‘On Wednesdays we wear pink’, one of my favourite lines in the high school teen movie -Mean Girls. That one liner epitomises girly-girls around the world. One thing that catapulted that quote into pop culture is the association between the colour pink and femininity (weaponized femininity in Regina George’s case but I digress). I’ve often wondered, why is it that pink is for girls, and blue is for boys? Studies have shown that colour can affect emotion; so, it begs the question what implications can ‘gendered’ colour codes have on the people who wear them? As a mother myself to a twin boy and girl, I have questioned how I should be dressing my kids. I often ponder how my twins will grow up perceiving themselves due to the way I choose to dress them. The expanding gender-neutral/ unisex children’s clothing market only encourages me to question my choices further.
The idea that colours are gendered goes as far back as the 1930s. At the time, blue was being predominantly used in the designing soldiers’ uniforms, and therefore became more masculine inclined. What may come as a surprise to many is that prior to 1930 pink was initially for boys, as it was perceived as a ‘watered-down bold dramatic red’. A bolder, stronger colour symbolising ‘zeal’ and ‘courage’ in contrast to the then girly-blue; that was seen as more delicate and dainty; a symbolism of ‘faith’ and ‘consistency’.
Numerous studies have shown a universal preference for the colour blue. However, research has found that the sexes differ in their responsiveness to specific dimensions of colour. Evolutionary psychology would argue that women’s preference for pink/red stems from their role in resource collection during the hunter-gatherer period where these warm colours would be indicative of ripe fruits and berries.
In terms of development, children are able to identify colours from the age of 18 months. Between 3-4 years old, they are able to name different colours. Coincidentally, during this period of development they also become conscious of their assigned gender. Because of their limitations in communication, children often use colour as a form of expression. The clothes you dress your child in not only affects how the world receives them; but also how they perceive themselves. So, as a parent you can either dress them to aid in their conformity to gender norms through gendered colour coding; or assist them to express their individuality through the use of colour. No pressure there then!
A study, conducted by a baby subscription box service ‘Box Upon a Time’, concluded that 47% of parents liked dressing their boys in pink clothing, whilst 82 per cent liked to put their girls in blue. This is becoming a growing trend, that is being led by the child stars like North West and Shiloh Jodie-Pitt, who rock the androgynous style like the trendsetters that they are. ‘I’m not big on loud or over the top colours.’ Kim Kardashian adds that she loves it when North wears gender-neutral colours. It appears that some parents are gradually moving away from the gendered coloured way of dressing, and instead establishing their own personal style for their children through the use of greys, blacks and whites.
Personally, I get a series of compliments whenever I do let my boy-girl twins match outfits. I like to differentiate them through gendered colours like pink and purple for my daughter, and blue and green for my son; simply because I can. I was blessed to have one of each, so I try and have fun with them when styling.
Despite this, I still get told how cute my ‘girls’ look. Which makes me think, does colour play any role in how you perceive the child? – other factors like my son’s hair and facial features must play a larger role in identifying him which is plausible, but people still get it wrong.
Clinical psychologist Linda Blair suggests; it enhances the attraction to twins when they lookalike; but to the unfavourable effect that it could have on how that child perceives themselves which I recognise. I want my kids to identify themselves as individuals first and foremost. Pink shouldn’t be my daughters favourite colour just because she is a girl; and blue vice versa for my son. I try and encourage them to pick and choose other colours in the spectrum, whether they correlate it with girls or boys I let them express themselves in whichever way they choose. Especially at the age of 3, where they are becoming more vocal; and also asserting their independence. I don’t feel obligated to dress them identically, perhaps if they were identical I may feel more inclined to do so. Yet, I am becoming more drawn to gender neutral colours such as white, yellow and black; not to mention the money it’s saving me in the long run by allowing me to mix and match easily.
Adding another dimension to the mix is the finding that the colours we choose to dress our children in can have implications on their mood (Huchendorf, 2007) either through enhancing anxiety, decreasing stress, or even arousing excitement. In fact, research suggests that children can be more sensitive to colours so this is something worth acknowledging when getting your kid ready each day. For example, letting my already active son wear a red top is likely to enhance his liveliness whereas green can relax him, as research has linked it to nature and therefore peace (Renk Etksi, 2017).
As the unisex market continues to expand amongst retailers, across the ages gender clothing is becoming less of a go-to for new parents, who are choosing to have more fun in their children’s wardrobes, rather than rolling with the typecasts. Times are changing, and so will the meaning of our favourite colours.