Pink wasn’t always for girls

November 10, 2017 at 11:00 am 1 comment

Pink is for girls and blue is for boys—or at least that’s what marketing tells us. Interestingly, it wasn’t always this way. In fact, it was the opposite for a long time, with boys being dressed in pink while blue was preferred for girls. No one is completely sure why the colors flipped but as it turns out, catalogue marketing teams may be partially to blame.

Traditionally, pink was associated with boys because it was a shade of red and considered to be a “stronger” color. Blue was thought of as pretty and delicate, making it suitable for girls. In reality, though, children of both sexes tended to be dressed in white for simpler cleanup. Kids’ clothes were rarely gendered during this time period. Even an 1890 copy of the Ladies’ Home Journal (a US publication) reads, “Pure white is used for all babies—blue for girls and pink for boys, when a color is wished.”

Even as recently as 1918, catalogues were still recommending blue as a “much more delicate and dainty tone” for girls. These rules were not set in stone. As one New York Times article put it, “The pink is usually considered the color for a boy and the blue for a girl, but mothers use their own taste in such matters.” In other words, neutral white was the norm and if parents wanted to choose a specific color, blue was preferred for girls and pink was preferred for boys.

Changing times

As the United States entered the 20th century, these color recommendations began to change. By this point, certain regions were switching the colors up. A book published in 1926 stated, “In different sections of the country there are different interpretations of colors for children. The old symbolism, however, is blue for a girl and pink for a boy.” Although the exact reasons are still unknown, southern states were beginning to flip the colors.

Even though there was some disagreement on baby colors at this point, it still wasn’t considered a major debate. In general, parents just did whatever they wanted and stores didn’t gender kids’ clothes. This was especially true during the early feminist movement, which promoted gender neutral clothing. It wasn’t unusual to see baby boys dressed in pink and vice versa, there wasn’t much of a controversy either way.

Pink is for girls and blue is for boys…for now

In the 1980s, prenatal testing became common enough that most parents were finding out their baby’s sex in advance. This led to an explosion of gendered marketing—with ads and catalogues selling parents on the idea of “blue for boys and pink for girls.” This was great for the advertisers because parents now felt the need to buy a whole new wardrobe based on their future baby’s sex. The idea stuck and is still the norm today in many countries, including France, Italy, Switzerland, and Canada.

Modern psychological studies have confirmed that young boys and girls don’t have innate preferences for pink or blue. These preferences develop as the kids grow up in a gendered world—with girls being dressed in pink and given pink toys while boys learn to reject the “girly” color. In cultures without gendered clothing colors, there is no connection between sex and color preference.

Although some of the history is a bit vague when it comes to gendered colors, it’s clear that there’s never been one single rule. Kids’ clothing was gender neutral for a long time. Even when there were rules, they were sometimes the opposite of the modern “pink is for girls, blue is for boys.” Since color preferences have nothing to do with biology, the modern color “rules” are largely a marketing tactic that may change yet again.

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Sources: Ladies’ Home Journal,,, Pink and Blue, Springer, Science Direct


Entry filed under: Despite Popular Belief, History and Origins. Tags: , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Charyl Upton  |  November 10, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    What a cute baby!!!


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