It’s easy to think there’s no harm in dressing our children in slogans, or even certain colours and styles of clothing. They’re only small - they probably don’t even know what the words on their t-shirt say.
But if clothes are an expression of who we are - then when we’re little, clothes are an expression of what our parents want us to be.
This idea goes beyond blatant sexism - it's about the fact that girls clothes are often just ‘cute’ and ‘pretty’. In the long term, this sentiment really shapes things going forward; for both children and parents. These clothes and the resulting accolades set the tone for future expectations and when I really think about, they take away from seeing girls as anything else… like strong, smart, or determined.
It's not a wonder then that women make up only 23% of those in core STEM occupations in the UK. Here are just a few striking examples of rampant sexism in the children's clothing industry:
Target’s Marvel line includes tiny blue pajamas reading “Future Man of Steel,” while the pink version says “I Only Date Heroes.”
A boys black t-shirt says “Training to Be Batman,” and a purple t-shirt in the girls section says “Training to Be Batman’s Wife.”
Morrisons - a t-shirt reads "Little Man, big ideas" whilst the girls edition reads "Little girl, big smiles".
I can’t imagine anyone reading this blog would be heard telling a young girl that she couldn't be a mathematician or a scientist - but there are other, more subtle ways that we (and society) convey this message. And some of those ways, are through how we design, buy and tolerate children’s clothing.
Young girls form beliefs about themselves from a young age - what message does this clothing send them? And others around them - including boys?
Motifs like ‘be sweet’, ‘be lovely’, ‘little peach’, and ‘be pretty’,‘cuter than a cupcake’ and ‘attitude with a bow see also sweet, dainty’ etc. not impact our children and the way we see young girls?
A preliminary search of boys clothes portrays a much more active, confident and assertive picture, very rarely based around appearances:
Message focus on sport, adventure and being ‘chill’. We see images of trucks, bulldozers, sharks, sports - motifs about being a boss.
As more parents notice the disparity between girls and boys clothing, there has been more of a range in recent years and even recognition amongst some retailers. John Lewis for example, removed “girls” and “boys” labels from clothes, and also removed the separation of gendered clothing sections in stores. We applaud this stand - but as you can see from a quick skim of the clothing available to boys and girls, we still have a long way to go.
Clothing is of course just one facet in the complex system of sexism and projection of stereotypes - but it's one of the easiest that we can do something about.
Let's start by dressing girls in clothes that affirm they can be something more than a princess. Let's dress them in clothes not just with unicorns or bunnies, but a variety of animals. Let's dress them in reds, blues, greens - not just pink and purple. Let's show them they can be anything they want to be, and they're a lot more than pretty.