Gender colours – sorry, colors (it’s mostly an American thing)

11 12 2008

Blue is for Boys

The Blue Boy

The Blue Boy

Pink is for Girls

Pinkie

Pinkie

That seems simple, right? All things are linked to history – nothing is (or was) forever although it does seem cyclic. I am a writer – well, technically, a professional technical writer and a communications manager. Titles given to me by people who pay me. I do enjoy research and writing though.

Most everyone; who has; had a baby, thought of having a baby, seen a baby or gone to get presents for an expectant mother knows – blue is for boys and pink is for girls. I had 1 pink and 3 blue babies in my own life.

A bit of colourful history then…

Timeline:

16th Century – “Blue Coat Schools” for poor boys, they were all dressed in the same blue coats (girls did not go to school) in England. Blue dye is the cheapest clothing dye. 

1770’s – Thomas Gainsborough paints The Blue Boy. The companion piece, was – The Pink Boy. Boys in England were not yet “assigned a color”. Both romantic period paintings were seen as appropriately coloured.

1800’s – Babies are considered – well, just babies. The notice of Boy vs Girl came when the child was truly mobile, capable of some understanding and, they had grown enough to have missed that high infant mortality rate of the time. Early infant graves often had no name other than “Baby“.

Victorian and Edwardian portraits of baby boys often depict pink clothing as the colour of choice.

Prior to 1900 – The choice color for babies clothes in America is – the color white

The Sunday Sentinal, March 29, 1914 advises mothers “”If you like the color note on the little ones garments, use pink for the boy and blue for the girl, if you are a follower of convention.” Colored ribbons used on clothes often followed these conventions. Brought to the USA from the UK.

1920’s – two famous paintings from the UK are purchased by a Californian; Pinkie and The Blue Boy. They are forever displayed; and thus bound together. People all through the 40’s and 50’s buy copies of the two paintings and display them together (I have one from my grandmother in a 50’s print). The paintings were by different artists, painted some 25 years apart with clothing styles 150 years apart.

1930’s – Germany adopts pink as the popular color for girls. During WW2, Germany uses the yellow Star of David to identify Jews and pink triangles to ‘mark’ homosexuals.

1950’s – The distinction of “blue is for boys, pink is for girls” becomes widely accepted in the US. Some say that Pinkie and The Blue Boy are responsible for this. Pink also gets associated at this time with gays and lesbians; perhaps a carry-over from Germany?

It has really been just a few years – some 60 years since the blue and pink were used to identify the newborns in the United States.

The relevance is this: Gender is also a function of society, the choices the social group makes to identify a gender and the definition that forms the children into adults displaying the current acceptable gender roles. In Asia, babies are often dressed in red (the color of celebration), while white is used for mourning.

In my ‘boy’ mode, I always wore greens, browns and earth tones. In my ‘girl’ mode, I wear purple, rust and burgandy tones.  Not quite Blue and Pink – but close enough.

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2 responses

14 05 2009
Danielle Elizabeth Smith

you are so right about the colors and all. thanks for pointing that out finally someone did!!!!!!

20 06 2009
student

your article is very interesting. you helped me with my oral presentation of the portrait “the blue boy” by thomas gainsborough.

thanks a lot!

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