Children, Gender, Colors and Femininity- Why is pink for girls? Blue for boys?

Portrait of William Ellis Gosling, 1800 By Sir William Beechy

Portrait of William Ellis Gosling, - By Sir William Beechy

Why is pink for girls? Blue for boys? Why can a girl wear pretty things and for boys its not acceptable? and why can girls wear boyish things but not the other way around.

(Thank you Veronica and Jasalyn for fixing this up and making it read okay)

I am not very smart, I don’t think and confused a lot when it comes to people, and this last week a certain topic has been on my head a lot. When I don’t understand something I try to, so this is my attempt.

The thing that’s been on my mind a lot lately has been gender identification. I have read a lot about it from so many places and have come to a lot of thoughts. I don’t know if anyone will read them but I figure I will put them here anyway.

The idea of pink being a girls colour most likely began in the early 19th century, and is as far as history is concerned, mostly a Western concept. Where it truly began is a bit of a mystery however it is recorded in the book titled Little Woman by Louisa May Alcott, a rather popular novel during a scene where Amy tied a pink ribbon on Daisy, and a blue one on her twin, Demi, “French-style, so you can always tell.”

It is quiet possible from this novel and France that the idea travelled to the United States however to say that is where it came from would be to much of an assumption. Wherever the idea came from that Pink was Girls and Blue was Boys will I think, always be a mystery. However what is certain is that at this time it was still being debated.

The use of the colours pink and blue from this point on were rather neutral, most used blue for girls and pink for boys as pink was seen as a bolder colour and blue very pure. The important thing to note here is that blue was most commonly associated with the Virgin Mary, thus appropriate for young girls.

However as education became more important in the early 20th Century, catholic schools in Europe, especially the British Empire began to uniform boys with Blue blazers, the most notable explanation for this and believed answer is that blue was the cheapest dye colour.

during 1914 The Sunday Sentinel in America on the other hand, was advising mothers:

If you like the color note on the little one’s garments, use pink for the boy and blue for the girl, if you are a follower of convention.”

At the same time there was another culture change taking place, dresses were beginning to appear less and less on boys, where previously young boys wore dresses until the age of 5 or 6. Some families continued this practice until about 1940, but this was usually in more rural areas. It is also fair to point out the rise of commercialism is also beginning at this time, seeing mothers and children as consumers- this is s where George F. Earnshaw comes in.

George F. Earnshaw, an entrepreneur established in 1917  a trade journal called the “Infant’s Department” in America and although colour was still a debate, (there is a quote from this journal but no official source reference or date so I won’t include it) they did push out the idea of dresses for boys, pushing the idea for boys to be dressed more like little men.

As World War II slowly emerged it should be noted that Hitler began branding Homosexual’s with pink triangles as identification, just as Jews were branded with the Star of David. If the colour pink with the triangle meant something embarrassing it is very hard to tell. It has been reported at this time though, that pink became an accepted colour in Germany for female underwear. (They gay pride movement later adopted this as a badge, a symbol of defiance.)

As the war closed and life slowly returned, perhaps soldiers from America influenced by what they saw in Europe in terms of colour identification moved back home and it was those born post war who were the first to be colour identified strictly as pink for girls and blue for boys. Dresses for boys were a no and as America began the propaganda machine to move woman out of the workforce and free up the jobs for returning soldiers, it became a necessity to stress gender and in particular identification.

Then finally by 1957,  Sears, Roebuck dropped the white baby dress from its unisex prepackaged layette and at last it was official, dresses were for girls, pink was not for little boys and blue was not for little girls.

In the modern society we live in now, the strict gender roles are slowly breaking down, girls can be builders and plumbers, boys can can stay at home dad’s looking after the children. However colour from an early age still hasn’t changed. We still strictly see pink for girls and blue for boys, we are afraid for dresses to be around young boys and we have a belief that clothing can teach gender and lead to our later sexual orientation.

We forget that these so called rules we have put in place have only been created since the 1950’s, they are still under 100 years old. (just) Men in their early years who wore dresses as children in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s did fine during World War I and II, they were in trenches, holding out against bombing, frost bite and trench foot. (Put socks in your survival kits, ask any war veteran!) so how did we become so obsessed?

My theory is advertising. I am a marketer, I know lots about marketing and this is the conclusion I have come up with. As children and mothers have become seen as consumers, we as a society have begun to advertise to them, over the years the advertising has become far to strong and resistant to the point how that a child under the age of 7 can have a hard time finding a toy that isn’t pink or be seen without at least one item of clothing.

Children under the age of 7 are obsessed with the colour pink, however if you sit a girl down and show her the colour pink, I can assure you that 50% of them will identify the colour pink with barbie, sometimes even saying barbie before remembering the colour name.

This was shown to me not to long ago when a friend of mine by accident mixed beech-fruit with mashed potatoes turning them a pink colour, and her daughter was so excited her mum had made barbie potatoes she ate them all, despite being resistant to ever eating potatoes.

I believe we have created these gender colours out of habit and our own fear, and over time forgotten how they have come to be. I also believe as we move on as a society into a more scientific one our superstitions have changed from souls escaping when we sneeze to paranoia about our children’s sexual orientation when their older.

And although its uncertain exactly how it came to be, if through multiple events in history, commercialization, industrial revolution or a combination of all of the above, I think its safe to say that we as a people have begun to create a paranoid culture without justification, with a deep need to brand children like cattle as soon as their out of the womb with the labels “THIS IS A BOY” and “THIS IS A GIRL” instead of allowing them to grow, explore and adventure in the amazing complex world we have built and prepared for them. Perhaps instead of worrying about how they will be in the future, we should begin to focus on how they are now, loving and nurturing them, guiding them through their own discoveries.

I know some things here maybe wrong, a lot of it is my opinion, so feel free to correct me in the comments.

-Matty, Age 20.

It wasn’t until 1957 that Sears, Roebuck dropped the white baby dress from its unisex prepackaged layette.


  1. laura Said:

    wow, nicely researched. i hope the gender associations fade too, so ppl can be what they want to be. xoxoxoxo


    • Matty Said:

      Another Laura- 🙂 Thank you for the nice comment.

  2. Etoile Said:

    Gender construction is a very strange social phenomenon they we need to challenge in our post-modern world. We should not be defined by the colours we wear.

    Excellent read, I enjoyed it a lot and totally agree!

    • Matty Said:

      I think so to 🙂

      • Etoile Said:

        Maybe we should all just wear purple!

  3. Abraca Said:

    What a great article! How interesting that the colors for boys and girls are so recently established. We humans don’t have very long memories, do we. hehe

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