Gender and Color: Pink--Dated Observations

Figure 1.--This sailor suit was worn by an American boy in 1908. It was donated to the National Museum of American history (NMAH) by Mrs. Henry Zon and Mrs. Henry Bacas.

At one point pink was considered more of a boy's color, as a watered-down red, which is a fierce color) and blue was more for girls. The associate of pink with bold, dramatic red appears to heavy affected its use for boys. We have noted the following fashion preferences to pink in clothing catalogs and fashion magazines as well as various other references. These dated references provide a way of assessing the development of accepted conventions associasyed with the color pink which are today quite strong.

The 1900s

1902: America

This sailor suit was made in chambray, a fine cloth, usually of cotton but also of silk or linnen. In this case it was surely cotton. Surprising this suit was made in pink, showing that modern color conventions had not yet been established.

1908: America

A McCalls sewing patterm in 1908-09 had a tunic suit looking much like a Buster Browm suit, but with sailor styling. One of the several color option was pink.

1908: America

The sailor suit seen here was worn by an American boy in 1908 (figure 1). It was donated to the National Museum of American history (NMAH) by Mrs. Henry Zon and Mrs. Henry Bacas.

The 1910s

1914: America

An American newspaper in 1914 advised mothers, "If you like the color note on the little one's garments, use pink for the boy and blue for the girl, if you are a follower of convention." [The Sunday Sentinal, March 29, 1914.]

1918: America

A woman's magazine in 1918 informed mothers, "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 pertier for the girl." [Ladies Home Journal, June, 1918] This undoubteldy strikes modern readers as very surprising indeed. A British researcher writes us, "Like many other websites, you cite an interesting reference about pink being regarded at some time in the USA as more appropriate for boys, and blue for girls. This you (and many others) attribute to the Ladies Home Journal and specifically to the June 1918 edition. As a semiotician interested in the gendering of colours I went to the trouble of buying a copy of the June 1918 edition of the LHJ only to discover that no such reference was in that issue. I then made a special trip from Wales to England, to the British Library's newspaper library at Colindale in order to check all of the issues from 1913 to 1918 and I still found no such reference. I did note the similarity of style, however. Do you know exactly where this reference actually comes from or at least where you got it from? You are not alone in citing the reference. The Smithsonian Institution also does so (without naming the source) and the BBC website also did so. Google shows up many similar references. But they are all mistaken in identifying the source as the June 1918 edition of the LHJ. I did find pictures in the LHJ of that period in which boys were shown wearing pink. I would very much like to find the exact quotation, however. I did wonder if it might have been from one of the pamphlets produced by the LHR such as on something like 'Choosing Your Baby's Clothes'. Finding such pamphlets would be very difficult, however." [Chandler] Unfortunately HBC is not sure where we found this reference. We have been adding references here when ever we come across them in order to develop a time line on the development of modern gender conventioins.

The 1920s

The 1930s

1930s-40s: German

A HBC reader reports, "When I was a child in Germany during the 1930s and 40s, to wear pink was resisted by boys because it was condsidered to be underwear colour for girls and women. The stima st the time, however, was not as serious as it would be nowadays.

The 1940s

1940s: America

Some sources suggest it was not until the 1940s that the modern gender associations with color became universally accepted. HBC does not yet have, however, specific citations.

1940s-50s: France

A French reader tells us, "It's true, color convention were not absolutly compulsory as late as the 1950s. In some French catalogs , sometimes the boys clothes were proposed in pink, specialy if the article was combined with a other color. I recall that my Parents made smoks and rompers in pink Vichy (Gingham) and white shirt with combined embroideries in pink and blue. But it must be said that French mothers were much more fond of blue for their boys."

1945: America

In the short section entitled "Clothes at the Christening", we find: "At the christening everything the baby wears is white. But at other times the various colored accessories for a girl are supposed to be pink, and for a boy, blue." [Emily Post, Etiquette--The Blue Book of Social Usage (Funk and Wagnalls, New York, 1945). The originaql edition of this book was published in 1922 and there were revisions in 1927, 1931, 1934, 1937, and 1942. I am not sure if the reference to pink appeared in the 1927 edition, or just when it appeared.

The 1950s

1950s: America

The pink convention for girls was well established in America during the 1950s. We note, however that the "preppy" style appeared in th 1950s. One aspect was patel colored bitton-down shirts. We are not sure pink was one of the pastels, but we note that pink and other pastel shirts did appear in the 1990s.

The 1990s

1990s: India

A HBC reader reports,"In Kerala and other areas of southern India boys often wear pink bush-shirts decorated with sweet flowers etc. Instead of short pants they wear a short white skirt (lungi or dhoti). In school, however, they wear uniforms with shorts pants--except perhaps in very rural areas." HBC alnoted this in Kerala in the 1980s. We are unsure as to when this fashion first appeared.


Chandler, Dr Daniel. University of Wales Aberystwyth, E-mail message, November 20, 2004.

Deloyer, Christine. E-mail message, April 10, 2003.


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Created: December 1, 1999
Last updated: 5:03 PM 11/20/2004