Pink and pastels for girls and blues and grey for boys are rapidly becoming outmoded when it comes to choosing clothes for babies and toddlers. This trend is part of a wider preference, particularly of Millennial parents, to raise their children with a neutral concept of gendered identities. According to a 2018 study in Canada, 63 percent of Millennial parents are committed to this mode of parenting.
Gendered clothing is not only about pink versus blue; even animals and foods have become visual codes of gender identity. “Soft” animals such as bunnies, kittens, mice and more recently the mythical unicorn, have become symbols for girls, while more “aggressive” animals, such as bears, lions, and reptiles, especially dinosaurs, have been allocated as symbols for boys. Girls’ clothes often come designed with sweet foods, like cherries, pineapple, ice-creams, or cupcakes, whereas food on boys’ clothes is usually fast-food, like burgers, fries or pizza.
The push-back against gendered clothing has been picked up by both celebrities and retailers. In 2018, Céline Dion partnered with kids unisex clothing brand Nununu to launch Célinununu, her own gender-neutral kids’ clothing line. Céline tweeted that she wanted to help “encourage a dialogue of equality and possibility” by working on the project. Many other celebrities are increasingly adopting gender-neutral fashions for their kids.
Retailers have steadily been following suit. In 2017, the UK department store John Lewis stopped dividing its children’s section according to gender. This move received much praise from customers, but also saw a backlash on Twitter. One British daytime TV host, Piers Morgan, tweeted “Britain is going officially bonkers.” But contrary to Morgan’s joking, gender-neutral clothing at John Lewis is not a one-off. As early as 2015, Target announced it was to remove gender-based signs from toys and clothes. Since then, big brands such as Old Navy and Carter’s have started introducing unisex options.
Moms have also stepped in to encourage change. Frustrated by the gender clothes divide, Courtney Hartman, a Mom from Seattle, launched her own clothing line, Jessy & Jack. Designs include robots, but on pink, cats, but on blue, and unicorns in black on grey, making it refreshingly impossible to attach a gendered identity to most of the items.
But when it comes to our reaction to preschoolers and their own choices, is there something about the trend for gender-neutral clothing that has remained sexist? For example, as a part of bucking this trend, are girls given more flack than boys if they opt for more traditionally “girly” options? Or would we equally scrutinize a boy for choosing blues with dinosaur prints?
We can observe celebrity and retail trends, but it is also worth being mindful of our own reactions to how older children chose to dress, whether gender-neutral or not. Offering choice from an early age and taking a step back from our kids’ decision making for clothing is perhaps the most important baseline for parents to stand.