Androgyny and unisex fashion is all the rage on ramps the past few years. With debates surrounding the meaning and utility of gender constructs and gender-norms, fashion seems keen to break out of the dusty age-old boxes that ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ have been neatly packaged and presented to us in.

And arguably the most distinguishable feature of these boxes, is the colour. Not just fashion, but walk into a gift shop, and you’ll find actual boxes and congratulatory cards for new mothers in pastel blue and pink. And why not? For we all know that ‘blue is for boys, pink is for girls’…right?

Gender Neutrality in Baby Clothing

As it turns out, this notion, that has somehow permeated deep into societies spanning the whole world, is a relatively new concept. Back in the 1800s, society had already achieved what fashion is striving to bring back – gender-neutral clothing. Baby boys and baby girls were both dressed in white dresses. This was a norm rooted in practicality, as white was the easiest to bleach back to brand new after it had been inevitably stained. Dresses were extremely comfortable for the babies and provided easy accessibility for the change of diapers. Also, with baby clothing being gender-neutral, parents could just re-use the clothing when the next child was born. It wasn’t till the child reached the age of six or seven, that they would start wearing clothes infused with a little more colour, and that could reflect their gender.

The Onset of Gender-Colour Association

It was only in the 1920s, that some marketing masterminds tried to promote the association of colour with gender. They realised that the success of this construct would translate into almost double the sales, with parents having to purchase a whole set of new baby items if the next child was of the opposite gender. However, what comes as a surprise, is that the colour scheme originally proposed was ‘pink for boys, and blue for girls’. 

In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart highlighting gender-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. retailers. Filene’s (in Boston), Best & Co. (in New York City), Halle’s (in Cleveland), and Marshall Field (in Chicago) all advised parents to dress boys in pink and girls in blue. The psychology behind this was that pink reflected a much ‘tamer’ and ‘younger’ version of the ‘masculine’ and ‘strong’ red, while the girls would be dressed pretty in the ‘delicate’ and ‘dainty’ blue. However, this association did not catch on and most parents decided to ignore it altogether.

Blue for Boys, Pink for Girls

Fast forward to the 1940s, in the wake of the World War 2, when inexplicably, clothing manufacturers decided to market blue for boys and pink for girls. It was only a matter of time before this gender-based colour association flooded the markets, disseminating into everything from toys to furniture.

Today, this construct is so deeply entrenched in society, that a baby’s gender is identified precisely by the colour that they’re wearing. The idea of seeing a baby boy in a pink dress is so preposterous, that it is hard to believe how unremarkable it was just a few decades ago. 

However with words like ‘non-binary’ and ‘gender-neutral’ having entered our dictionaries, fashion is well on it’s way to breaking down gender-norms and expanding the spectrum.

Article by Sunaina Khetan




Author: SaachiBhatia