The President's Dress


Nothing to fear but fashion.

Intro of the month:

Little Franklin Delano Roosevelt sits primly on a stool, his white skirt spread smoothly over his lap, his hands clasping a hat trimmed with a marabou feather. Shoulder-length hair and patent leather party shoes complete the ensemble.

The lede alone is reason enough to click the link, but the rest of the article is worthwhile in its own right: It's a very interesting history of changing children's fashions.

"For centuries," Jeanne Maglaty writes, "children wore dainty white dresses up to age 6." Gender-coded colors arrived in the early 20th century, but "even then, it took time for popular culture to sort things out." Maglaty quotes a 1918 article in a trade journal that declared: "The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl."

The several shifts we've since then are not a case of corporate chieftains programming consumers, but of evolving consumer preferences being "interpreted by manufacturers and retailers." And those preferences, in turn, are affected by the times:

Eagerly pursuing all the latest fads and trends.

When the women's liberation movement arrived in the mid-1960s, with its anti-feminine, anti-fashion message, the unisex look became the rage–but completely reversed from the time of young Franklin Roosevelt. Now young girls were dressing in masculine–or at least unfeminine–styles, devoid of gender hints. [Historian Jo B.] Paoletti found that in the 1970s, the Sears, Roebuck catalog pictured no pink toddler clothing for two years….

Gender-neutral clothing remained popular until about 1985. Paoletti remembers that year distinctly because it was between the births of her children, a girl in '82 and a boy in '86. "All of a sudden it wasn't just a blue overall; it was a blue overall with a teddy bear holding a football," she says. Disposable diapers were manufactured in pink and blue.

Prenatal testing was a big reason for the change. Expectant parents learned the sex of their unborn baby and then went shopping for "girl" or "boy" merchandise. ("The more you individualize clothing, the more you can sell," Paoletti says.)

Read the whole thing here.