Gender neutral clothes & the official palette of newborns

Updated Oct 12 2015

1980My parents tried to raise me in relatively gender neutral clothing, and I fought it every step of the way. Mom would dress me in brown second-hand cords and yellow tshirts, only to be foiled by my paternal grandmother sending me Little House easter dresses from Sears, which I vastly preferred.

I remain amused by the photos like this one where I'm a grubby little hippie child in the woods, wearing my lacey finery and a tidy little headband. Although I would eventually go through my "lavender polyester sweat suit" phase in 5th grade, I looooved frilly stuff as a little girl. The only way my mother was able to convince me to wear pants more often was by telling me at age five that jeans made me look tall. I clearly remember thinking "Ooh, I want to look tall — I better wear more jeans."

I recounted this story recently for our friends Kate & Steve, who are trying to fend off the ubiquitous frilly princess girl clothes for their daughter Ruby. I was like, "You can try, and my parents sure did … and look what happened to me! I'm a billion times more froofy than my mom, love sparkly make up and wearing my pink heels with bows on the front." The thought crossed my mind that maybe I didn't care that much about gender neutral clothes.

And then. We started getting hand-me-down baby stuff from various friends and family who know we're having a boy. Little brown baby baseball hats. Lots of blue and brown stripes. A shirt and short set covered in fire engines. A onesie covered in monster trucks that said "Li'l Crusher" all over it. I quickly got overwhelmed. Many of the clothes are either pastel-y newborn things or somber BOY colors … navy, brown, grey, dark red. I like bright colors! Does this mean boys don't get to wear bright colors?

That day, I traded emails with a friend about adorable baby clothes, and when I showed her a purple hooded romper thing I was lusting over, she said "Oh, you really wanted a girl, didn't you?"

I thought to myself, BUT IT'S DEEP PURPLE! That's a girl color now?

So, feeling like the hand-me-downs were too BOY!! for me, I decided to poke around online to see what else was available. I started with onesies.

…and quickly learned that the official palette of newborns is Easter Egg Pastels. Everything is light pink and pale blue, custard yellow, and soft green. The weird thing here is that newborn vision is so poor that really the only colors that are actually interesting to them are black, white, and red. Why aren't baby clothes all zebra-print with big red hearts all over them? Why soft blue for boys and soft pink for girls? I want rockabilly flames and Victorian wallpaper patterns.

Luckily, I found a place that sells wholesale baby onesies in very bright colors. I will probably be stocking up on what *I* think of as gender neutral colors. Not pale green and yellow, but RED! ORANGE! KELLY GREEN! DEEP PURPLE! BLACK! WHITE! BRIGHT BLUE!

  1. I didnt want to pretty pretty princess out my baby girl either, and tried to do "gender neutral" but Im sure youve seen as I have, that thats pretty hard to do unless you want Yellow. Sometimes we buy her boy clothes just because they look cute. And she does own an orange tutu, and some pink stuff. But I refrain from buying pink if I can, because everything we get from relatives is all 100% pink. Pink is my favorite color, my wedding was pink! But is it her favorite color?

  2. I thought I was going to vomit going through the baby aisle at Toys R Us. So much pink! And I'm with HunnyDu, I love pink! But seriously folks. I don't care if my baby is female and people aren't immediately aware of her sex. It's not going to scar her for life if she gets mistaken for a boy because she's wearing blue. I love bright colours and think they are so much more appropriate for babies than pastels (which I can't stand!)

  3. Oh I so agree. My boy has had and still has, purple items of clothing (including converse lol!) and when he was younger, he had long hair. He was mistaken for a girl frequently. He has short hair now because he prefers it that way at the moment. I'm sure his tastes will change again at some point. I imagine him wanting to dye it blue when he's 15 lol! He doesn't seem to have *any* preconceived ideas on what are boyish colours. He states pink as one of his favourite colours.

  4. Just wanted to add that it extends to play as well. So many people seem to divide toys and play into "boy" and "girl" items and activities. It's so sad to see adults gender-stereotyping children – the child misses out on experiences as a result. Ozzy loves cars and trains and all that trad. boy stuff, but also stories about fairies, unicorns and other things many people seem to think are "for girls". He loves to make believe "house" and "cooking". He's also curious about makeup: What does it do? Why does Mama wear it? Can Ozzy wear it too? I let him experiment and he has his own face paints that he plays with. I'm not at all militant, but I really think it is our duty to bring our boys up to be gentle, sensitive, caring and empathic human beings. Society doesn't *need* our men to be the strong "protector". Boys should be encouraged to explore their nuturing side, it'll make them such wonderful partners, friends, and fathers of the future ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Amen, BadgerMama! My husband is currently reading a book called Pink Brain Blue Brain, which explores the ways in which how we encourage our children in different endeavors actually shapes changes their brain function to be better at those skills. For example, people love to talk about how "boys are good at THIS, girls are good at THAT" but the truth is that children of each gender get a lot of encouragement to be good at certain things, and that actually creates the skills that are supposedly innate. REALLY interesting stuff, and I think I'm going to make Dre write a book report on OBM about it when he's done. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I'm dying to order that book, mostly because I'm obsessed with the brain. One of my favorite studies had men and women playing with infants clad only in diapers. Some participants were told their assigned baby was a girl, others were told it was a boy. Results? People who thought they had girls (regardless of actual gender) faced them toward themselves and talked to them. People who thought they had boys faced them outward and encouraged them to play with external stuffs. Perceiving that girls are "more social" actually creates more social creatures, due to how we treat them? I don't believe anything is *solely* nature or nurture, but am always interested in looking at things from new angles.

  7. I'm not a parent, but I used to work in a children's clothing store, and the gender neutrality of it all drove me insane. People would love an outfit for their little girl, say a little dino hoodie, or a shirt that said "HERO" in super hero style font, talking about how she would love that. Then, as soon as they would see the little blue tag, they would put it away, saying "Oh, that's too bad." So, even though their daughter far preferred dump trucks or dinosaurs, they had to wear outfits with kittens or candy on it, because it had that sacred little pink tag. Also, once, because everyone claimed that our boy outfits were not cute enough (it's hard to be cute when you can wear navy, red, and brown) we did a softer line with brighter colors…several people actually came up to me and asked if our store wanted little boys to be gay. It was disgusting.

    I'm so glad that my fiance loves different types of children clothes, and has said to everyone in our family, when we have children of our own, get whatever is cute, not what is pink and pastel-y. We will undoubtedly be buying 'boys' clothing, because we are geeks and love things like space ships, video games, and superheros. And for onesies, I will stay away from those pastel horrors (it's fine if you like pastels, I just have always hated soft colors) and instead undoubtedly be stenciling those bright onesies with pictures of Yoda or the TARDIS.

  8. I'm a Momma of two, a six year old boy who loves playing with 'girl' toys (but he says it's okay because they're just cute little animals) and is currently growing out his hair so he can have a ponytail like his favorite wrestler and a ten month old girl who seems to love bright pink, zebra print, heavy metal and hockey. My son is at the age where his opinion is starting to matter with his clothing choices and I just recently bought my daughter some "boys" shirts based on the absolute awesomeness of the flash art print all over the one and the gorilla wearing 3D glasses on the other that she thought was hilarious. I, personally, don't believe that the clothing make the kid, it's the kid (and the kid's experiences) that make the kid and what we, as parents, choose to instill in them. They're their own little people with their own opinions and preferences (even babies, apparently, or so I've learned from my girly-girl daughter) just so long as we accept them for who they are despite what our society deems appropriate. Because isn't their self-esteem more important then what colour they're wearing anyways?

  9. And that's not the only reason girls get mistaken. I didn't have hair until I was almost two and I got mistaken as a boy in my pink frilly dresses all the time. The lack of hair was the only reason my mom could think of as to why they thought I was a boy.

  10. Helpful! My husband and I, when we've got a baby growing, don't plan to let anyone know the sex (it'll be our little secret), if only to avoid these things at baby showers:
    1) Too many gifts of clothes instead of useful things like books, and all of the accessories and attachments babies need.
    2) Anything in my two most hated colors of blue and pink. And anything with "Heartbreaker" or "Pop Star" or whatever. Blech.
    It occurred to us that this means we'll be seeing a lot of yellow and green. That's okaaaaay, but you know, the rainbow has other colors.

  11. The gender-stereotyping! I was conversing with boyfriend about this the other day – somehow, a whole range of 'girl' and 'boy' differences were impressed upon me when I was a child. The weirdest – boys can like red meat, but girls should prefer chicken or fish.

    • OMG I know it's a bit late to weigh in on this one but…

      As kids my Mum constantly worried that if my brother ate too much chicken she'd make him "gay" or "girlie"!! It was pretty much the only thing he'd eat though.

      25 years later he's a beard-sporting, fish and chicken eating, representing his country sportsman! Guess Mum had nothing to worry about, but yeah, I think this was a weird 80's thing for a while. And I rarely remember eating red meat.

    • I totally had this impressed upon me as well! And I was born very late 80's. Fortunately, it just made me feel proud and "tomboyish" to be such a huge fan of red meat, so….

  12. Couldn't agree more. We've been having the same dilemma made even harder/more complicated by the fact that we're not finding out the sex before hand. People keep telling me that we'll never be "prepared" if we don't know what colour to buy things in and my partner and I respond with a list of colours we think are pretty acceptable across the board: orange, purple, bright red, kelly green, etc. We recently bought a bunch of onesies from an organic kids clothing line our friends make and got them in bright blue, brown with orange ringers, and black all with adorable screen prints on them that are pretty gender neutral in our opinion (birds, swings, deer). When we showed them to a friend they responded by saying "oh so you think it's a boy then?" And we were all "huh?" no, a girl could wear these too!

    From watching my sister resist frilly things, to my own love of them, and watching my friend's kids grow up around me I think you can let your kid take the lead on fancy vs. tom boy (whether they're a boy or girl) once they get big enough to voice an opinion and in the meantime, we're all for bright kid like colours that don't stick to the pink/blue divide. (And it comes as no big surprise that on my last trip to a Scandanavian country much of the baby/kids clothes were in basic patterns, stripes and colours that were for the most part bold, bright and mixed and not falling into the pink/blue or pastel traps).

  13. This is great! I'm going to be a first time off-beat Aunt this spring and I can't wait to spoil my niece or nephew with some bad ass clothes.

  14. Great article AND comments! I've always loved how cute the bold, graphic, neutral baby stuff is but have forgotten that even I grew up with very gender defined clothes! I'll be checking out some of the sites people are posting for sure since two of my friends are expecting!

  15. Hi, I respect you all for wanting gender-neutral clothes, but when I was reading the article I had a thought I wanted to share. In the article it says that babies can only see black, white or red (or at least, big contrasts between colors). This means that, if baby-stuff is in pastel colors, babies do not get triggered over pale colors.
    This might, apart from cuteness perceived by some people, be a very good reason to decorate the crib or babies' room in pale colors. The baby then receives way less stimuli then in a bright room or crib and maybe goes easier to sleep / is more at ease etc.
    A lot of people (grown ups, for example me) are sensitive for these kind of stimuli (very bright colors in the bedroom or loud noises at a rock concert for example.), so I guess a lot of babies too. And they cannot tell you that the red on the wall is making them feel anxious…
    I thought that this might be something to consider.

  16. Here's a little true story about pink for girls/blue for boys. I got it at work (I work at a child care center, currently as an infant teacher); this is paraphrased because I currently can't find the paper I saved because it was so facinating:
    Somewhere in the early 1900s, a clever paper business man decided to make gender-specific birthday cards for young boys and girls. He chose a pale blue for the girls because the color was soft, delicate, and calm like little girls. He chose pink for the boys because it was vibrant and active like little boys. However, there was a mix-up in printing, and the girls cards came out pink and the boys cards came out blue. Being the smart business man, he decided instead of wasting the money, he'd sell them anyway as-is. And it caught on, within a year toy and clothing manufacturers were spinning out toys and clothes in pink for girls and blue for boys.
    Just think how different the world might look if the paper factory had gotten in right!!

  17. Hanna Anderson has great, bright colors and the stuff is great quality. and on sale its not that expensive and your baby looks scandinavian in those pilot caps!. Tea collection has awesome clothes too. Zutano is probably my favorite for 1-2 year olds. awesome patterns, many gender neutral.

  18. I find all this talk about boys and girls clothes and colours amusing. When I was pregnant with my second child (a boy) I suddenly became single and my husband took everything. I was dependant on the goodwill of the community to clothe my child. As a result we were given many old and faded and pink onesies. Well that wasn't going to last! I got out the fabric dye and when my son was born he was clothed in tie-died royal purple onesies and some beautiful mardarin coloured ones as well!!! The mandarin covered the horrid pink ones beautifully!

  19. Having a girl and not liking pink, I was terrified to reveal what we were expecting. But then again, what's worse, getting pink stuff or getting all washed out muddy drab browns, greens and yellows that are "gender neutral". I started planting the seed early on, telling people I was hoping for a girl, would be happy with a boy, but hated pink at least pink head to toe outfits. The abundant selection of pink and brown for girls at the big box shops was underwhelming. Everything was pink and brown. I don't know how it became so popular for weddings and baby girls, but that combination causes me to go into near fits. It's silly to be so bothered by the color of clothes and yet it does. And you can't get away by going for slightly feminine boys stuff as it's all done in very "boy" styles.

    Luckily the husband and I have slowly picked up fun onesies and outfits that we like, stocking up on Halloween outfits of various sizes to use throughout the year, finding cool onesies on Etsy and other smaller shops that don't play into the stereotypes so much. We've also added a bunch of outfits to our registry, not specifically for people to buy but in the hopes that anyone who does want to get something for our little bot will understand what we like and be able to make choices based on that. But of course the MIL didn't really comprehend that and as soon as we told her the gender, but knowing I didn't like pink, she brought lots of pastel green, yellow, and brown. I smiled and thanked her for them, because really, I think we can offset the dull well enough.

  20. Thank you! I've been dying onesies so my little one's wardrobe could have a little variation… this will save time *and* save my guy from living in watery blue, custard and diluted pea.

  21. We relied on orange and purple a lot when our boys were little. They wear a lot of Threadless shirts now, at ages 9 and 10, and tend to choose orange and green when picking out solid colors. I remember, though, looking at the list my husband wrote after a baby shower we were given — there were SIX outfits described as "light blue with bears." Damn it, Spouse! Couldn't you have been more specific? We have to put it on him at least once to send a picture to Aunt Cutesie-Poo — why didn't you write "bears with kites," or "bears with blocks," or "bears with bulldozers?" <mumble mumble frickin' bears>

  22. I also pretty much adore dying things more fitting little person colors. Dye online is cheap, and white onesies are cheap too! If it's going to be green it should be GREEN! That's what I say.

  23. Color has been stereotyped like so many things. I was recently at a music festival with my "baby" a Boston Terrier, Poppy Petal, and this little old country man kept calling her a him. It really didn't bother me much but my partner kept correcting the gentleman stating that Poppy was a girl. He replied with "Oh, I'm sorry, I'm just used to calling dogs him and cats her".

  24. This is what gets me about the whole "gender neutral" thing… I think it has the right idea in trying to create a level playing field of items/clothing for boys and girls to choose from without the items/clothing being gender-stereotyped. I've been surprised to see articles in magazines as mainstream as Parenting about this… which again, is nice that gendering is getting that sort of attention and exposure. BUT there are so many way more important things that go into gendering that aren't brought up in those sorts of articles. I have been slowly piecing together a gendering article and I can understand why its often avoided–
    1) people get really upset about gender, whichever side they are on (neutral vs. traditional vs. other)
    2) The gendering debate is surrounded by political movements and few scientific studies, the latter fueling both sides of the political/social movements.

    Really the whole thing can get pretty sticky. But we just try to do the best we can offering toys and clothing that is in line with our values (like nothing with guns, barbies, etc for boy or girl) instead of worrying exessively over the supposed gender of an item.

  25. My son has been mistaken for a girl over and over again while wearing full-on blue from head to toe, a shirt that reads "Mama's Boy", etc… so the idea that people are going to stop mistaking their gender because of the color of their onesie holds no ground as far as I've seen. They're going to be mistaken either way.

  26. I was a child of a strong, intelligent, tomboyish single mom until I was 5 and then even after she married my wonderful stepdad we still didn't have beaucoup bucks. So as a kid most of my clothes were hand me downs boy clothes or ocasionally some hand me down girl clothes from a neighbor girl, or homemade ๐Ÿ™‚ I was so tall and skinny I had to wear boy jeans to find any that fit, just like my momma. For shoes I had the oh so lovely buster browns, because they were durable as all hell, and my not so stylish mom thought they were genuinely cute, HA!

    I was a huge tomboy who secretly loved pink. But I felt that if I openly wore pink or showed that I liked the color I would be one of the dime a dozen girls in my elementary school class, and somehow weak, or at least perceived as weak. I didn't really embrace my love of pink until I was in high school and was like fuck it. I don't care what people think, I LOVE PINK!

    I love my mom and I think since she was a tomboy she was glad I was too. But sometimes I wish I had someone in my life when I was little to tell me being girly wasn't weak or wrong. Not that my mom told me that it's just the message I came up with somehow.

    I understand being gender neutral, to allow your kids to become who they want to be. Like right now my 3 yr olds son's favorite color is pink (just like momma) and that's cool with me. And my 15 month old daughter's favorite toys all have wheels which suits car enthusiast Daddy just fine. My hubby's favorite color is purple btw so it is very gender neutral in our book ๐Ÿ™‚

  27. This post seems to be mis-identified with Rodrigues as the author. Since it's one of Ariel's updates, Ariel must have written it.

  28. A bit against the grain, but I have no probs with my soon to arrive daughter wearing heaps of pink and her nursery to be pink – I love pink!

    But almost all the newborn/nursery stuff in the shops in my area is PASTEL pink which I hate. I like hot pink, with flames and wikid punk designs! I found clothes like that for older girls but where are all those for baby girls??

    • Oh and fyi i was a total tomboy growing up, hated all pinks, skirts/dresses/anything "girly". Ahhh how things change when we are adults…

  29. I totally agree with you. I have spent hours and hours trawling the net for interesting and imaginative baby and toddler clothes for boys and it's a difficult task. I have even daydreamed about starting my own clothing label for kids that doesn't stick to the usual boring palette. Bring on the patterns and colours for both boys and girls!

  30. I really recommend you to check this brand. It is swedish and i just love it!! Polarn o you will love it too. Also smafolk has amazing colourful clothes for babies and children. I have a few from both and I cant wait for my baby to come!
    Good luck!

  31. Grumble Grumble. I want to start a clothing line that has AFFORDABLE gender neutral clothes — because not all of us can afford super cute European threads. ๐Ÿ™‚

  32. I agree that it doesnt matter what you put them in, they'll still be mistaken for the opposite gender. I was at the bank with my little guy the other day and an older lady stopped and said how cute "she" is. He was wearing broewn cargo shorts, a black KISS onesie with and an orange and black plaid shirt over it, and a denim bucket hat… I dont think theres specific "girl colours" and "boy colours", but I thought it was a pretty masculine outfit for a little boy who wears girls skinny jeans and ugg boots…

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