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When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink?
April 16, 2011 10:40 AM   Subscribe

"The march toward gender-specific clothes was neither linear nor rapid. Pink and blue arrived, along with other pastels, as colors for babies in the mid-19th century, yet the two colors were not promoted as gender signifiers until just before World War I—and even then, it took time for popular culture to sort things out."
posted by Houyhnhnm (58 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
“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 color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

I love the way that humans create the norm first, then come up with reasons for the prejudice. It's like the way that African-American basketball players are damned with faint praise for being "genetically gifted," while, when the sport was dominated by Jewish players, it was "because it was a game calling for guile, trickery, sneakiness, slipperiness"....
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:48 AM on April 16, 2011 [26 favorites]


A related topic from yesterday...
posted by blaneyphoto at 10:48 AM on April 16, 2011


Gender-neutral clothing remained popular until about 1985.

When my mom was pregnant with me (in 1985), she didn't do any of the sex-determining tests. A bunch of nurses and OBs apparently told her that I was "carrying like a boy" (whatever that means), so everyone was expecting a little dude to come popping out. Everything she got at the baby shower was explicitly boy-intended. Birthday comes along, I join the world, and ohheywouldyoulookatthat, I'm a girl.

They got a fancy little baby dress for the official meet-our-baby picture, but most of my baby photos show me in boy clothes. One of the favorites is of me holding a bunch of crayons, wearing a light blue romper with an applique tool belt (complete with hammer, screwdriver, etc) sewn on, with the words DADDY'S LITTLE HELPER emblazoned across my chest. It's pretty cute.

Unfortunately, when I grew out of the pooping-yourself phase, my mom overcompensated. Kindergarten and elementary school were full of more frilly little dresses than I care to admit. And grandma kept foisting on the Barbie dolls. Which I was more than happy to trade with my little brother for his Legos.
posted by phunniemee at 10:55 AM on April 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


Meanwhile, purple used to be for kings and now it's for queers.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:57 AM on April 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


What? Gender roles are created by culture? But Dr. Keith told me they were the reasons humans are able to form heterosexual relationships and reproduce and raise children! And that we are one bottle of neon pink nail polish away from losing all that!
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:01 AM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I'm King there's gonna be so much lavender it will cease to be humorous to those involved.
posted by The Whelk at 11:02 AM on April 16, 2011 [21 favorites]


(Puts on pink flannel overshirt, goes to get juice)
posted by The Whelk at 11:02 AM on April 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


(Goes back in time, slaps Beau Brummell around. Don't you realize what you're doing man?! You'll make western formal wear black and white for 200 years! For god sakes put on some yellow or green or magenta or something!)
posted by The Whelk at 11:06 AM on April 16, 2011 [11 favorites]


The important thing is that we create arbitrary rules and then punish the transgressors, while at the same time creating new marketing opportunities and blaming the feminists for something.
posted by jenlovesponies at 11:07 AM on April 16, 2011 [38 favorites]


And grandma kept foisting on the Barbie dolls. Which I was more than happy to trade with my little brother for his Legos.

Barbie dolls and Lego go together like My Little Pony and Transformers, or Flower Fairies and M.A.S.K., or Sylvanian Families and Ghostbusters; i.e. extraordinarily well. I was raised on a diet of hand-me-down toys and car boot sale finds -- I remember being super excited to find at the same fete a Care Bear cloud car and a Megatron whose only flaw was that his two constituent halves had to be held together with blu-tack -- and I turned just out just fine.

Admittedly there are probably other people you might want to use as an example to social conservatives before me, but I was happy and I had Ponies and a car that turned into a flying car.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:13 AM on April 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


So glad I was a girl in the 70s, when i could get my overdose of bright orange, lots of shades of green and my then favorite - yellow! Rompers were the best, jean rompers = ossom.

In some stores, my daughter has light pink, hot pink, old pink, bright pink, lavender, skin pink and pink to choose from. It freaks me out a little. retro-brands around here have revived the 1970s style jean romper, and my girl combines hers with the loudest socks she can find that have every color of the rainbow in them. Very Mork&Mindy.
posted by dabitch at 11:13 AM on April 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


A lot of things in life made sense to me when I realized that, like diamond engagement rings, gender specific everything owes a lot to the agenda of advertisers and not anything even culturally sacrosanct, much less biological. Just go to the toy, greeting card, or giftwrap aisle in any American store.
posted by Nixy at 11:18 AM on April 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


USA Today, 12/24/2010: "Celebrity tots and teens embrace tomboy trend":
The boy-meets-girl movement is bigger than just clothes, Schell says. "It signifies a culture shift." Nonetheless, shove aside for a second any theories about feminism or gender construct: The tomboy trend is also simply refreshing, style-wise, she adds. "Shiloh Pitt is the most interesting thing that's happened to children's fashion since the onesie."</em

Anyway, pink is not just for girls these days.

posted by iviken at 11:18 AM on April 16, 2011


Meanwhile, purple used to be for kings and now it's for queers.

Probably not much of a change for a lot of royalty.
posted by empath at 11:25 AM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


It would be awesome if the comments in this thread were alternating shades of blue and pink.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:40 AM on April 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Years ago, when I had a job, I let drop to one of my co-workers that the blue-for-boys, pink-for-girls thing used to be precisely reversed, and she would not have it. It was inconceivable—blue is just obviously a male color.

I'm going to send her this link, because I am petty like that love the truth so much.
posted by kenko at 11:48 AM on April 16, 2011 [15 favorites]


the tint on the comments could be related to where you are in the thread, shading more red behind you and more blue in front of you.

What? I can only be one kind of nerd? Sheesh.
posted by The Whelk at 11:50 AM on April 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


It would be awesome if the comments in this thread were alternating shades of blue and pink.

Is this your pretty pony request?
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:54 AM on April 16, 2011


It's my Rainbow Dash Request.
posted by The Whelk at 11:55 AM on April 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


I let drop to one of my co-workers that the blue-for-boys, pink-for-girls thing used to be precisely reversed

While you're at it, you should tell her that the English word "pink" is taken from a flower, and that before the 1700s or so, what we now call pink was considered a shade of red. We didn't even have a separate word for the color.

(Which is true for many languages still, but I'm guessing that if blue is SO OBVIOUSLY a male color to her she's rather ethnocentric in her world view.)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:56 AM on April 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


The German Army had color-coding of its various branches, and the tank forces inherited the transport branch's rather pink color, though it wasn't that shocking in real-life.
posted by mokuba at 11:59 AM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


mokuba, you just know Glenn Beck is going to use that to connect pink toe nail polish on boys to Nazi indoctrination on the blackboard.
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:03 PM on April 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


A related topic from yesterday...

Yes ... and this FPP's linked Smithsonian article is also referenced twice (1, 2) in the other thread.
posted by ericb at 12:09 PM on April 16, 2011


(Which is true for many languages still, but I'm guessing that if blue is SO OBVIOUSLY a male color to her she's rather ethnocentric in her world view.)

She's Korean and I think spoke Korean as her first language, but, good on you for making rather unrelated assumptions.
posted by kenko at 12:14 PM on April 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


One of the interesting things about being a full-time father is the number of fashion faux pas you can get away with.

A lot of moms just don't expect you to be able to compentently dress a child, so if my girl shows up with dirty knees (from playing in the mud), hair askew (from pulling out her hair bows) and wearing a blue shirt with bulldozers on it ('cause Dad convinced her bulldozers are awesome), the most I get is a sigh and a few glances.

On the other hand, I'm the one who likes to dress her in frilly dresses and tights, so hopefully she'll grow up as a normal well-adjusted woman who realizes there's a time for wearing your scrubs* and a time for dressing to the nines.

* Pajamas as streetwear are always unacceptable, however.
posted by madajb at 12:19 PM on April 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


They got a fancy little baby dress for the official meet-our-baby picture, but most of my baby photos show me in boy clothes. One of the favorites is of me holding a bunch of crayons, wearing a light blue romper with an applique tool belt (complete with hammer, screwdriver, etc) sewn on, with the words DADDY'S LITTLE HELPER emblazoned across my chest. It's pretty cute.

this romper sounds like the panda's paws.*

picture, please.
posted by jammy at 12:19 PM on April 16, 2011


The Whelk: "When I'm King there's gonna be so much lavender it will cease to be humorous to those involved."

You have my vote. Wait...

I'm doin' it wrong.
posted by Splunge at 12:26 PM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's my Rainbow Dash Request.

Why am I not surprised that you are a brony?

posted by nooneyouknow at 12:27 PM on April 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well before I had kids, I read one of Deborah Tannen's books, in which she described a study about how gender differences are enforced starting when we're babies: three-month-old babies were swaddled so there was no outward way to tell if they were boys or girls, and then adult women were asked to react to their crying. If the women thought the babies were boys, they tended to think they were crying because they were angry, and would bounce them and make faces at them, and try to distract and cheer them up. If they thought they were girls, they would assume they were scared, and cuddle and sing to try to soothe and comfort them.

I always thought it was strange that it was so important for strangers to have to know whether a baby is a boy or a girl. But I think it's often (subconsciously) to gain a cue how to treat them. And this is where the pink and blue come in - to give a visible marker - I mean, it really is very easy to automatically say "what a pretty dress you have on!" and "what a tough little guy you are!" I've tried to dress my children rather more gender-neutral (especially as babies and toddlers) and I have often been told I'm making too big a deal of it, but they're going to have the gender norms thrown at them all the time anyway; this is one thing I can try to give them some breathing room on.
posted by flex at 12:30 PM on April 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


It's my Rainbow Dash Request.

Why am I not surprised that you are a brony?


I'm more shocked to learn when people aren't, why wouldn't you be?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:33 PM on April 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is very interesting... Can those of you with knowledge of non-western cultures tell something about whether there is anything like this in those cases (meaning, conventional settling of colors for genders and all the ruckus associated with breaking the norm that gives so many people the froths)?
posted by Iosephus at 12:39 PM on April 16, 2011


She's Korean and I think spoke Korean as her first language, but, good on you for making rather unrelated assumptions.

I spent ten minutes typing and re-typing an apology, and trying to explain, but I don't think this thread is the place for it.

I'm sorry. It wasn't fair of me to conclude from one ethnocentric viewpoint that your coworker is ethnocentric in general. I'm also sorry if you got from my comment that I assumed she is a white monolingual English speaker (which I am guessing you think I assumed since you are pointing out that she's Korean).
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:41 PM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Pink and Blue Projects were initiated by my five-year-old daughter, who loves the color pink so much that she wanted to wear only pink clothes and play with only pink toys and objects. I discovered that my daughter’s case was not unusual. In the United States, South Korea and elsewhere, most young girls love pink clothing, accessories and toys. This phenomenon is widespread among children of various ethnic groups regardless of their cultural backgrounds.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:45 PM on April 16, 2011


Also, it was very common in the South in the early 1900s and before to raise little boys as if they were little girls for their first few years. Even to the point of wearing dresses. Not cut their hair until they were 4 or 5. And curl it or put it in braids. I have old pictures of my grandad to prove it.

I know I saw a photo collection of this on the internet once but damn if I can find it.
posted by puny human at 12:47 PM on April 16, 2011


reads article, feels stupid.
posted by puny human at 12:48 PM on April 16, 2011


For example, a Ladies’ Home Journal article in June 1918 said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls."

According to Dr Daniel Chandler at the University of Wales, who did some fact-checking, there is no such quotation in the issue mentioned.
posted by martinrebas at 1:12 PM on April 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Black and brown are the favorite colors of my three-year-old niece, who also specifically asked me last week for a ski mask of her very own.

There always needs to be an outlier, I suppose.
posted by contessa at 1:21 PM on April 16, 2011


Now she's going to grow up to be a bank robber, you should be ashamed of yourself.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:24 PM on April 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


See also "Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture" for more about how the insidious pink juggernaut shapes girls' self-presentation. It's a short read, but uncovers the context (and agendas) behind "pretty in pink."
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:24 PM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


According to Dr Daniel Chandler at the University of Wales, who did some fact-checking, there is no such quotation in the issue mentioned.

Well, that was a perfectly good rant ruined by facts. I don't have an online index that covers LHJ back that far, so I think I will just go back to grading and sulk.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:24 PM on April 16, 2011


Also, it was very common in the South in the early 1900s and before to raise little boys as if they were little girls for their first few years.

Not just the South: Frank Lloyd Wright growing up in Iowa

I would, however, be wary of labeling this style of children's dress as "as if they were little girls". I think it is more significant to consider both this and adult women's dress as cultural markers of immaturity.
posted by dhartung at 1:26 PM on April 16, 2011 [12 favorites]


I do not care if my son wears whatever he wants to wear, and I encourage my daughter to wear more 'boyish' clothing because it really is more practical. A no-nonsense jean and t-shirt is much more practical for geocaching and being outdoors than a frilly blouse and skirt, or a dress. Even girls jeans and t-shirts are slathered with pink and frills, while boys clothing is more practical in terms of design also.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 1:29 PM on April 16, 2011


The German Army had color-coding of its various branches, and the tank forces inherited the transport branch's rather pink color, though it wasn't that shocking in real-life.

Return of the Pink Panzer (from Eric Idle's RWT)

Also.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:50 PM on April 16, 2011


I'm not sure what you mean by "cultural markers of immaturity" dhartung. I'm just going by how my grandfather explained it to me when I asked him about the photos. And he was very much dressed and styled as a girl. At the age of 4 or 5, the boys were put in shortpants and allowed to run wild, and the girls remained in dresses with long hair. There was more to it but I have forgotten the rest.
posted by puny human at 1:58 PM on April 16, 2011


Also, it was very common in the South in the early 1900s and before to raise little boys as if they were little girls for their first few years. Even to the point of wearing dresses. Not cut their hair until they were 4 or 5. And curl it or put it in braids. I have old pictures of my grandad to prove it.

While I second dhartung's objection to your phrasing "as if they were little girls", which I think we can be certain was not the point at all, I'd add that this mode of dress for children wasn't limited to the US, either. See E. H. Shepard's original drawings of Christopher Robin, for example, or practically any family photo of well-to-do European families in the Victorian era.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:03 PM on April 16, 2011


People are already trying to enforce gender norms on my 23-month-old, who LOOOOOOOVES butterflies and flowers (and trucks and bugs and throwing things). He'll get really excited when he sees a picture of a butterfly or flower (on a shirt, say) and want to talk endlessly about it, and seriously other parents of toddlers will say, "Uh oh, he better man up!" And I try to think of polite ways to say, "How about you STFU?" since I have to see these people for the next 18 years. (Meanwhile, people compliment my husband on our gorgeous garden, because apparently flowers aren't girly if you're in the dirt with them? It's confusing.)

It's a hard clothing season for us because all the girl stuff has butterflies and HE WANTS THEM SO BAD. But a lot of the girl stuff isn't stuff I'd buy for a GIRL (strappy tops, lots of ruffles, OH SO PINK, sparkly), and then half of it says "Daddy's Butterfly Princess" or something like that. If I could find a PLAIN T-shirt (maybe in yellow? Or a pleasant, non-eyeball-searing shade of pink?) with a butterfly, I'd get him one, but these uber-girly ones make me uncomfortable. Meanwhile, all the boy clothes are showing skulls and camo, and I'm not really comfortable with a death theme for a toddler. So, lots of dinosaurs, I guess.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:24 PM on April 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


Practical, Monkey0nCrack there's the operative word. We were given adorable dresses when my girl was in the just-learning-to-crawl phase. There was no way I'd put her in a dress which would hinder her natural development and basically cause her to fall flat on her face at every attempt of crawling. Tiny girl jeans have buttons and belts, just as you're potty training, which is again a pain. And in general, toddler girls clothes ( I don't care what color) seem hellbent on being less creative than boys clothes. Daughter went through a phase of hating all shirts in the world, opting for shirtless all day at home. I found a green-lizard patterned monster hoodie (not like those, not a zip-up but similar) in the boys department in a store and she loved that thing to death. Pop the hood up, instant dinosaur! (or whatever she imagined that she was). Good thing I found that shirt too, it's cold around these parts. They're kids, not genders. Play with their clothes (and make them easy to wash for the love of god).
posted by dabitch at 4:04 PM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Psst, Eyebrows McGee. :)
posted by dabitch at 4:08 PM on April 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Return of the Pink Panzer (from Eric Idle's RWT)

Also.


More on the beauty-industrio complex.
posted by sebastienbailard at 5:09 PM on April 16, 2011


In the United States, South Korea and elsewhere, most young girls love pink clothing, accessories and toys...

When our daughter was born, we studiously avoided dressing her in pink. If someone gave us something pink, well, it might get put into rotation, but only along with a lot of orange, yellow, blue, green, red, etc. By the time she was three, though, she developed an unstoppable preference for pink. Pink EVERYTHING...until she was about 6, at which point she decided she did not like pink ANYTHING. She is now just a month shy of 10 and we just got back from clothes shopping at the mall with no pink items in any of the bags. During her pink phase, I had become convinced that the pink preference was indeed some innate thing, but not anymore.
posted by briank at 5:31 PM on April 16, 2011


[ take it to Metatalk if you need to discuss the worth of the post, y'all.]
posted by restless_nomad at 6:15 PM on April 16, 2011 [3 favorites]



I always thought it was strange that it was so important for strangers to have to know whether a baby is a boy or a girl. But I think it's often (subconsciously) to gain a cue how to treat them.


Interesting.

Apparently I was quite cute when i was an infant (I know, wha happen?) and was frequently handled by strangers. It wasn't unusual for, say, a waitress to show me to her coworkers in the back, or for people to generally want to pick me up and pass me around. (Hey, it was the early 70s.) I had big curious brown eyes, huge ears sticking straight out from the sides of my head..

And no hair. Not until I was three. So everyone would say "OH! What a beautiful baby! How old is he?" Sometimes my mother would correct them, sometimes she wouldn't.

I think I must have internalized that. I wore dresses for a time, mostly without resisting, but would have a grand mal hissyfit over anything pink. I still won't wear it, but have come to grudgingly accept that perhaps *sigh* it has a place in society and is not a threat to my masculinity.

One of my nieces LOVES PINK. LOVES IT IT IS HER FAVORITE. The other says black is her favorite color. Have you ever tried to find a black dress for a little girl? OOf. Their brother is a manly manly man. He loves trucks and trains, but mostly he loves his football. He loves his football so much, he very lovingly and carefully straps it into a pink doll stroller (because he wants it to be safe) and wheels it around the house.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:51 PM on April 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Ooooh! Ooooh! May I rave about DELUSIONS OF GENDER by Cordelia Fine at this point?

She points out that infants are steeped in a world where gender is constant, ubiquitous and very important. So it's entirely natural that they start to prefer the "correct" colours and symbols and toys.

And whilst you might, very properly, have an ideal of non-gendered upbringing, you may not necessarily be sad when your children adopt the "correct" gender roles. You are steeped in the society too. And your children may well pick this up.

And your children may well perceive actions rather than words. A little girl might be given a toy truck and play at putting it to bed: does that mean that she innately likes childcare or does it mean that she's noticed that it's always mommy that puts her to bed, and she is a girl like mommy?

(I'm not pointing any fingers here: I'm as gendered and sexist as the next guy, and if I had any children I don't think I'd do any better than any of y'all here with kids. I think it's impossible to avoid gendering.)
posted by alasdair at 2:16 AM on April 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


I loved Lisa Frank as a kid. And rainbows.
Now I consider it extravagant if my shirt isn't black.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:28 AM on April 17, 2011


As a kid, I hated pink, frilly, girly things because--in my little-kid brain--they were associated with being dainty, helpless and just not having any fun. You couldn't build a fort/climb a tree/play in the mud/have adventures if you were busy worrying about keeping your frilly dress clean. Further, I hated the idea of seeming frail or helpless. Dressing like a tomboy enabled me to run and play and to feel, in my seven-year-old heart, that I wasn't coming across as a sissy-girl.
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 12:36 PM on April 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


GenjiandProust, rant away!

My institution gets the LHJ back to the 1880s, and a search for "pink boys blue girls" produces "Pure white is used for all babies--blue for girls and pink for boys, when a color is wished."

Citation: DRESS AIDS FOR MOTHERS.; THE LAYETTE.
The Ladies' Home Journal (1889-1907). Philadelphia: Nov 1890. Vol. Vol. VII,, Iss. No. 12; p. 23 (1 page)
posted by telophase at 10:33 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also note the most recent comment on the article:
One minor correction: the pink and blue quote supposedly from Ladies' Home Jounal (and almost always misattributed as such) is in fact from an industry magazine called "The Infant's Department" - see "Men and Women, Looking the Part" by Kidwell and Steele, p. 22, published 1989 by the Smithsonian Intitution Press. Posted by Tom on April 18,2011 | 05:00 PM
posted by malphigian at 3:02 PM on April 18, 2011


Thanks to everyone who sent me butterfly shirt suggestions, we found one we liked!

I always thought it was strange that it was so important for strangers to have to know whether a baby is a boy or a girl. But I think it's often (subconsciously) to gain a cue how to treat them.

The book "Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys" goes into this, especially about how parents and other adults very early on begin teaching boys to be more "stoic" ... when they see another child crying, mothers are more likely to talk with their daughters about "what do you think made him cry?" "how could you help?" etc., while they're more likely to tell sons something along the lines of, "Don't stare, it's rude."

It's an interesting read and made me more attuned to how little opportunity boys (and men) are given to express emotional thoughts in public. I notice people (men in particular) play more roughly with my toddler boy than they do with toddler girls when we're in a group of children ... they bounce him more roughly and spin him more and faster, etc. Sometimes to the point where I have ask them to turn it down a notch because it's TOO wild. Which mothers of girls are not having to say to the same people, who read quietly with the girls, or encourage them to talk adorably or whatever. But with the boys they want to do the wild and crazy things they did (or wished they had done) when they were kids, I guess.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:28 AM on April 19, 2011


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