The Relationship Between Colours and Gender

By: Grace Smith
"Pink is for girls, blue is for boys.” This is a common sentiment we see throughout western culture, but where did it originate? And how did it become so pervasive? From its effects on clothes to toys we can find this statement in almost all aspects of life, yet it has not always been this way. Taking a look back through history we can see how the ideas surrounding clothing and gender have evolved to our understanding of it today.
It would surprise many people to know that in the 1800s, a time we can all agree to have been far more conservative, it was standard for both young girls and boys to wear white dresses and have long hair. This was for the sake of functionality, as it was easier to bleach white clothing and dresses were easier to wrangle small children into, but it is the beginning of the evolution of our current state of expectations regarding gender and clothing. 
As the 1800s progressed into WWI, a shift towards pastels was seen for infants and toddlers, and there was an emerging separation of colours between sexes. Yet colours assigned to specific genders was originally the opposite of what we expect today. In a June 1918 article, the trade publication Earnshaw's Infants' Departmentsaid, “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” (qtd. In Smithsonian). So as we can see in the different trends throughout history, colours specific to certain genders are picked arbitrarily, and have no real weight.
After WWII a shift began that was more in line of what we expect today: blue became for boys, while pink was for girls. Although this was a general rule, it was in no way as prevalent as it is today. Different areas of the Western world still stuck by the old expectations, and did not change until far later. Each culture has its own unique traditions and styles of dress, and as such, different cultures and countries developed their own expectations of clothing and gender. Therefore not all countries then or today adhere to what we commonly perceive as the norm regarding clothing and gender.
Through the 1960s and 70s gender specific clothing in terms of colour was far more prominent in children than adults. During the women's rights movement in the 1970s the separation of gender by colour became even less pronounced as mothers and women chose to not dress their daughters in pink in an attempt to have them treated as equals. Sadly, this only further defined pink as a colour for girls, and in connection blue for boys.
In the 1980s a major upheaval occurred with the reintroduction of gender specific colours in not just clothes but also toys and other products, mainly marketed for children. It is here that we see most evidently a divide between the genders occur in terms of marketing and products. Girls did not just have pink clothing, but also pink toys usually dolls or makeup sets, while boys had blue clothing, blue toys, and cars and other action toys.
This sudden rise in colour specific products was due in part to the ability to determine the child’s gender before they were born. This allowed people to better prepare and buy specific gender marketed items; such as diapers, clothing, and toys. Retailers also sell more products by better determining and marketing towards their intended demographic. As a result it is a smarter business decision to separate products by gender, which encouraged companies to continue to divide products as ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’.
After the sudden and extreme colour division of the 80s today we observe a decrease in these gender specific products and clothing. With further tolerance and open mindedness regarding gender and stereotypes there has been a steady decline in the traditional expectations. More and more people are requesting manufacturers and stores to provide more gender neutral clothing and toys. Although there are still many preconceived notions of what is appropriate for girls and boys our society is steadily changing its view to be more open minded and accepting of all clothing and colour preferences, regardless of gender.



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