Why was Pink for Boys and Blue for Girls?

Why was Pink for Boys and Blue for Girls?


Why was pink for boys and blue for girls? And did you know that young boys used to wear
dresses? Pink for boys and blue for girls used to be the fashion rule. But when did that switch? And when did young boys stop wearing dresses? If you want some to hear something a little
confusing to modern sensibilities, an 1893 article in the new york times gave the rule
of thumb to quote “always give pink to a boy and blue to a girl.” Which to put it mildly, would make all those
gender reveal parties a little confusing. But although today we take it for granted
that blue is the color for boys and pink is the color equivalent of all things feminine, when did
we first start making that assumption? And why pink and blue? Why not green for girls and lilac for boys? What is it about these two hues that cornered
the market on infant fashion? Well it seems like the answer to this puzzle
lies somewhere in 19th century style guides, our old friend advertising and the advent of modern
ultrasounds. But before we get into all of these important
questions we should first ask ourselves: What were babies wearing before pink and blue? Well the perhaps unexpected answer to this
question is that before babies were being outfitted in gender specific pastels they
didn’t wear colors at all. In fact most babies in the US and Europe were
sporting unisex white gowns and dresses or gowns that were simply the color of the fabric
that they were made from. Pastels didn’t even play a part. And with these gowns it was a convenience more
than gender that was dictating the getups since dresses without fitted bottoms made
it easier for parents to change a child’s soiled diapers and underclothing. Also white wasn’t just a matter of style,
but a question of practicality. White clothing could be cleaned more easily
either by using stronger soaps and bleach or outside, without having to worry about
maintaining and preserving their distinct colors. So not only did babies rock a surprisingly
colorless wardrobe, they also were pretty much uniformly rocking dresses, a look that
we now associate very strongly with femininity, girls, and women. But after checking out this picture of a young
Franklin Roosevelt rocking a dress circa 1884, you have to admit that if even future presidents
were wearing white dresses then it wasn’t just an anomaly. In fact, it was the fashion that young boys
should wear dresses until they were about 6 or 7, when they would also receive their
first hair cuts. So through much of the 19th century, babies
looked pretty indistinct, at least along gender lines. And this wasn’t thought of as an issue at
all. All children wore the same clothes and that
was thought of as the norm. But that brings us to our next question: When did colors come into play? Well the idea that colors could be added to
baby clothing in the US wasn’t introduced in popular culture until the mid 19th century,
according to Professor Jo B Paoletti at the University of Maryland. But even then, colors weren’t always so
closely aligned to gender. That didn’t come into play until after World
War 1. And when they did start getting lined up to
certain baby genders it wasn’t always blue equals boy and pink is for girls. In fact sometimes it was the opposite. Paoletti argues that in order for clothing
to assume a certain “gender identity” or association, the pattern of use has to
line up with concepts and cultural norms that we assume are unambiguously connected to a
specific gender. And some of these assumptions are based on
the “pattern of use” of a particular garment. Take for example the plain white t-shirt. In the 1940s plain white t-shirts were considered
a masculine garment because it was primarily circulating on men and being worn by men. (Think back on some of the plain white tees
sported by Marlon Brando and James Dean). But as time progressed fashions changed, and
now both men and women wear plain white tees regularly. So someone today wouldn’t necessarily assume
that this garment signifies a specific gender. This was the same for infant dresses and colors
throughout the 19th century. Because the plain dresses were thought of
as children’s clothing more broadly, there wasn’t a concern that they should wear distinct
outfits based on whether they were boys or girls. And even as colors were introduced into the
baby fashion lexicon, there wasn’t a clear cut formula down gender lines. For example a June 1918 article in Earnshaw’s
Infants’ Department publication, stated: “The generally accepted rule is pink for
the boys and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being the more decided
and strong color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and
dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Sounds strange now doesn’t it? Additionally according to the Smithsonian
magazine, some sources note that blue should be for blond and blue eyed children, while
pink was ideal for brown eyed babies and brunettes. In 1927, Time magazine had a style chart that
suggested gender appropriate colors for children, and department stores across the country suggested
boys wear pink including Filene’s, Best & Co, Halle’s and Marshall Field. So choosing colors based on gender was a fairly
recent phenomenon. But if baby colors weren’t always pink and
blue, that leads us to the next question: When did pink become a color for girls and
when did blue get assigned to boys? Well it seems that assigning pink and blue
had a lot to do with manufacturers around the time current baby boomers were children. Because even though we’ve listed that some
style guides suggested pink for boys, others argued for boys wearing blue and girls in
pink. In the 1940s, manufacturers began making clothing
that color coordinated for young boys and girls, dividing the population between blue
and pink color assignments based on what they believed the public would like and what they
would buy. And eventually the gendered color codes we
know today won out. But as Paoletti argues, “It could have gone
the other way.” There’s really no dedicated logic behind
the assignment of these colors to feminine and masculine qualities in the US. In fact, if you look around the world colors
can come to signify multiple meanings and rituals across cultures: For example red in South Africa can stand
for mourning, whereas in China red can be a harbinger of good luck. In Germany and France yellow can be a signifier
of jealousy. In Japan yellow can be used for “bravery,
wealth, and refinement.” And blue can be seen as a sign of different
religious practices, and carries special significance in Judaism, Catholicism in Latin America,
and in Hinduism. So colors are up for grabs as cultural markers
and the designation of pink and blue to certain genders was as much about the marketing choices
at the beginning of the 20th century as it was about preferences believed to be tied
to masculine and feminine traits. In fact, even though pink and blue color codes,
boys wearing pants to emulate their fathers and infant girls wearing dresses to mirror
mom, saw a rise in popularity at the beginning of the 20th century, it somewhat waned in
the 1960s. With the rise of the women’s liberation
movement, there was some easing in the manufacturers’ push of color coded and gender specific clothing,
with unisex clothes seeing some popularity again. So even though there still remained pink clothes
for girls, there was a wider range of outfits designed to give young girls more freedom
of movement and activity than the more standard dresses. But by the 1980s we see the cementing of color
coded clothing for infants with specific gendering. And that may be related to the improvements
in ultrasound technology. Around 1985 when ultrasounds were getting
clearer and clearer, parents were able to ask their healthcare provider the big question
at the heart of every gender reveal video: “Are we having a boy or a girl?” And that’s when products for infants geared
towards a specific baby outcome increased in demand and popularity. Now affluent parents (and parents in general)
could design their nurseries and baby wardrobes around gender, and were urged to buy new sets
of items for different genders instead of reusing unisex clothing and gear. This spread to all parts of the baby domain,
from clothing, to diapers, toys, and furniture. Also the idea that a person should be able
to distinguish a baby’s gender as soon as you see them stood at the heart of many pushes
to dress children in noticeably different clothing that would distinguish them one from
another, whereas prior to the 20th century this wasn’t considered a pressing concern
of most parents looking for baby attire. So how does it all add up? Well it seems like through most of the 19th
century US babies all wore dresses and those dresses were almost always white. And parents, while still concerned with the
identity of their babies, weren’t as anxious to distinguish them from each other in infancy
through their attire. In fact children’s clothes were designed
with ease in mind, more so than displaying masculine or feminine traits. But as we got into the 20th century style
guides and companies started pushing particular colors for particular genders. In part because they were able to capitalize
on parents’ need to buy new clothing according to the gender of their child instead of reusing
or handing down unisex clothes. And although gendered colors were waning by
the 60’s & 70’s, improvements in ultrasounds allowed parents to make predictions (and nursery
design plans) around the gender of upcoming babies. So even though pink and blue could easily
be reversed, it might not have changed how we conceive of gender in the popular domain,
but rather how we draw associations and assumptions about gender based on certain color schemes. So what do you think? Any more resources to add about the history
of boys wearing blue and girls in pink? Drop them below, be sure to follow us on facebook,
youtube and instagram, and we’ll see you next week. We received a lot of awesome feedback from
last week’s episode on the origins of the inkblot test and wanted to give a few shout
outs! So thank you to David Thomas, Renee Scanlan,
and Rhonda Boyle from facebook! And also hello to Joseph Corridon, Ness T,
and weehawk from Youtube!! That’s it for inkblots and we’ll see you
next week!

100 thoughts on “Why was Pink for Boys and Blue for Girls?

  1. You know my mom worked for Macy's in Chicago it was blue for girls and green for boys and this was around1934 1935 or so

  2. My family gives me so much shit for not being am extreme girly girl. They literally make bets on how old I’ll be when I grow out of my “Tomboy phase”. Right now it’s 15. I’m 14.

  3. It goes also back to the midages. Did you ever see a statue of Mary wearing something different then blue? That is because in the midages kings wore red and queens blue as official gowns.

  4. I'm a girl but I hated pink when I was little(still do)
    But I love blue. I think that these gender colour and dresses rules of these days aren't right. If a boy wants to wear a pink dress why not? If a girl wants to wear blue pants why not?

  5. I’m doing my nursery in primarily a light purple, because it’s good for the mind. I’m including all colors though.

    I’m not even pregnant yet, I just enjoy thinking about future problems and projects before I need a solution.

  6. research also tells us that girls are/were more attracted by red tones because they had to look for fruits in the prehistory

  7. I'm not gonna watch the video because I'm lazy but I know that Pink used to be for boys and Blue for girls, then it switched

  8. Could you imagine blue shirt day? A boy shows up to school wearing a blue t-shirt and gets bullied? Wow… that’s hard to believe.. we’ll, it didn’t but could you imagine?

  9. I don’t even like pink and my favorite color is yellow! I honestly just don’t like pink idk why. I just like yellow and I also like blue

  10. So no one cared what color girls or boys wore. See we didn't care back then and we don't care now. This video was helpful.

  11. Me and my childhood bestie (I’m a girl,he’s a boy) always got like little toys or kinder surprise eggs and I always got the pink one and he the blue.
    But back then my favourite colour was blue and his was pink/purple so we used to swap these things😂
    We solved the problem at age 3

  12. Yet in 2019 you walk around with your daughter with pink and ruffles head to toe..wearing a hair bow and she still gets called he..

  13. Hmmm…Interesting, but not accurate. Pink and blue were ultimately a result of religion. The interpretations of the colors stayed pretty consistent, however, it was the church that eventually determined their assignments. Pink is "of the flesh" and blue is related to heaven and being "closer to God". Discrimination against women was common in many religions (and still is in some). For instance, in the Catholic religion, girls, being of the flesh, were not allowed past the altar rail.

  14. lmao when i was born in the mid 90s my parents got two different ultrasounds in two different countries and they both said boy so they bought everything blue and then when i popped out i was a girl they just shrugged and said well we have all these boys clothes can’t let it go to waste! so i just wore that until i outgrew it and they bought me a new wardrobe lol my mom says she was always annoyed when people would confuse me for a boy as a baby but like idc about those things now i’m all for more gender neutral designs

  15. I remmember liking pink as a little kid (as in 5-8yrs) because all the other girls used to wear pink, so the more pink clothes I had the "pinkier" it was, the "better" it made me. When I started hating on society I started hating pink too and decided to wear only black instead… Ten years later I'm slowly getting over my hatered for the second one, color is just a color really. I holds no meaning aside from the one humans attach to it.

  16. Thank you, this video is SO important. In Brazil we now have an extreme-right woman leading the Ministry of Human Rights, and in her first public speech she had crowds of people chanting "meninos vestem azul, meninas vestem rosa", which means "boys wear blue, girls wear pink". I think it would be great if people could realize this was a random assignment, and that a true back to basics approach would see all babies in white dresses, with zero impact on their gender identities. Children are children.

  17. Check out Audrey Hepburn's movie "Funny Face" from 1950s , the song "Think Pink" might have some influence to this…. A short clip from the song can be seen around 1:56

  18. What about people of color at that time? Did they wear specific color schemes for there children or have their boys were dresses?

  19. 19th century – girls wear white dresses boys wear white dresses

    20th century – girls wear blue dresses boys where pink dresses

    21st century – female babies wear pink
    Male babies wear blue
    Girls wear skinny ripped jeans n hoodies n heels
    Boys wear loose ripped jeans or tracksuits n hoodies n sliders 🤣🤣🤣

  20. I dnt remember where i heard this but i heard that the evolutionary reason girls typically not always gravitate and are attracted to pink is because we as women were used to hunting for berries that were of the pink/red color. Has anyone else heard this ? can anyone confirm or deny ?

  21. Not well researched. Gender colors started well before WW1. Pink for boys blue for girls began long before that, in France.

  22. My friend said blue was easier to make than pink (so it was more used for military uniforms and gradually became for "masculine").
    Since pink was harder to make and since boys were considered more special than girls i can see how at the beginning pink was used for boys but blue (a cheaper color) for girls.

    Also i personally think gender-based clothing really is just for better business – the more you buy the more cash companies get. So basically a color scheme for more money.

  23. SO what's the point? kids don't care what color they wear, but if you have two dolls one pink one blue and ask a girl to choose one…she would get the pink one

  24. Orange for girls and green for boys is my new color scheme. For the heck of it. I don't have kids but it's good to plan ahead.

  25. You should do voice training and calm yourself before pontificatin ❤️ you bring up very interesting matters but your rhetorical style positions you unfavorably and that really is a pity 😚 keep up the good work and watch yourself carefully on your videos – and in the mirror. You really deserve to unlock more of your awesome potential! *Love💕

  26. My personal opinion is that the first thing someone wants to know of the baby they meet in public is the gender.

    The worst goof when greeting a random person with a Mini-Me in a stroller is to use the wrong pronouns. And perhaps these Mini – Me parents are tired of hearing "she" for "he" and "he" for "she."

    Which brings up pronouns in general. I find "he or she" or any permutation, even "hir", annoying and cumbersome. So, since the word "you" means both singular and plural and does not distinguish between male and female, then I use all plural pronouns in the same way: "they" for "he" or "she" or other singular person regardless of gender. "Their" instead of "his" or "her." and "them" for "his" or "her/s."

    I'm told this has literary precedent as well.

    And so you can't put your foot in your mouth that way.

    Just don't ask a fat lady if she's pregnant or any euphemism of that. (expecting, in the family way, bun in the oven, etc.)

  27. Growing up in India in the 90s, I never came across this kind of "colour segregation". It was a bit of a surprise when I first encountered this in Europe.

    Now off course, the consumerism and it's clever manipulative way have started doing it's job in India too.

    One fun fact:
    In West, black is the colour of grief and is worn at funerals, in India, it is white!

    Traditionally, black is considered unlucky and is usually avoided. It is an absolute No No at weddings as opposed to western weddings where almost all men adorn black.

  28. I'm sending this video to the moron evangelical pastor that is now "Minister of Women, Human Rights and Family" from the Brazilian government.

  29. I heard that children's clothing and furniture in the 1800's was all white as a sign of sanitation, which was important in times of higher infant mortality.

  30. I prefer to think about colors in terms of how they create an emotional response in you. Blue is serene, sad, calm, like the ocean or the sky. Red is passion, anger, love, like the color of blood. Yellow and orange are warm, happy, like the sun, the flowers, a sunset, a warm fire. Black is more somber, serious, dark, mature. Anyone else like to dress according to their mood sometimes? 🙂 If I really want my baby to look their gender, I'll use a bow for a girl and hair length rather than be limited in colors.

  31. If I have a child, I will not want to know what their gender is, because 1. Gender reveal parties aren't a big deal to me, and 2. I don't care about the color of their clothing, or what type of clothing they like to wear. For example, if my future son wanted to wear a pink dress, I will let them. I would let them explore the type of clothing they like to wear, and the colors they prefer. Also, for basically my entire life, I've known that I will give my children unisex names, because whatever they want to identify as, they can be that, and their name won't be a burden to them. Sorry I'm talking so much, I don't have many people to talk to about this, because they won't care 😅

  32. I think nowadays people wear whatever color they want. My ma used to dress me up in so much pink, I thought I would puke. I look terrible in pink. I wear dark colors because I think it matches my hair and eyes.

  33. You forgot to add that because Nazis started identifying gay men with a pink triangle on their clothes during WWII, that also made it so pink was strongly associated with gay people afterwards, and therefore no longer "suitable" for young boys, but "fine" for girls. Never underestimate the power of gay panic…

  34. We make blue for boys and pink for girls because boys are generally more attracted to blue and girls are generally more attracted to pink and we associate blue with boys and pink with girls because blue represents masculinity and pink represents femininity.

  35. i think, no i know, the stigma of men wearing pink is fading away….i live in red neck/cowboy/conservative east texas and i see a LOT of men wearing pink shirts….even see a lot of cowboys in multicolored flowered shirts….having said all that it is clear gay marriage, legal pot of any sort, health care for all, a woman's right to chose will never happen in east texas….some things change and some things don't

  36. I have a corollary question: why do women's shirts, jackets & coats overlap for closure to the left, and men's overlap to the right?

  37. Pink is such a repulsive colour. Blue isn't so great either, except some of the darker shades. And I'm no fan of purple

  38. In the middle ages / renaissance the virgin Mary was almost exclusively depicted wearing blue. This was due to the great expense of blue, lapis lazuli.

  39. pink and red used to be boys color in the west only not the whole world same goes for the dress for the boy, again only in the west or mostly the west not the whole world, when i was a kid my parents used to buy me different color clothes but despite all that i picked blue and many boys did too we just like this color cause probably it is (my opinion) the only color that is beautiful and non feminine at the same time, ofc blue can be wear by anyone so is pink, however pick on the other hand does look feminine compare to blue but still boys can wear that pink is still pretty in my opinion but i'll alwyas pick blue my favourite color choice

  40. Watching your videos and doing my own follow up research just really has me thinking, gender and gender roles are complete and absolute bullshit. They only exist to exploit money out of ppl. Its honestly sad and scary how much capitalism and consumerism has influenced our society. So much that we don't even realize how much we have been indoctrinated…

  41. 4:31 – But why did the stores feel the need to question it or have a survey in the first place? 🤔
    I guess companies mixing things up to create buzz and generate sales has been around for a while. ¬_¬

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