Go shopping for kids clothes, and a pattern emerges — and it's not just the pink overload in the girls' section. I'm talking about words, specifically those used on young girls' clothing versus what you see on boys' stuff. It's not pretty.
Because we like to relive our carefree, childless youth every now and then — all the reckless fun and all-night parties — my wife and I will hold an occasional "craft off" to see who can sew the prettiest dress. Yeah, we party like rock stars. Bono tearing up the pinking shears. Keith Richards puking in the notions. It gets pretty wild. Watch out.
For our next challenge, we're trying to see who can make the coolest slip-on summer dress for our daughter for an upcoming vacation. My wife got the idea to splash a fancy-looking, curlicue word across the bottom of the dress — "Hello" — and while I thought it looked incredibly cute and that she had the contest in the bag, it also got me thinking about all the difficult times I've had shopping for our daughter's clothes over the years. All because of words.
The first time I noticed, I was in a popular children's chain store, and I saw a set of T-shirts for boys said things like "champion" and "sports star" while the girls section sported tank tops with words like "cupcake" and "sassy." I searched and searched and couldn't find anything for girls that expressed an idea of doing something — I mean actually accomplishing a fun task — rather than sitting around being cute or baked. It was one of the first times I noticed the playing field was not level when it comes to marketing, and this was just a shopping trip for newborn clothes. Later, at stores like Target or Old Navy, I found similar displays for everything from T-shirts to pajamas. It really irks me when I see boys' swim suits complete with tiny shorts and full rash guard shirts, as if they are ready to go play for hours, and then the girls' section only has bikinis, as if they just want to layaround all day. Maybe that's cool when they're older, but these were swimsuits for 4- and 5-year-olds.
I remember there was great marketing exercise not too long ago that showed a word cloud for advertising boys stuff vs. girls stuff (at left, click to enlarge). The boys marketing genre is largely focused on "battle" and "power " and "heroes" while the girls largely had "love" and "magic" and "babies."
I was thinking about this while trying to come up with one word for my own craft-off summer dress. Now is my time, I figured. After all, that's part of the reason my wife and I got into sewing, just so we didn't have to always be victim to what's available on the store racks. If I wanted a stronger, more intelligent word for my daughter's clothes, I could go ahead and just do it myself.
But then I got stuck. One word. What would it be? At first, I thought about who might daughter really was and what I think she might say to the world.
"Unique" came to mind. "Intelligent." "Daring." Then I thought more about her and our time together and things she likes to do and joked that "tone deaf" or "belligerent" might also work, although fitting them on a dress and seeking her forgiveness might be difficult.
The clock is ticking and I'm still struggling to come up with a word, but it is keeping me thinking about that marketing word cloud and the choices available for our boys and girls. Just as an exercise to see if these stereotypes remain into adulthood, I'd be curious to know what you'd choose if you could only put one word on your dress or shirt.
Mike Adamick writes at Cry It Out! For his own shirt, he'd probably go with "inert."
Image via Girlpop/Shutterstock.com