Blue is for Boys: The History of Gendered Colors

—Catherine Milroy, Staff Member—

Today, society’s standards for color are: pink is for girls, and blue is for boys. This, however, has not always been the case. There are reasons, historically and culturally, why these standards exist, and they’re all surprisingly recent.

Before World War I, all children were dressed in white, all the time. White was the only

1910s-by-deseronto-archives-via-flickr
(Photo Courtesy of Deseronto Archives)

color that could be bleached and washed without losing its hue, thus lasting longer amid the serious filthiness little kids can achieve from time to time. After the Great War, new threads were designed that could hold their color much longer, making colorful children’s clothes available; it was not the norm, though, and took a very long while to gain even a hint of popularity. And even those who chose to dress their children in this way had no notion that there was a specific shade for a boy or a girl. In fact, a 1918 article from the Ladies’ Home Journal stated, “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 dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

 

The modern principle for dress and color didn’t come until the 1940’s, in part, due to acceptance by the people of what was being manufactured at the time, and because homosexual men had been labeled in Nazi concentration camps with the color pink, which was considered disgraceful. Later, color and style became associated even more strongly with the sexes in revolt of the feminist movement of the 1970s, which campaigned against girls having to wear frilly clothes, specifically dresses.

Merchandizing was a big part of the spike in this trend. Companies could now advertise a

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(Photo Courtesy of Dylan Jones)

slew of blue and pink products to new parents and make more money by having baby clothes specific to sex―expecting families had to go out and buy more materials for their newborns if they already had a child of the opposite sex. Seeing the profit potential in this strategy, retailers across the western world adopted this manner of selling baby products, and consumerism has solidified gendered colors to this day. Anyone around today can see the obvious separation of boys’ and girls’ toys and other products in stores, in the various shades of pink and blue that we know today.