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The history of pink and blue

We recently celebrated my daughter’s birthday with a big party.
Up until about 100 years ago there were no colours assigned for gender.
Up until about 100 years ago there were no colours assigned for gender.

We recently celebrated my daughter’s birthday with a big party.  On Saturday morning I’m going over my to-do list when the phone rings and it’s the bakery, they’ve run out of cupcakes (understandable those things are delicious!), and would I be ok with a slab cake instead.

 Yes, sure, fine – then the baker says “I see here you wanted superhero cupcakes, would you like that on the cake instead?” I inform him that we already have a Batman ice cream cake coming we’ll do a Trolls cake. “Is your child a girl or a boy? We can decorate the cake accordingly.”  I reply that she is a she, no girly stuff and to please just decorate it to match the picture on the cake.  

Then he says “Oh yeah I hear ya, I’ve got a tomboy of a daughter as well.” Wait – what? Suddenly she’s a tomboy because we don’t want some superfluously feminine cake? Now I’m agitated. “She’s not a tomboy, she just doesn’t like girly crap,” I say snappishly.  It’s quiet for a moment until he says “Okay…you can pick up the cake at 1.”  I felt bad, he was merely trying to do his job, but why does her gender matter when it comes to icing?  Why is pink for girls and blue for boys?  I’ll clear this up right now, they are not.  

Up until about 100 years ago there were no colours assigned for gender.  In fact all babies and children until the age of 6 or so wore white.  White was bleachable and could be passed down to younger siblings, saving the cost of additional clothes for the twelfth child.  It wasn’t until Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department published an article advocating for boys to wear pink and girls to wear blue that things began to change.  

Earnshaw’s is a trade publication directed at retailers of children’s products and in 1918 they wrote the following: “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. 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.” 

In 1927 four of the United States largest retailers put a chart in Time magazine outlining gender appropriate colours, again insisting boys wear pink and girls wear blue.  That lasted until the 1940’s when clothing manufacturers and retailers decided to switch the colours, which brings us to the modern pink for girls, blue for boys.  Why were genders given colours for their clothing and toys? 

Simply put – for the profits.  Marketers, manufacturers, and retailers were shrewdly aware that parents would not give their son his sisters’ pink items, it could make him a sissy; and choosey Moms know not to give their daughters her brothers’ toys or clothes, she could inadvertently become brawny.  

Families could no longer use hand-me-downs to siblings of a different gender and had to go out and buy all new items. I should mention that in all the research I did for this article I could not find anything explaining the reasoning behind gender colours or why they switched in the 40’s; it would appear to be completely arbitrary.  And her cake? 

When I picked it up that afternoon it was tastefully decorated in both pink and blue.