When it comes to designing a nursery or picking clothes for new-borns, many parents still plump for the traditional colour schemes of blue for boys and pink for girls. There is nothing wrong with this of course, but it does raise the interesting question of why the colours came to be so closely associated with gender. Here’s a quick look at the possible reasons!
The tradition is not quite as ancient or inflexible as you might think. In fact, researchers in America discovered an article on the subject in a trade magazine for baby clothes manufacturers, which argued for the very opposite case.
The article said: “There has been a great diversity of opinion on this subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. 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.”
It seems that the trend in favour of blue for boys and pink for girls didn’t really take hold until after the Second World War. In fact, children’s clothing in previous eras was a far less segregated affair, with boys often wearing dresses or gowns up to the age of six, before making the transition to breeches.
In terms of colour, baby clothes were mainly shades of white before commercial dyes were used for mass produced clothing in more varied colours. Even then, as we have seen, some manufacturers decided that pink was the stronger and more masculine colour, while blue was presumably seen as a kinder, gentler colour associated with nature.
In fact, the mass marketing era put the final stamp on what were considered gender normal colours. Producing baby clothes, nursery furniture sets, toys and so on specifically for girls and boys encouraged parents to buy more new goods, and rely less on hand-me-downs or shared items between siblings.
However, it can be interesting to note that even parents who are determined to avoid imposing any kind of pre-determined colour scheme on their children can end up giving in to the demands from their child for one colour or another eventually.
How far this is the result of the infant subconsciously picking up constructed norms, or whether it is a natural instinct, is a very complex question, and a bit too deep to go into here! With the advent of the feminist movement in the 1960s and 70s, there was a move back towards more gender-neutral baby clothes.
However, now the accepted norm or blue for boys and pink for girls remains just as strongly as ever. Of course, there are no rules, and some parents are all too happy to go for gender neutral pastels in yellow or green when decorating a nursery or picking clothes.
After all, the most important factors for a new-born are a safe place to sleep, that is quiet, well ventilated and thermally regulated, sufficiently light, and spacious enough for a cot, dresser, and changing table. They won’t notice the colour until they are much older!