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Pink and Blue: The Right Color for Your Gender!

Photographer Bob Carey defies standard, gendered color norms—and other norms, too.

Pink is for girls, blue is for boys.  Most any American you know who’s had a baby has had to wrestle with this question.  Modern parents (including myself) debate whether or not they want to hew to the old gender-designated colors, or if they want to just dress their babies in green or orange or some other color that doesn’t have those old gender-specific associations we’ve always had.

But we haven’t always had them.  It used to be that babies were dressed in white.  In the days before leak-proof diapers, this might seem imprudent, but that’s how it was done.  The more poetic among us might figure that white suggests the innocence of the newborn, but it’s probably more that babies grow out of clothes quickly, and since dyes were expensive, it didn’t make sense to do anything to make baby clothes any more expensive than they already were.  By the early 20th century, advances in chemistry led to cheaper dyes, and we could finally start coloring clothes for babies and toddlers and other small, fast-growing people.  As an article in the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department stated in 1918, “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 dandy, is prettier for the girl.”

That’s not a typo above.  A century ago, pink really did have masculine associations.  Even Penn State’s football team wore black and pink football jerseys.  (The team reused them every year, the story goes, so that they eventually faded to the colors of blue and white, which are the university’s school colors today.)  Blue had more universal associations, despite what the quote from Earnshaw’s says.  School uniforms were often blue, as were sailors’ uniforms.  Sailor suits, which were popular to dress both little boys and little girls in during the early part of the century, were blue.  This might be the reason that pink and blue made the switch.  By the 1950s, pink was thought of as more feminine, but not necessarily so.  By the 1970s, Americans thought of pink as a solidly feminine color, and blue was more masculine, and that’s how it’s going to be forever—or, at least, until it changes again.  Until then, wear whatever you like.


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