If you walk into any infant’s clothing department, you’ll see a lot of pink and blue clothing. While you can find a range of colored clothing for girls, it’s much harder to find pink colors for boys. The two colors are gender-specific, though things are certainly loosening up. The style of assigning pink to girls and blue to boys is relatively new, and wasn’t a common practice until the 1950s. It should be noted that it is not at all a common practice in other countries, and is limited most often to Western Europe and the Americas.
The debate of when and why pink and blue came into fashion to designate gender rages on, but almost every argument alludes to a passage in the novel Little Women, published in 1868. Amy ties a pink bow and a blue bow on Meg’s twins Daisy and Demi, so people will know the difference between the girl and the boy. This is said to be done in the “French style,” suggesting that it might have been possible in France that the colors were already gender specific.
There is evidence that this practice was not always common or always done throughout much of Europe or America. There are pictures of numerous male babies wearing pink jumpers in the Victorian and Edwardian era. In fact, many suggest that the colors at one time were reversed, with pink being considered more masculine. It is certainly true that blue, especially dark blue was associated with the Virgin Mary in Christian Europe. Painters often mixed lapis lazuli into paints to depict what was considered the most sacred feminine icon.
Most people who study the matter attribute the pink and blue gender assignment to the 1950s, which featured a virtual color explosion, not only in clothing, but also in things like appliances and furniture. Dressing children in colors to specifically denote gender suggested the rising middle class and above. In other words, people who could afford to make the gender assignment did so, since many infants appear somewhat asexual when first born.
Another possible theory links these gender references to the 1950s film Funny Face, which stars Audrey Hepburn. Hepburn was though an extremely feminine woman, and her outfits in pink may have proven inspiring. This explanation is somewhat unlikely given that the film was not released until 1957.
Today, pink and blue may not always mean what it meant in the 1950s. Pink is a traditional color associated with lesbian and gay activism. Especially for adults, both men and women may wear either color. Though most men won’t wear a predominantly pink outfit, many wear pink button down shirts with suits. Further, since the 1980s, when day-glo fashions ruled the day, and shows like Miami Vice influenced fashion, pink became a much more acceptable color for men and did not necessarily denote a lack of masculinity.
In other countries, these colors do not have the same gender assignment. Many colors are viewed differently. For example, in Asia, babies are more likely to be dressed in red, as are brides. This is the color of celebration, whereas white is considered a color of mourning. Thus the pink and blue tradition is recent and relatively exclusive to the Western world