Figure 1.--Rompers were very popular for younger children. They often came in two sizes, these were made for children from 2-6 years. These rompers were available from the 1922 Montgromery Ward 1922 catalog. Notice that they were made in blue and pink, suggesting that modern colors conventions were beginning to become established.

Gender and Color

Modern gender color conventions in merica are blur for boys and pink for girls. Yellow is a gender neutrl color. Blue can be worn by girls, but pink is rarely worn by boys. The single exception seems to be preppy syles which favor pastels. Other colors can be worn by both boys and girls. These color conventions are now firmly established. This has not always been the case. We are attemting to collect information on just when these conventions were estanlished in America.


Jo B. Paoletti and Carol Kregloh maintain that in the United States, pink and blue were not used routinely as baby colors until early in the 20th century, and then were used interchangeably. HBC has noted pink and blue clothing for younger children by the 1920s, although they did not always specifically indicate which color was for who. The current pink for girls and blue for boys wasn't uniform until the 1950's. She insists that there are plenty of examples of boys' clothing in pink prior to that time. HBC cannot yet confirm this. Karin Calvert talks about the pink for girls/blue for boys color code as an early 20th-phenomenon in her article in American Home Life, 1880-1930, edited by Jessica Foy and Thomas J. Schlereth. These researcers have spent some time researching the topic, so I give considerable creedence to their work. I plan to assess their conclusions, however, through further research.


One of HBC's primary sources of information are old photographs. They are, however, of little use in assessing color conventions because most photographs until the 1970s were black and white. Of greater use are clothes catalogs which often specify colors and have the added avantage of being dated.

Best rompers (1912)

Best & Co., a New York department store offered a variety of romper suits in its 1912 catalog. There were both boys' and children's (Boy and girl) romper suits. The children's rompers had pink or blue color options, suggestong gender-based color options. The ad copy did not, however, specifically state that these were gender appropriate options. One boys' romper suit also had pink as a color option.

Sears blouses (1897)

Sears in 1897 advertise a range of boys' blouces, both fancy an plain. Some of the blouses, also referred to as "waists", were available in pink. Clearly Sears did not consier pink to be an exclusively girls color.

Wards rompers (1922)

Montgromery Ward in 1922 offered a range of rompers for boys and girls up to age 6. Most styles were available in blue or pink. None of the styles were esignated for boys or girls. So presumably the blue/pink choice was a gender convention.


Stereoscopes were popular for the Victorian and Edwardian parlor. They appeared in the mid-19th century. They were of course two black an white images taken at slightly different angles so as to produce a visual stereo effect. Available ones from the early 1900s sometimes used pink for boys' clothes. Studying these slides I note that any group picture, blue and pink are very commonly used to color the images. They do not, however, appear to signal gender, but some boys are clearly epicte with pink outfits. The question, of course, is to what extent these were colors actually worn or if the painteror company just thought it was a goo iea to paint the boys with pink outfits and that indiviuals purchasing the sterescopes, probably mostly women, would find boys in pink sweet.

Individual Examples

HBC has noted some interesting facts:

Fraklin Roosevelt, 1885

Sarah Roosevelt cut Fraklin's curls about 1885 when he was 3 years old. The curls were saved by her and are on dispaly at Hyde Park. They were tied with blue bows. I don't know for sure if Franklin wore hairbows as a small child or if the bows were added after they were cut to secure them, but they were a pale blue. The color almost certainly would have shown up as white in an old black and white photograph.


No other individual reports are available at this time.


Jo B. Paoletti and Carol Kregloh, "The Children's Department," in Claudia Brush Kidwell and Valerie Steele, ed.,Men and Women: Dressing the Part, (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989).

"Clothing and Gender in American Children's Fashions 1890-1920," Signs, 13:1, (Autumn 1987), p. 136-143.

"The Gendering of Infants' and Toddlers' Clothing in America," in Katharine Martinez and Kenneth Ames, ed. The Material Culture of Gender/The Gender of Material Culture, (The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, 1997)


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Created: February 20, 1999
Last updated: 4:11 AM 3/5/2009