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The Color Code: Why Pink for Girls and Blue for Boys?

The Color Code: Why Pink for Girls and Blue for Boys?

November 13, 2009

By Annie Tucker Morgan | Divine Caroline

If you’ve gone shopping for a baby outfit anytime in the past sixty years, you know it’s virtually impossible to enter a children’s-clothing store without getting lost in a divided sea of pinks and blues.

For girls, there are flowing pink dresses, fluffy pink sweaters, and floppy pink hats, all adorned with flowers, butterflies, rhinestones, and cutesy sayings. (“Precious” and “Little Princess” spring to mind.) For boys, there are blue shirts, sweat suits, jackets, and jeans featuring ruff-and-tuff images of trucks, airplanes, and jungle animals.

Moms and dads who delight in color-coding their babies’ clothes (and nurseries) by gender often perceive the retail industry for kids as one big playground, but for parents seeking more neutral options, finding a happy medium can seem almost prohibitively elusive. The next time you find yourself navigating rack after rack of pink and blue clothes and accessories, take a moment to consider how this whole scenario came to be.

Hues in the News
Given the prevalence and rigidity of the “pink is for girls, blue is for boys” school of thought today, it’s difficult to imagine things being any other way. However, some evidence suggests that these color lines actually weren’t drawn until the middle of the twentieth century. In the 1800s, almost all babies wore white—in fact, parents back then were so unconcerned about distinguishing between the sexes that they outfitted their infant sons and daughters in dresses across the board. And even when babies started sporting colorful clothing in the mid-nineteenth century, specific hues were not identified as “male” and “female”; rather, an 1855 New York Times account of a P.T. Barnum–sponsored “baby show” described both sexes as wearing a wide and arbitrary array of colors.

In the early twentieth century, however, male and female children’s clothes began to differ stylistically—boys started wearing pants, while girls remained in dresses—and with those changes came more consistent color/gender associations. At first, though, pink was ascribed most often to boys, and blue to girls. In 1918, an article in the Ladies’ Home Journal declared, “There has been a great diversity of opinion on the subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger colour is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Another theory holds that blue, associated frequently with the Virgin Mary, was believed to reflect little girls’ purity and goodness, while pink, a derivative of red, was seen as a better match for male children’s “fiery” temperament. But by the 1940s, the tables had turned, and society’s equating of pink with femininity and blue with masculinity has remained intact since then.

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