April 13, 2011

When Did Boys Stop Wearing Pink?


Wow, it feels like I've been waiting my whole parental life for historian Jo B. Paoletti's book, Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America; I hope it doesn't drive me crazy with subjectivity and suck.

The preview in the Smithsonian Magazine is titled, "When did girls start wearing pink?" but the real issue seems to be the opposite: when did boys stop wearing dresses and long hair? When did the codification of masculine and feminine identity from infancy onward really take hold in the--let's face it, arbitrary--way that it has?

Because yeah, pink for girls is kind of out of control, but it's kind of manageable. The real problem, though, is pink for boys. Holy smokes, does that set'em off. Why is that?

The short answers are very welcome--the pink/blue divide apparently set in around 1940, and Baby Boomers were its first victims/beneficiaries. But it still seems like non-gendered kids clothing, at least, persisted until the mid-80s? Is that what I'm hearing? And that it was the advent of ultrasound, and being able to know the gender of a fetus--and thus shop for it--that brought us to the headbanded, ruffly, rugby-shirted ghettos our kids are mostly born into today.

BUT WHY?? And why do we have to wait for months to see if we'll actually find out? I mean, not to be a jerk, but Professor Paoletti's been about to publish this book for like two years now. Here she is on the BBC in 2009, kind of blaming feminism for the pink hegemony.

Oh, this is interesting, a 1999 article Paoletti wrote, LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY AND HIS DAD: The Transformation of Masculine Dress in America, 1880-1900, which I found in the Internet Archive, the simultaneous rise of the business suit and the fussy, velvet & lace Fauntleroy suit trend marks "the return of Father to the nursery," where he starts having a say about raising sons to be masculine like him, not overdressed mama's boys. So it's mens' fault, too.

This is gonna keep bugging me for years, isn't it?

When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink? [smithsonianmag.com]


I remember my younger brother, born in 1976, had a pink outfit when he was around 2 years old. It was a pair of pink seersucker shortalls (or shirt/short/vest set, I can't remember which). The white shirt worn underneath had a fake tie, so it was unmistakably a boy's outfit, except in pink.

I don't recall if strangers mistook him for a girl or not.

At our house, we call those lace headbands for bald babies "head garters."

I'm looking forward to the book. My mother, who is around 75, recalls pink shirts on teenage men to be extremely fashionable when she was a teen.

Yet six years ago when my boy-girl twins were 3, and my sister found that I would dress my son in a shared romper that was black velour with pencil-thin red heart outlines on it (you couldn't even see the hearts unless you were close) felt I was cross-dressing him.

Growing up in the 80's, there were LOTS of pink choices for guys' clothes:

Coral pink t-shirts under white sport coats, pink oxford shirts, pink & white striped broadcloth shirts, pink Cosby sweaters, pink polos, pink HyperColor t-shirts.

Today we see PLENTY of John Boehner-style pink ties. ;)

My two boys (ages 10 and 6) actively hate pink. They're derisive of all things feminine, (except their momma). I don't know where they got that attitude, (not from their parents), but they won't even touch anything pink or frilly.

3B loves pink and frilly. And some days he wants to wear his black long-sleeved shirt covered in skulls. When role-playing, he always wants to be the girl. Mama and I were just discussing this all last night, so I'm hoping this book is good, too.

My 3 week old son has only blue things. I think it's time to throw in some pink for good measure. Only a real man can wear pink.

My grandmother (b 1910) told me back in her day pink was only for baby boys. Baby girls wore yellow. Needless to say I have no way to verify.

I have a girl (7) and a boy (5) and both stick pretty much to pink and blue respectively now that they have say in their wardrobe, despite the fact that I tried to keep it mixed up when they were little.

They are, however, agnostic when it comes to picking toys to play with and will play with "boy" or "girl" toys without a second thought (though in buying toys they seem to hew to the stereotypical categories). No need for "William want a doll" style re-education.

Since I'd much rather they try to define their gender with an arbitrary color, than by excluding themselves from a whole set of activities and objects, I'm reasonably satisfied with this.

bb- I was just reading about that in an interview with the author of "Cinderella Ate My Daughter". She says: "When nursery colours first came in, pink was assigned to boys and blue to girls because pink represented strength and masculinity. It was seen as a pastel shade of red. God of War and all that. Blue was for girls because it was seen as being associated with faith and constancy and the Virgin Mary." I found that interesting.


Older son, now four, lived in a pink velour onesie for his first full winter. He looked smashing.

It's coming! It's coming! My publisher, Indiana University Press, will let me know the target date by the end of this month. I am hoping for early 2012. (If it seems like a long wait for you, imagine how I feel -- it's been 30 years in the making!)

In the meantime, stop by my website, pinkisforboys.org take a look around. I hope it doesn't suck.

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