The History Of Pink For Girls, Blue For Boys

Earlier, we discussed the theory that the "pink is for girls, blue is for boys" binary is foisted on children by society. In baby photos from the late 1800s, male and female tots wear frilly white dresses — so how did pink onesies with "Princess" emblazoned on the butt infiltrate American girls' wardrobes?

According to Smithsonian.com, the shift toward pink and blue happened gradually. For centuries, all children had worn practical white dresses, which could easily be pulled up to change diapers, and bleached when said diapers inevitably exploded. Pastel baby clothes were introduced in the mid-19th century, but according to University of Maryland historian Jo B. Paoletti, author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America, the colors weren't gender-specific at first. From Smithsonian.com:

Ladies' Home Journal article in June 1918 said, "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." Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies, according to Paoletti.

In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. In Boston, Filene's told parents to dress boys in pink. So did Best & Co. in New York City, Halle's in Cleveland and Marshall Field in Chicago.

In the 1940s manufacturers settled on pink for girls and blue for boys, so Baby Boomers were raised with wearing the two colors. But that wasn't the end of the story. Paoletti says that due to the women's liberation movement, more unisex baby clothes came into style in the late '60s and '70s. Yet pink and blue came back in the mid-'80s, with the development of prenatal testing. Once parents could find out whether they were having a boy or a girl, they could outfit their nursery in the "appropriate" color. Manufacturers pushed the fad too after realizing affluent parents would buy a whole new set of baby products once they found out Junior was expecting a little sister.

Paoletti says that while researching her book, which will be published later this year, she became more critical of the pink/blue trend. "The loss of neutral clothing is something that people should think more about. And there is a growing demand for neutral clothing for babies and toddlers now, too," she says. Evidence that pink and blue weren't always in favor gives us hope that neutral colors can make a comeback — even if a stroll through Babies 'R Us makes it seem like blue fire truck-emblazoned "Mommy's Boy" overalls are here to stay.

When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink? [Smithsonian]

Earlier: Girls Are Pink, Boys Are Blue: On Toddlers And Gender Roles

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