Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America

Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America

Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America

Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America

Synopsis

Jo B. Paoletti’s journey through the history of children’s clothing began when she posed the question, “When did we start dressing girls in pink and boys in blue?” To uncover the answer, she looks at advertising, catalogs, dolls, baby books, mommy blogs and discussion forums, and other popular media to examine the surprising shifts in attitudes toward color as a mark of gender in American children’s clothing. She chronicles the decline of the white dress for both boys and girls, the introduction of rompers in the early 20th century, the gendering of pink and blue, the resurgence of unisex fashions, and the origins of today’s highly gender-specific baby and toddler clothing.

Excerpt

This journey began nearly thirty years ago with a deceptively simple question: When did we start dressing girls in pink and boys in blue? As it turned out, the complexity of this topic is astonishing, extending far beyond the color of blankets and booties. The visual vocabulary seems endless: pink and blue, ruffles and neckties, lace and camouflage, kittens and lions, butterflies and airplanes. Gender symbolism in American children’s fashions is ubiquitous. It is also transmitted clearly enough that most children know these unwritten rules thoroughly by the age of three. This might lead to the assumption that the rules have changed little over time, but the opposite is true. In little more than a century, the rules have changed so dramatically that the conventions of 2010 are nearly the reverse of those in 1890.

This book is an attempt to describe and explain some of the most evident of those changes, to settle some popular questions about the rationale and effect of gendered clothing on children, and to clear a path for future research. I am excruciatingly aware that you, my readers, may be dress historians, scholars or students from some other field (ranging from gender studies to neurobiology), or interested parents or grandparents. There is no way to satisfy everyone, so I hope that you will forgive me if I seem to be too academic, not theoretical enough, or I describe clothing in too much detail. As long as we continue to grapple with questions about the nature and origin of gender differences, it will be important for researchers to communicate their findings in accessible language. My intention is to write clearly and to cite thoroughly, which I hope will satisfy readers across the spectrum.

It should be evident that this book is an initial foray into the topic and cannot be about American children in all of their diversity. As is the case with much of fashion history, the artifactual and printed record is skewed toward middle- and upper-class consumers. My primary evidence is drawn from a wide variety of sources:

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