Why gender-neutral children's clothes matters
Have you ever gone to buy children's clothes and found yourself swimming in a sea of "blue with cars on" for boys and "pink with unicorns" for girls? Yeah, I feel you.
The Fferal team recently spotted a conversation online sparked by Emma Willis sharing a picture of her son wearing a pink cropped tee on her Instagram account. After being royally sucked into the debate, we decided to delve a little deeper into the history of gendered clothing and how we got to where we are today. At what point in history did we decide pink was for the girls and blue was for the boys? More to the point, why? What impact does this stereotyping have on our children, their future and their ability to express their individuality?
The gendered clothing journey to where we are today has been meandering and complex. Funnily enough, up until the mid-1800s, all children dressed in gender-neutral clothing until around the age of six. Kids generally wore a cloth nappy and a white cotton dress because nappies are easier to change in a dress, and white cotton can be bleached. Around 1850 all babies suddenly found themselves in an array of pastel colours when they were introduced as clothing options for babies. Although this marked the arrival of pink and blue, the colours weren't explicitly targeted towards girls and boys at first.
Everything changed in the early 20th Century when stores began marketing specific colours as "sex-appropriate". At first, the generally accepted rule was that pink was more suited to boys because it was a decided and "strong" colour - and blue was more appropriate for girls because it was daintier and more delicate.
The advent of gendered marketing for children
Rather than being based on any inherent gender preference, sex-specific colour-coded clothing appears to have been born based on a clever marketing trick. The big department stores realised that they could sell more if they individualised clothing - for example, parents would have to buy more clothes if they had both a boy and a girl rather than simply dressing them in each other's hand-me-downs.
It took a while to stick, though. In 1927 Time Magazine contacted a bunch of department stores asking them what colours they recommended for boys and girls, and the responses varied greatly. Then, after World War II, the blue for boys, pink for girls phenomena we're more familiar with became popular. There was a slight dip in the 60s and 70s with the rise of feminism, but by the 80s, colour-coding was back with a vengeance. This has been tied to the arrival of prenatal testing when parents began to find out the sex of their baby before it was born. And as societal ideas of masculinity and femininity have changed over the years, these ideas have manifested in our children's wardrobes.
"A lot of parents will do anything for their kids, except let them be themselves." Banksy
So why does gender-neutral clothing matter?
1. It encourages children to develop their own identity
Girls didn't prefer pink when these fads began, and we can't hazard a guess at the numbers of boys and girls who have been bullied for wearing the "wrong" thing. So when it comes to clothes, how about we keep them neutral until our small people begin to gravitate towards colours, styles and textures they enjoy? During the conversations brought about by Emma Willis's son Ace opting to wear pink, she said, "it did massively make me start thinking about stereotyping and how bonkers it is".
When I launched Fferal clothing, I intentionally made collections that didn't define identity. As a lifelong tomboy dresser, most often found out on my mountain bike, a lot of mainstream womenswear has never appealed to me. Some children (and grown-ups) naturally gravitate towards pinks and blues, while others like me really don't feel comfortable with it. Fferal clothes fill the gender-neutral gap.
2. Avoiding gender stereotypes leads to better engineering
It's not just clothing that's the victim of gender stereotyping. We love the Let Toys Be Toys campaign. They've been encouraging toy manufacturers to get rid of lazy marketing campaigns because they are harmful to children. It also extends to children's literature, where from Peter Rabbit to Bob the Builder, male characters outnumber females and perpetuate gender stereotypes. The Fawcett Society report shows that age-old stereotypes of girls loving to play at being princesses and boys being more into cars and adventures are damaging and impact later career choices.
An example is girls feeling dissuaded from studying engineering subjects. Would that matter? It looks like it does. Having females included in the design process saves lives and ensures tech is built for female physiology as well as male. The Guardian analysed the deadly truth of a world built for men - from crash test dummies to office environments.
3. It's better for the planet
We love the circularity of unisex clothing that is easily shared and handed down between son/daughter, niece/nephew, husband/wife. Gender-neutral styles and colour options ensure clothes are pass-it-on-proof until they're too worn to wear and can then be recycled. Clothes with a longer lifespan waste less of the earth's precious resources. (So next time you borrow your boyfriend's t-shirt, tell him you're supporting the circular fashion movement).
Our whole collection - babies, kids and adults - is designed to be unisex and also highly shareable. We created practical styles that look great and function well with an active lifestyle for all genders. We put heaps of appeal in the detailing and the colour schemes, so they're still fun to wear.