How Pink And Blue Became Gender-Specific

It actually wasn’t until the 1940s that the colors became set in stone.

Pink is for girls. Blue is for boys. Of course our society allows exceptions now and again, but imagine showing up to a boy’s baby shower with a pink bib and matching pink shoes. There would be whispers that either you’re nuts or you must not have seen the ultrasound on Facebook.

But things weren’t always this way. Jo B. Paoletti, historian and author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys, has found that pink and blue designations are extremely recent phenomena. Around the turn of the century, both sexes wore easily bleached white dresses up to age 6, meaning that gender neutral clothing was the norm. Then things slowly shifted. From a superb piece over at Smithsonian (that you should read in full!):

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.

For example, a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department wrote, "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." Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies, according to Paoletti.

In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. In Boston, Filene’s told parents to dress boys in pink. So did Best & Co. in New York City, Halle’s in Cleveland and Marshall Field in Chicago.

It wasn’t until the 1940s that retailers and manufacturers decided on pink for girls and blue for boys. Then the women’s lib movement of the '70s actually pushed retailers back to gender neutrality. But in the '80s, the once lace-deprived girls became new moms, and the division of pink and blue started anew. Even still, given that just about any color goes for grownups these days, it seems absurd that we’d protect our children from the evils of certain shades of dye. That said, so long as advertising’s social scaffolding herds youth toward specific styles and behaviors, there’s not much that your studied choice of chewing-gum cigar can do about it.

Read more here.

[Images: Girls and Boys via Shutterstock]