries - our easy returns policy has your back.

We would like to recognise the work of Jo Paolettiwho is a professor (retired), author and dress historian whose work inspired us to write this and who generously took the time to fact check our article prior to publication. If you would like to learn more on this topic, read her book  Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America

Resources:  

Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America by Jo B. Paoletti

End of Gender: Pink For Boys? Why “Sex-Appropriate” Colors Are Arbitrary

Gender… Why that Color?

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