Whether it’s books, toys, or clothes, gender categories for children are more rigid now than in any other time in our history.
From a business perspective, it makes perfect sense because you sell twice as much. But as a parent and a consumer, I had to take a step back and a moment of pause, and evaluate if I wanted to concede to this cultural norm and begin gender-coding my children’s lives before they were even born.
Turns out, there’s a lot to consider on this topic (I’ll share more below), and my partner and I have done a lot of learning and decided those gender stereotypes are not welcome in our house.
We’ve instead chosen to move toward a lifestyle that embraces a genuine appreciation of self-expression, individuality, and creativity. We’re both so happy and hopeful when it comes to offering our little ones honest and loving space for self-discovery and authentic living.
It’s with this in mind that Abi and I have consciously designed the majority of our garments.
We want our children to have room to be who they are and lead the way as they grow, develop, and eventually present themselves to the world. We want to support our children’s journey to discovery, versus defining the discovery itself.
If this is all new to you, here’s the lowdown on gender neutral fashion and why I’m embracing this movement with all my heart.
What Exactly Is Gender Neutral Clothing?
The gender neutral fashion movement aims to create garments that every child can enjoy regardless of their gender, and rejects the idea that pink is for girls and blue is for boys—and that girls should be delicate while boys should be rugged. Kids can just be kids and get down to the business of play!
The goal behind gender neutral clothing (and toys) is to free children from social expectations based on their sex. We often aren’t even aware of how our current cultural norms and definitions around gender are subtly programmed into the psyche of our children.
I was once on a flight with my husband and the flight attendant offered him a magazine from a selection of The Economist, Entrepreneur Mag, Newsweek, and the like. She then looked at me and said these exact words as she held out People, Cosmopolitan and Vogue: “Would you like a lady magazine?” I was floored. Yes, I enjoy fashion and some occasional pop culture, but I am also a competent, successful business professional.
The thing is, this way of thinking is so deeply ingrained in our society and continues to be passed on to our children one seemingly harmless comment at a time—that’s just how culture works. That is, until individuals begin to recognize and collectively pursue a better route. And then...the culture evolves, or dare I say, progresses.
Sweden is ranked as one of the top five countries in the world for gender equality and they currently have a few innovative preschools that are experimenting with a completely gender neutral way of being: the teachers aren’t even told the sex of the children.
This may sound extreme, but the reason they are doing so is because they filmed themselves for a year and found that they used different words and tones when talking to boys versus girls. In our current gender-restrictive paradigm, girls are most complimented on their appearance as opposed to their interests or abilities, while boys are often taught to be tough and bury their emotions, sometimes leading to a whole host of body image and mental and emotional struggles later in life. For us, embracing more gender neutral children’s items makes perfect sense, as it helps break this cycle and allows our little ones to flourish without the historical baggage of what it means to be male or female.
What’s more, gender neutral clothing often embodies minimalist, pattern-free garments and with more natural colors, styles, and tones. After reading the book, Simplicity Parenting, and learning about how dizzying patterns and clothing choices can overwhelm and cloud our children’s senses as they seek to discover their world, I am even more dedicated to simple, gender neutral fashion choices for my children, and to designing childrenswear that echoes the tenets of this important movement.
Pink and Blue: A History
Actually, there’s nothing inherently masculine or feminine about any color, and the whole “pink is for girls; blue is for boys” tradition is relatively recent, as is the culture of kid-specific fashion. Up until pretty far into the 1800s, all newborn babies were typically dressed in gender neutral outfits, and those familiar pastel hues and garish patterns only became popular around the turn of the 20th century. But—and here’s the surprise—up until the 1940s, pink was seen as the more masculine color.
During the social upheaval of the 1960s, strict gender divisions in fashion eased somewhat, but these divisions came back with a vengeance in the 1980s, when it became possible for parents to find out their baby’s gender before birth. So the bottom line is that “masculine” and “feminine” color trends come and go like the wind and kid-specific patterns are not, as it turns out, an intrinsic part of childhood.
When you step away from the confines of the modern, kid-specific fashion frenzy and experiment with the freedom of gender neutral fashion, you might even be surprised to find your little one is a budding, sophisticated minimalist. I sure was.
On top of that, when my son opens his wardrobe, he now experiences a sense of calm. His clothing no longer clutters his mind but offers him a blank canvas for his imagination and sense of self to soar.
Choosing a gender neutral wardrobe for your little ones is a huge win-win for kids, parents, and the planet itself in all these wonderful ways:
• It discourages imposed stereotypes that could impact your child’s development: When girls aren’t expected to be dainty and boys are no longer limited to being strong and tough, kids’ true selves can unfold freely.
• Kids get to express who they are: With unisex children’s clothing choices, your kids can choose pieces that reflect their amazing personalities and interests in whatever colors make them happy.
• Everyone can play vigorously: Gender neutral play clothes are designed for realistic movement and play, as opposed to some traditional clothing that can restrict movement, forcing them to play less athletically.
• Simplicity supports the senses: Clothing devoid of wild patterns and loud colors lets children’s senses tune in to what matters most—discovering the world around them.
• It’s budget friendly: Kids outgrow their clothes incredibly fast, but buying attractive, timeless clothing that both boys and girls can wear means each piece can be passed down to all the siblings, saving you lots of money.
• It encourages sharing: With so many interchangeable pieces that everyone can wear, it’s fun for kids to share and create new outfits and looks—or simply loan a shirt or scarf to a friend who needs one.
• It’s kinder to the planet: Less throwaway clothing means less garbage in landfills and less of a manufacturing carbon footprint. And since you won’t be driving to shops as often, you may also be using less gasoline.
Gender neutral fashion can certainly be a freeing, ongoing lifestyle, but this doesn’t have to be a strict either/or kind of decision for you or your kids. Remember, the whole point of the movement is self-expression without imposed rules or limits.
So if your kids begin to ask for more traditionally masculine or feminine clothing, that’s fine, too—as long as you allow them to lead the way. There may be times when it’s equally important for your child to experiment with gender stereotypes and extremes as they experiment with their sense of self. As parents, I feel the most important role we play is to offer them a foundation and then to honor the whole of their journey.