Jump directly to the content
There's No Such Thing as a 'Boy Color' or 'Girl Color'Tamaki Sono / Flickr

There's No Such Thing as a 'Boy Color' or 'Girl Color'


Jul 1 2013
The short history of our blue-pink designations.

After the birth of the Royal Baby, our months of speculation over its sex—A boy? A girl?—will end. But depending William and Kate's use of family heirlooms, the baby might wear pink either way. Historically, before pink became considered a feminine color, it had masculine connotations, too.

Despite today's gender-reveal parties and hyper-girly and boyish baby clothes, it wasn't that long ago that parents dressed infants differently. Some friends recently mentioned that the family christening gown passed down over a few generations — and worn by more than one baby boy — featured pink ribbons. Their son had recently worn it for his baptism. Not only did many of our ancestors once deem pink acceptable for both sexes and even a "strong" color, blue was often seen as appropriate for girls and women, partly due to its association with the Virgin Mary.

As Jo Paoletti recounts in her fascinating history of children's clothing, Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America, the word "pink" didn't even initially connote a hue and only joined the color vernacular in the mid-19th century. Until the early 20th century, most American babies wore long, white gowns favored for both their practicality (easy to bleach and starch) and lack of gender specificity. When pastels did decorate babies' clothing or nurseries, "pink and blue were suggested as interchangeable, gender-neutral 'nursery colors.'" If a parent did favor one or the other shade, it might depend on the child's coloring.

Though pink and blue began to acquire "gender coding" in the latter half of the 19th century, Paoletti reports that it took almost 100 years for people to uniformly interpret the colors the way we do today. During those days, adults were more concerned with distinguishing adults from children than they were little boys from little girls. Not until age four or five might boys begin to wear clothes that aped their fathers' fashions; before then they often wore dresses largely indistinguishable from those worn by their sisters.

But however much Americans gradually came to perceive pink and blue in such a fashion, this did not make our gender coding globally ubiquitous. "Baby clothes in other countries were still following a variety of rules," Paoletti writes, "meaning that imported items or gifts from overseas continued to observe their own traditional patterns…. Blue was still a 'girl' color in Switzerland, and pink was an acceptable color for baby boys in Korea in the 1980s." (Nor are cultural color differences limited to our baby pastels. The rainbows I see frequently in San Francisco have a very different meaning in Peru, where I saw similar flags in Cusco as a nod to the city's Inca heritage.)

Related Topics:Children; Clothing; Gender; Parenting
From: June 2013
Support our work. Subscribe to CT and get one year free.

Comments

To add a comment you need to be a registered user or Christianity Today subscriber.

orSubscribeor
More from Her.menutics
The Universal Call to ‘Mothering Like Christ’

The Universal Call to ‘Mothering Like Christ’

Childbirth illustrates the life-giving sacrifice of body, mind, and soul that applies to us all.
Don’t Call Me the Best Mom Ever

Don’t Call Me the Best Mom Ever

Why it's time for Mother's Day to retreat from the extremes.
I Forgave My Teen Daughter’s Killer

I Forgave My Teen Daughter’s Killer

The gospel taught me that forgiveness is not a pardon.
Why We Want to Return to Stars Hollow

Why We Want to Return to Stars Hollow

The weirdest part of the Gilmore Girls hometown? How they did community right.
Include results from Christianity Today
Browse Archives:

So Hot Right Now

My Son’s Autism Changed Everything—Even Our Church

I came to see special needs families as an unreached people group.

Twitter

  • RT @KatelynBeaty: Sarah Arthur's (@HolyDreaming) "Top 10 Tips for Getting It Done" ("it" = "all the writing") belongs on your wall: https:/2026
  • "Partnering with God to nurture others extends beyond biological parenting" https://t.co/LkbJyaavGp
  • The gender gap is more powerful than the God gap for a Trump/Clinton election https://t.co/jWa6DWvg62
  • The experience of labor and mothering, in their reflection of the incarnation, reflect a life we're all called to https://t.co/LkbJyaavGp
  • In honor of the #NationalDayofPrayer: Why you shouldn't settle for just praying alone https://t.co/Ib8g7gJ1q2


What We're Reading

CT eBooks and Bible Studies

Christianity Today
There's No Such Thing as a 'Boy Color' or 'Girl Color'