« Birthdays | Main | Not in the Hospital »

On the Blue and the Pink

As a father-to-be (twenty-two days until the due date, for those who are counting) I've been wondering a lot about the whole blue-is-for-boys, pink-is-for-girls thing. We don't know whether we're having a girl or a boy, so clothing and interior decorating choices have been driven towards gender-neutral colors, whatever that means. What does that mean? Where do these associations come from? How have we developed gut reactions to pink and blue? And how universal are these associations?

I took my questions to Google, where I did not find them easy to research, for all of the obvious reasons. But I did manage to find a couple of sites offering some commentary.

In archived comments from the bulletin board at Color Matters there are suggestions that the associations became well established in the United States in the 1950s, but that historically in religious and other images the colors were often associated the other way around: blue with femininity and the Virgin Mary, and red with masculinity and ferocity. (Linguists will also note one comment about the evolving meaning of color names themselves.)

More details turned up at Historical Boys' Clothing in an article about the color pink. The article presents some interesting citations: the Ladies Home Journal of June 1918 is cited therein asserting that "pink [is] a more decided and stronger color [and] more suitable for the boy," while "blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is pertier for the girl." Four years earlier the Sunday Sentinel [Newspaper] recommended pink for boys and blue for girls, "if you are a follower of convention." Pink sailor suits were apparently common for boys in the early twentieth century, but by the middle of the century Emily Post demanded the modern color associations (the article's author did not research the matter of when this prescription made into Etiquette; if someone out there knows, please enlighten us!). My favorite citation is that of Louisa May Alcott who in 1869 wrote in Little Women that a mother of twins "put a blue ribbon on the boy and a pink on the girl, French fashion, so you can always tell them apart." Could Little Women's popularity be the source of the contemporary style?

It's clearly useful when a child is very young to be able to identify its gender from its clothing if not from its face; this can avoid some awkward social moments. But it only works if the language of color is shared by parents and those they meet. Clearly boy/blue and girl/pink are relatively recent innovations (or at least recent fashions) in America, which nixes the idea that there might be anything universal at the root of all this. If I take my child overseas will pink or blue clothes distinguish its gender? I would be particularly interested in your comments!


I don't know the origin of blue for boys, pink for girls but I fear it may arise out of the same mind set that has people telling litle boys they shouldn't cry and encouraging little girls not to get dirty when they play, etc. This kind of stuff gets started even before they leave the hospital (yep, they've done research on this. For example, baby girls tend to get more gentle caresses and are spoken to more softly than baby boys, even in those very first days). Let litle boys play with dolls! Let little girls play with front loaders! Let's liberate everybody!

Okay. So I've embarrassed myself by neglecting to read your full post with all the info about how this gender/color stuff has evolved over time. Pink for boys? Egad!

I say let everyone wear ultraviolet.

My son is nearly one year old. When I was pregnant and didn't know what gender he'd be, I only bought certain yellows and greens that could be universal for either gender...

About three months after he was born, I started buying blues and reds for him. Apparently, his long eyelashes and beautiful blue eyes seemed to indicate to more than half the strangers who saw him that he was a girl. I think I was more concerned about dressing a girl all in pink, but now I became concerned about his perspective if everyone he met kept assuming he was a girl!

It's interesting that it would never occur to me to dress a boy in pink, but to dress a girl in blue would seem fine. Perhaps because I'm a tomboy at heart and loathed the pink frilly dresses my grandmother bought me as a child.

I also find it interesting, that in a world that favors boys, so many people choose to identify him as a girl when they weren't sure. Perhaps that's a defense mechanism to defend against people who have a girl but wanted a son instead?

We just wanted a healthy child...

In "Baby Island," a children's novel by American author Carol Ryrie Brink (published 1937), a pair of boy twins are distinguished by being dressed in pink and blue.

I am currently researching "pink for girls" throughout history, and thought I should let you know that I too found the same reference on the Historical Boys' Clothing, but after researching the original editions of Ladies' Home Journal from 1918, I was unable to substantiate the reference. In fact, it looks as though the associations of pink for girls and blue for boys were already somewhat in place, although not to the level that they are today. The quote included from Little Women is not even correctly transcribed, although the correct sentiment is there. I guess it just goes to show you can't believe everything you read on the Internet.

I can not verify the following, it is something I heard: Pink for girls because "Pink is the color of flesh", Blue for boys because "Blue is the color of the heavens". I hope this is not true but I have a feeling it is.

You may be interested in the following URLs:


i was interest of your article, because just now i also want to pass up an assignment for my college's tutor is about why male was always associated with blue, and women with pink, i hate that!

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)