Nowadays, we instantly know the sex of a baby. Just look at the headband around the little bald head or at the blue shirt they are wearing. If it’s pink, it’s a girl. If it’s blue, it’s a boy. This made me wonder: was it always like this? I did a little research and as it turns out this is a rather recent mental connection.
For centuries, children dressed in plain white. It was neutral and it could be bleached. Mothers could wash the clothes over and over, without colors fading. If there was a special occasion, both genders wore dresses! There were two reasons for this: changing diapers is easier with dresses; and parents didn’t need to buy new clothes every time the child grew up a little bit since dresses don’t need to get the sizing as precise.
But in the first half of the 20th century, girls were dressed in blue and boys in pink. Pink was considered as “more suitable”1 for boys. Blue, on the other hand, was viewed as “more delicate and dainty”1. Xavier de Maistre even proposed that men should paint their rooms pink and white to improve their mood2. In 1927, Time magazine published an article encouraging parents to dress boys in pink and girls in blue. The reason such association was made was to make parents buy a whole new set of clothes and accessories if they had a second baby of a different gender. Clever, right?
Without anyone knowing exactly why, the paradigm shifted in the 1940s. Boys started wearing blue and girls pink. Boys were dressed just like their fathers and girls started wearing dresses to school. With the advent of prenatal testing, gender-specific colors became even more present in our everyday lives. Now we can find out the gender of the baby even before they are born, so parents can fill their future baby’s room with “appropriate” colors for their gender.
This just goes out to show how buried we are in our society’s beliefs. Colors are only associated with gender because of a marketing scheme in the middle of the last century, yet we still find it odd if a man dresses in pink. Next time you catch a man wearing a dress or a pink polo, remember: that was the rule less than a hundred years ago.