I was asked recently if a particular shade of pink would be suitable for a sweater for a baby boy and my immediate response was no. This made me realise just how strongly conditioned we have become (or at least me) to assigning these colours to either boy or girl. I can understand how using specific colours allows for immediate identification of the sex of the baby, which is usually the first thing we want to know when we see a new born, but how long has using pink or blue been the norm?
It appears up until the mid 19th century all baby clothes were neutral and both sexes were dressed the same with baby boys wearing what would appear to be dresses. This was for practical purposes, it made changing nappies easier. Colours for baby clothes were predominately white, again for practical reasons; soiled clothes could be boiled and bleached to clean them.
At the beginning of the 20th century we have the emergence of using pink and blue for babies, but it seems to have been the other way round. In a parents magazine of 1909 pink was thought to be more suitable for a boy, being a lighter version of red it was thought to be a stronger colour, while blue was thought to be a gentle pretty colour and more suited to girls. But we don’t know if this was the common practice at the time.
Only after the Second World War with the rise of consumerism we start to see the serious emergence of pink for a girl and blue for a boy. It is thought it may have started as a trend in France to use these colours on babies and since France dominated fashion in the 20th century it was a fashion that stuck and these colours were successfully marketed to us.
I came across an interesting article which suggested we maybe prehistorically conditioned to favouring blue for boys and pink for girls. A scientific study on colour preference was done by Newcastle University (2007) were colours were shown to a culturally diverse mix of both sexes . Females naturally preferred the red/pink part of the colour spectrum while men preferred the blue/green part. The conclusion was that back in our days as a Hunter/gatherer, clear blue skies for the man meant good hunting, while women would have been conditioned to seeking out the pinks and reds of berries and fruits to gather.
I think a lot more research needs to be done before I’m convinced of the prehistoric conditioning. I think our pink for a girl and blue for a boy is probably down to a clever marketing ploy.