'Pretty, pink and perfect': The problem with baby girl fashion
Why some parents are shunning frilly outfits and sexist sayings.
My 10-month-old baby daughter primarily wears clothes that are hand-me-downs, thrift shop finds or gifts, so I hadn’t thought too much about what her clothes say about her — or our society — until recently. Sometimes she gets mistaken for a boy. Sometimes she’s the fashionista of the playground. Most of the time, she’s in pajamas. Now that she is crawling and cruising, and constantly stumbling, those cute dresses that catch on her knees have been donated. She still wears bows and headbands, but only comfy ones that she doesn’t resist. I have absolutely no idea what to do about shoes for my soon-to-be toddler to keep her steady as she takes those first steps. In short, I haven’t figured it out. So, I spoke with other parents about the decisions they made about dressing their daughters — and how it played out.
Laurel Thompson, mom to an 8-year-old daughter, was previously a designer at Carter’s and now has her own line of minimalist baby clothing, Beya Made. She gives some history of clothing styles for kids: “Baby clothes weren't always so highly gendered. In fact, I have photos of my grandfather around 1919 with his brother and sister and they're all wearing white dresses. Pink for girls and blue for boys is a relatively new marketing scheme, pushed by manufacturers who wanted to double their revenue. It's only been a ‘thing’ for the past 50 years but people are so invested in it.”
After Thompson had her daughter, she started her own clothing line focusing on sustainability. “Any gendered clothing is just plain bad for the planet because it forces families to buy twice as many outfits. When I worked in ‘big baby fashion’ I tried to sneak in gender-neutral colorways under the radar. In my own business, I've tried to teach my customers that you save a ton of money (and reduce your carbon footprint) by choosing gender-neutral basics.”
It isn’t only baby girl fashion that needs an overhaul, Thompson explains, “I see a lot of sexism in both boys’ and girls’ clothing. But so much of girls' clothing is sexist or even body-shaming like [shirts or onesies that say] ‘I hate my thighs.’ Girl-specific graphics often say things like ‘smile’ or ‘always happy.’ It would be so nice to see more ways of being a girl represented than just pretty, pink and perfect.”
There is nothing wrong with pink, of course. Altogether avoiding the color could communicate that feminine attributes are somehow "bad." Some gender-neutral baby clothes brands, like MORI, don’t arrange their site by gender but still offer variety in colors and patterns, including pink. According to MORI’s senior buyer, Amie Flynn, the wares are meant to be "passed on." She explains, "A lot of our designs are gender-neutral so families can pass from brother to sister, cousin to friend. Our prints are aimed at the unisex market and when we do tend to incorporate colors into our ranges, we do it with the mindset that boys can wear pink too."
Nikki Gonzales is the parent of a 5-year-old daughter, Elsa, and 2-year-old son, Finn. She shares that when Elsa was a baby she primarily bought her boys' clothes. “I was really turned off by the garish colors, frills, sayings and general weirdness of girls' baby clothes," Gonzales says. "My own style skews pretty utilitarian and dark and I figured, why would I dress my baby in things I would never wear?”
While most of her friends and family understood and supported this decision, Gonzales did get some pushback from strangers and acquaintances. “Once a friend of a friend exclaimed, ‘I can't believe she would do that to her baby girl!’ after seeing pictures of my daughter ‘dressed like a boy’ at a barbecue.” However, Gonzales is happy with her decision, especially since she has been able to use the clothes as hand-me-downs for her son.
Kate Woolsey is an American mom living in the Netherlands who kept her baby’s sex a surprise to avoid an onslaught of pink or blue clothing. "It was important to us to be mindful of gender stereotypes as we welcomed our new baby and deferred learning her sex as one strategy," she says. "We bought unisex clothing and baby items, decorating her nursery in a palette of white, gray, mint and yellow. As she grew, we continued to provide choices of toys and colors to avoid stereotypical trappings. In Europe, I found baby and kids' clothes share a wholly different color palette of tans, mustards, blacks, browns and greens. The clothing for babies and children much more closely matches the aesthetic of what a European adult would wear in both style, color and functionality.”
By age 2, however, Woolsey's daughter started gravitating toward a different style. “The only time she wasn't dressed in pink was if she was wearing a gown, tutu or tiara — something to indicate her princess-ness in another way," Woolsey says. "She is brilliantly headstrong and we welcomed her style input as a means of making daily routines easier. Soon, her closet became awash with girlier items. At that point, it hit me: As parents, we offer her choices. But when she chooses something, it then becomes our job to support her.”
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