Pink and Blue

According to, the shift toward pink and blue happened gradually. For centuries, all children had worn practical white dresses, which could easily be pulled up to change diapers, and bleached when said diapers inevitably exploded. Pastel baby clothes were introduced in the mid-19th century, but according to University of Maryland historian Jo B. Paoletti, author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America, the colors weren't gender-specific at first. From Ladies' Home Journal article in June 1918 said, "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." Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies, according to Paoletti.

In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. In Boston, Filene's told parents to dress boys in pink. So did Best & Co. in New York City, Halle's in Cleveland and Marshall Field in Chicago.

In the 1940s manufacturers settled on pink for girls and blue for boys, so Baby Boomers were raised with wearing the two colors. But that wasn't the end of the story. Paoletti says that due to the women's liberation movement, more unisex baby clothes came into style in the late '60s and '70s. Yet pink and blue came back in the mid-'80s, with the development of prenatal testing. Once parents could find out whether they were having a boy or a girl, they could outfit their nursery in the "appropriate" color. Manufacturers pushed the fad too after realizing affluent parents would buy a whole new set of baby products once they found out Junior was expecting a little sister.

Paoletti says that while researching her book, which will be published later this year, she became more critical of the pink/blue trend. "The loss of neutral clothing is something that people should think more about. And there is a growing demand for neutral clothing for babies and toddlers now, too," she says. Evidence that pink and blue weren't always in favor gives us hope that neutral colors can make a comeback — even if a stroll through Babies 'R Us makes it seem like blue fire truck-emblazoned "Mommy's Boy" overalls are here to stay.

If it was up to babies to select their favourite colours, they would go for the bright and strong and pure colours, rather than pastels that parents prefer. But babies don't know how to tell us what they like -- just yet.


Thunderhorse54's picture

This is very interesting! Thanks for posting this information. In recent months, I've gotten orders for infant and toddler's sweaters with zippers up the back in grey, tan, brown, and dark green. I think the gender neutral trend IS making a comeback.

New York Built's picture

Thanks Tall Guy - good research.

The whole issue of sexual difference is a fav of mine...because there is none.

Neurosexism with a healthy dose of imaginative sexist stereotyping, mixed with social constructs, discrimination, bad science and even worse Internet jabberwocky presented as fact...not a thinking person's world I want to live in.

There is a continuing assumption by many people that there are demonstrable and scientific measurements that show differences between men and women. This bad-science “neurosexism” contribute to inaccurate and harmful misunderstanding of what neuroscience and popular culture tells us about the sexes.

Men and women have different experiences…sometimes shaped by social assumptions, hobbies, recreational or athletic skills, sexist attitudes that pervade our culture now, and just plain throw of the dice.

Pink, blue, lace, sheets of stockinette, Manly colors, girly swirls, colors that are "fem", garments with beige, bland, boring direction...all perceptions and interpretations invented in our imagination, buttressed by social genderization.

The scientists, men and women, are finally rising to argue against this nonsense and put the thought garbage out for the next pickup.

Every person I encounter teaches me more about myself. Without whom not.

kiwiknitter's picture

This is very interesting. When I was a student nurse in 1975 and worked in the newborn nursery, I would always slip something (like a blanket) blue to the girls and pink to the boys and whisper to them that they needed to be individuals and not just conform to society's demands. I don't think any of those neonates ended up the worse for it. I can remember in the mid-1970s when men started to wear pink shirts; it was a daring thing to do and the popular view was that the guy might just be gay. Thankfully, that silly assumption has passed but pink shirt innuendo jokes remain. I agree with gender neutral coloured clothing but I hope for vibrant colours on children. Thanks for sharing the information.

Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cozy, doesn't try it on.  ~Billy Connolly

New York Built's picture

This is great Jesse! We finally found Patient Zero for the infection of sanity!

LOL...I congratulate you for your foresight and diligence.

Every person I encounter teaches me more about myself. Without whom not.

BuduR's picture

I was recently in a long discussion with someone over this. The whole thing irritates me. I dressed my children in colors as far away from the traditional pink and blue as I could. I have 3 girls and a boy. Once they were old enough to pick what they wanted they tended to pick bright primary colors.
The woman I was talking to about this insisted that pink for girls and blue for boys had been around for hundreds of years and that you don't see it in pictures because they were black and white. She has no idea why there's not a lot of colored baby clothing in museums, but theorized that the dyes caused them to disintegrate.

I still prefer neutral colors on myself and I think pink should, in fire.

MWK's Token Estrogen-American

New York Built's picture

My goodness! Sweeping generalizations made by your opinionated & white photographic images or hand-colored prints? Even Gainsborough's The Blue Boy has a twin portrait...The Pink Boy! A simple check on historical colors for children in one-eighth of the world (North America and parts of Europe) shows social color preferences beginning in the 1900's. The other seven-eighths of the rest of the world?...the colors are all over the map. To this day. First World trumps all, right?


I believe your fellow conversant was talking through her 1950's pink pillbox hat.

Every person I encounter teaches me more about myself. Without whom not.

bobinthebul's picture

Here in Turkey, where gender roles are traditionally set in stone, the pink and blue thing does apply more or less for babies, but is not all that strict. As for adults, you see guys wearing pink shirts all the time; there's nothing considered "feminine" about it. A dainty floral print might raise some eyebrows though. Yesterday a friend told me about a big macho guy he knew who had socks with designs on it typically considered appropriate for little girls - cute little poodles etc. He said "I know but I just love them." Go figure. I don't think anyone would have considered challenging him on it. Generally though men tend to wear dark muted colors - black, gray, brown, maybe dark blue. One friend from the east has a pair of bright blue pants that he can only wear when he visits Istanbul; in his home town near the Syrian border he wouldn't dare. Blue, even a bright blue, wouldn't raise many eyebrows in the US, at leas in terms of gender stuff, though it might cross some people's borders in taste.

But in the end, every culture has its gender divisions, they just tend to fall in very different and sometimes unexpected places. Why shouldn't a man wear a dress? Why is a kilt not considered a skirt? What's the dividing line between some of the tunics worn by people in some cultures, and the dresses or gowns we know today? Not much in some cases. What's more important to them is what women wear in their culture and how they divide it. But you can bet they do in one way or another. Even though most of the definitions and borders exist in our own heads alone, gender is such a central part of human identity that gender boundaries are pretty much a fact of life. Where it gets really interesting from a social/anthropological point of view, is how those boundaries are enforced, how strictly, what the conditions (or penalties) are for crossing them, and societies' "exception clauses" and other ways of approaching those who cross them.