The Olden Days

Jo Paoletti’s great slideslow of shower cards for new babies, 1915-1957

It is fun and instructive to go back in time and look at how gendered choices for children have changed over time. For some reason, this photo of FDR in a dress has become the icon for the difference — but there are lots of photos of little boys in dresses, long hair, and pink. (More here.)

Mostly, there seemed to be less difference between white middle and upper-class boys and girls when young. And what we think of as “feminine” today was the norm. Both boys and girls wore dress-like garments, often until they started school. The dresses toddlers wore were often called frocks. Boys “graduated” to short pants in a ceremony known as breeching; on the first occasion they were dressed in pants, they sometimes took two pictures, one in their frock and the second in their new “big boy” attire.

Paoletti has another interesting slideshow that alternates 1922 customs for dressing infants and children with illustrations from the Sears catalog.

A point she makes in both slideshows is that formerly, parents did not know the sex of their children before birth. Yet they needed to purchase a layette for their newborns, so that they would have clothes when they arrived, and they needed to have birth announcements ready, and shower cards before the birth. So parents just chose colors they liked; there was no assumption that the pink or blue was indicative of gender.

When I was pregnant and we chose not to share the sex of the baby (because we wanted a wider variety of clothes than all blue football-toting teddy bears or all pink ballerinas), I was asked, “How am I supposed to shop if I don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl?!” What an interesting interplay of technology, marketing forces, and social constructs!

This entry was posted in Clothing, HIstory, Parenting, Shopping, Social construction and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Olden Days

  1. John Prusik says:

    Yes. When wil we stop making boys feel bad about showing their feminine side?

  2. Sharon Myers says:

    In Belgium and Poland it’s the other way around, where pink is for boys and blue for girls. In older days pink – as it is related to red – was also considered to be a masculine colour, blue was feminine (the virgin Mary always wears blue in art). Little boys in dresses wasn’t about gender, it was more practical. In lower class families clothes were home made and being used for every new baby. And nappies back then weren’t exactly the quality we have today, so a toddler in a dress was easier to keep clean.

  3. Pingback: The Olden Days: Pink is for Boys | Author Laura Lee

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