Gender and Color: Pink--Dated Examples

One way to follow gender conventions is to document dated examples ofboys wearing pink clothing. Here we have a variety of sources. A variety of early sources are of course paintings. These paintings, epecially the contemporary portraits are probably firly accurate depictions of the use of color in various time periods. By the late 19th century we have advertisements from newspapers, magazines, andcatalogs. We have noted pink use in paintings. As these advertisements actually offered garments for sale, we believe they are accurate indications of color usage. Of course we do not know how well such garments sold, but we do not believe that comapies would continue offering pink garments if they did not sell. One source we have not usedhere is hand painted postcards, as the colors painted on often imaginary. e have just begun to collect these examples, but now have several from a number of different countries over time.

The 1770s

Sir Thomas Gainsborough is perhaps the most renounded English portratists. Two of his most famous portraits deal with boys in colored costumes. The most famous is "Blue Boy". For some reason "Pink Boy" is less well known. "Blue Boy" has been endlessly reproduced, but not "Pink Boy", I am not sure why. Neither of these portraits are contemporary depictions, but rather efforts to depict 17th century cavalier fashions.

The 1780s-1800s

Sir William Beechey was the foremost portraitist in Britain in the late 18th and early 19th century. He started his career painting portraits of the landed gentry around Norfolk. He was appointed as the court painter to Quenn Charlotte. He painited the cream of Regency society, including Lord Nelson. His charming portaits of families provide wonderful glimses into Regency society, including children's clothes. Many of the children pictured wear white dresses with colored sashes and bows, both blue and pink. HBC can not discern any gender connventions.


Joseph Wright of Derby painted the Synnot children of County Armagh in Ireland. One of the boys wears a pink outfit, an early skeleton suit with knee breeches.

The 1820s

We know that bows and girls wearing white dresses wore blue sashes. We are not yet sure to what extent they also wore pink and other colored sashes in the early 19th century. A 3 1/2 year old John Ruskin was painted in 1822 by James Northcote, National Portrait Gallery. The hills in the background "as blue as my shoes" were included at the reqiest of young John, who reportedly felt the "idea of distant hills was commected in my mind with the approach to the extreme felicities of life". It is unclear to HBC why he is holding a blue ribbon. But his mother clearly liked blue sashes and bows, Note the long sash flowing from a bow at his back, bows on his shoulders, and bows on his blue shoes.

The 1850s

We notice that English poetress Elizabeth Bsarett Browning's maid Wilson made a pink craddle lining and pink pillow for Elizabeth's expdcted baby which she hoped would be a girl. She wrote to her sister Henrietta in 1859 and mentioned this and advising Herietta that pink was the color for a girl. [Forster, p. 230.] We are not entirely sure how to interpret this. It is clear that both Wilson and Elizabeth saw pink as the color for a girl. But why did Elizabeth feel constrained to advise Herietta of this. Does this mean that the convention was not as well established as Elizabeth seems to have believed. Also we wonder if therewas class differences. Was the convention more a convention for the affluent class that Elizabeth represented. Wilso of course came from working-class roots, but working as a servanbt exposed her to the conventions of the affluent.

The 1860s

We note an American boy, Frank Clifton, in a CDV portrait with his bow tinted pink. We suspect this was because pink tint was available for rosy cheeks and not because the bow was pink.

The 1880s

Helen Allingham painted her son Henry in pink dresses and white pinafores during the 1880s. I'm not sure if this meant that were not yet any established color conventions or that Mrs. Allingham just liked pink. While the modern color conventions were not well established, we do note examples of girls in pink and boys in blue. A good example is a shoe advertisement, we believe in the 1880s.

Figure 2.--This boy's portrait was taken about 1895. He wears a brown Fauntleroy suit with a ruffled collar and pink bow of rathervmoderate size. We are unsure about the popularity of either the brown suit or pink bow. The bow, however, suggests that modrn color conventions were still not established.

The 1890s

The boy's shown here had his portrait taken about 1895 (figure 2). Unfortunately he is unidentified and the portrait is unsigned. He is , however, almost ceratinly American. He wears a brown Fauntleroy suit with a ruffled collar and pink bow of rather moderate size. We are unsure about the popularity of either the brown suit or pink bow. The bow, however, suggests that modrn color conventions were still not established. We notice an Italian-American boy wearing a pink blouse with a large ruffled collar in the 1890s. We also notice an American boy's striped shirt (pink, blue, and navy) from the 1890s.

The 1910s

Post cards were very popular in the early 20th century. Many poscards feature children. Many commercial were photo postcards. This meant black and white photographs. Some of these cards, however, were colorized. Pink was one of the colors being used and it was used gor both boys and girls. This is not evidence that boys were commonly wearing pink. The colorized postcards made no real attempt to match the colors actually worn. The people doing the colorizing commonly had no idea what color the children were wearing. The use of pink, however, suggests it was a color that was not considered outlandish at the time.


We note a very young English boy wearing a pink playsuit in a 1928 portrait. We know nothinf about the boy other than he must have come from an affluent family to have his portrait painted. He is wearing a playsuit showing the increasingly casual, practical styles that childre were wearing.


We note a French catalog from 1934. The ad copy reads, "Costume garçonnet , Velour côtelé, ciel, rose, ou blanc; culotte doublée. Nansouk 1 à 3 ans 19,75 francs." That means, "Suit for little boy . Ribbed velvet in sky or pink or white. Short pants lined with Nansouk cloth. 1 to 3 years old Price: 19.75 francs." Notice this suit was rather expensive, but it seems to be first quality. These pants didn't have fly whic has common for boys until 6-8 years old.


A French reader has provide us a copy of a 1936 copy. This is another page from the la Samaritaine catalog. Note tht before 1938, rompers offten had regular, non-puffed pants.


Another catalog is from " la Redoute" 1959 one of the first stors to offer a mail order catalog. This firm still exsit today and is becoming vey big. Model K is a " Costume Bloomer" . This rompe-like style was only for little boys. The comparable garments for ittle girls were different. Girls had short dresses without the romper-like puffed pants. A French reader tells us, "On one HBC page you have written for girl; that is wrong." (HBC plans to review these pages and amke appropriate correction.) The ad copy for Model l - Ref. AX.424 reads, "Made in perfect work; a beautifull suit in two pieces " Redoute" ( blouse and bloomer ) in very good non-shrink poplin; In white or yellow. Blouse with fine emboiteries in color with round collar scalloped. Pants with suspenders, buttoned at the croch. Excellent article, very recommended ; perfect as a present 1 to 4 years old; 1390,00 Francs for the the 1 year size." La Redoute also offers a romper pink. The ad copy for G - Ref.AZ.336 reads, "Romper " Redoute" in Vichy checked material, in pink or sky (blue); the front is with emboiteries (smocking); Long 40 cm (for boy 1 year), 45 cm (boy 2-3 years), 50 cm ( boy 4-5 years)." These are the same style in dress for girl. Note the puffed sleeves, this model of romper was the most popular, and could be found alredy in 1936. Still today some retailers offer the same style, but not in pink and not for such old boys.


Forster, Margaret. Elizabeth Barrett Browning: A Biography (Doubleday: New York, 1989), 400p. Forster beklieves that it was unecessary for Elizabeth to advise Henritta that pink was for girls. I'm not sure on what basis she makes this judgement. Too often writers makes such statements based on modern rather than contemporary conventions.


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Created: December 1, 1999
Last updated: 5:55 AM 11/11/2009