Pink vs. Blue

Fabric and Design Musings

As the mother of three young girls and a designer of clothing for girls, I spend a huge part of my day immersed in the childhood world of girls. So when my customers started complaining a few years back that they were having trouble finding great clothes for boys and wanted me to design some, I first told them to check out the great stuff for boys designed by my friend Carol at Kid Brother, and then I started thinking about creating some clothing for boys. I knew that flowers and pink would be out of the question, of course, but I didn’t realize how strongly social constraints affect parents of boys when shopping for clothing. Now, one year after designing my first small collection of boys’ tees and pants (see images below), I remain fascinated by the fact that parents are quite adventurous when dressing their girls, and often conservative when dressing their boys.

Boys Clothing by Red Thread Fall 2008

The thing that stumps me the most is bias against colours, which I perceive as mostly gender-neutral. Why is blue a more masculine colour than red or purple? Why are bright colours considered more appropriate for girls than boys? Why are dots less masculine than stripes? I know it’s not always an individual choice; social norms strongly influence our decisions about what’s appropriate. But why, at a time of life (let’s say age 0-2) when boys and girls are indistinguishable with their pants on, show no gender preferences for colours or toys, and are completely unaffected by peer pressure, do we care so much about making them look masculine or feminine?

Freelance writer Wendy Norris wrote in a recent article “One would hope after decades of social progress in the workplace, at school and home that the gender stratification of toy stores, clothing racks and extra-curricular activities would be relegated to the dustbin of history. Not so. And according to some experts in cultural studies and biology the influences that perpetuate gender stereotypes are as pervasive as ever.”

I don’t mean to sound confrontational – I’m asking these questions because I’m genuinely curious about these things. Nor do I claim to be a more enlightened parent than most; I didn’t plan it this way, but my house contains far more dolls than trucks (we tried trucks, but they were rarely pulled out of the toy bin, squished under the crushing weight of the barbies and glittery dress-up clothes).  And when I do the laundry, I separate the loads into whites, darks, and pinks. I wish I could say that wasn’t true, but the ubiquity of pink is hard to avoid if you have girls.

To my customers, I have this to say: I promise to create beautiful clothing for your children that celebrates many different colours. My prints and colours are exuberant because I love the joy that vibrant colour conveys and because children have exuberant spirits that should be celebrated. And to my customers with young boys, I want you to know that I love and appreciate boys too. I’m working on some new designs just for you, which you’ll be able to see in about a week. And I love feedback, so please don’t keep your opinions to yourself.

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