Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pink is for Boys, Blue is for Girls

I was listening to a weekly podcast of the "The Reality Check" by the Ottawa Skeptics, and they had this piece about the history of "pink for girls and blue for boys".

This assignment of colors, which is rather arbitrary, is particularly strong in the United States. Quite interestingly, the associated history is quite fascinating as discussed in the show (and this article at the Smithsonian Magazine).

Apparently before 1900, white was the color of choice for kids of both sexes almost until first World War - partly because colored clothes were more expensive, and partly because whites could be bleached clean (and partly because of social norms).

Here's where things get interesting.
For example, a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw's Infants' Department said, “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.” Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies, according to Paoletti. 
In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. In Boston, Filene’s told parents to dress boys in pink. So did Best & Co. in New York City, Halle’s in Cleveland and Marshall Field in Chicago.
It wasn't until much later that the current practice became the norm. Neither the article nor the show delves into the factors responsible for the reversal. Given how hard it is to change arbitrary norms/formats (QWERTY keyboard, driving on the left/right side) that have gained some currency, this is definitely something interesting.

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