Ask AJ #2

by humanmama on July 2, 2011

I actually had a little contest for this one, and Miss Dorothy from Pittsburgh won. She wrote,

“Why blue for boys and pink for girls, AJ?”

Well, let’s see. Now I have to do some actual research! It seems that there has been some recent research supporting the idea that boys perfer blue on the majority, and that girls prefer pink. Although this article was published in 2007 and so is pretty current, it was one of the few that still mentioned a link to gender when predicting our color preferences. (–its-in-our-genes-462390.html Boys Like Blue, Girls Like Pink – It’s In Our Genes)

Many different articles said that for hundreds of years, boys and girls were dressed in light, springy colors while still infants. Adulthood, especially in the 1800s and 1900s, meant a lifetime of hard labor in farms or factories for most people. There was plenty of time to dress in dark, non-staining colors that didn’t show dirt. So boys and girls were both dressed in sweet, light-colored dress-type flowy outfits (probably for ease of diaper change. Thank heavens for disposable diapers, even though we need to now find a way to get rid of them, too).

As we moved through the years there was more emphasis on “boy’s colors ” versus “girl’s colors.” So they had a preference, but it’s not the one you’re thinking. It seemed that at the time pink (since it was a watered-down red) was presumed to be  more of a boy’s color, since at the time red said “angry” and “masculine.” Blue seemed to many more “dainty” and was more of a girl’s color.

“There has been a great diversity of opinion on the subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. 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.” [trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department, June, 1918]

There are of course some examples before the 20th century….

In a passage from Louisa May Alcott’s 1868-’69 blockbuster Little Women, a female twin is distinguished by a pink ribbon and a male twin by a blue one, but this is referred to as “French fashion,” suggesting it wasn’t the rule over here. (

One of my favorites is in the Smithsonian magazine which says, basically, it used to be white, gender-neutral clothes until about age six, but what happened then? Jo B. Paoletti, a historian at the University of Maryland and author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America was quoted in the article as saying:

“What was once a matter of practicality—you dress your baby in white dresses and diapers; white cotton can be bleached—became a matter of ‘Oh my God, if I dress my baby in the wrong thing, they’ll grow up perverted,’ ” Paoletti says. (

It seemed that the thing that really pushed girls towards the pink end of the color wheel was WWII Nazi sentiment. The Nazis has an extensive system of identifying their prisoners. Jewish prisoners, as is widely known, were marked with a yellow star. Other groups wore mainly triangles of different colors. Green triangle meant “criminal,” political prisoners wore red, etc. (Here’s a really scary photo of a chart used for identifying.) For homosexuals, the triangle was pink. This fact may have been enough to condemn pink to the “girly” side forever, leaving blue for (I suppose here we’re presuming straight) boys. After the 1950’s, it seems, pink/blue were established as the girl/boy colors.

So, why does that pink/blue sentiment still remain? I know a great little boy whose favorite color is pink, but he won’t take a pink popsicle unless you give it to him, because he knows (at 4 years old) that pink isn’t very “acceptable” for boys.

Boys! Men! Let’s reclaim pink for you. My girls always wore blue: in fact, Helena and I painted her room blue: her favorite color. Whenever I would put her in a blue dress as a baby, little old ladies would stop me on the street to say “Oh, dear, HE is just ADORABLE!” I always wanted to say “Yeah, Daddy doesn’t like it when I put ‘him’ in those pink tights, but oh well!”

Who knows? Maybe in 50 years everyone can like whatever color they wish. It doesn’t really phase me either way. Although when you have a little girl, you’re seeing pink for years. Geez, I thought, I wouldn’t mind a little gender-bias-change towards green or something.

Until then!


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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

aunt bea bea July 3, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Woah woah woah um the nazis made the distinction formal? Quick lemme return the sample of blue paint we got for our son’s room!!


aj July 5, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Haha, um… I’ll pick you up some green and purple paint later. Actually it wasn’t the Nazis saying “Let’s make blue for girls,” but it really does seem that after the pink triangle boys went permanently to the “Blue” and girls to “pink.”

Strange, right?


Katie B. July 7, 2011 at 7:41 pm

I will never forget the first time I took Erin to the mall. She was wearing this ADORABLE white light weight corduroy dress with a blue ribbon trim and yellow ducks on it. Every time someone stopped to look at the cute baby the would remark how sweet HE was or He is such a good baby. I wanted to say something snide but all I could muster was “Thank you SHE is a very good baby.”


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