Gender colour coding

Pink for girls, blue for boys. Or is it pink for boys, blue for girls? A persistent myth holds that colour stereotypes flipped some time in the 20th century.

Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
There are a few urban legends that are firmly entrenched in our popular consciousness. One of them is that the “pink is for girls, blue is for boys” rule is a relatively modern creation. Instead, it is claimed that, up until some time in the mid-20th century, the opposite was the case.

There is some evidence of this – red was a military colour, so pink represents the watered down version for male children. But the whole idea of a wholesale flip… well, there’s a lot of contradictory evidence.

From the Illustrated London News, 1856:

As everything connected with the birth of the heir of the French throne… But as blue is the colour appropriated to male children, as rose or pink is to those of the opposite sex…

From Harper’s Magazine, 1862:

The Infant’s Robe is specially designed for baptismal use. It is composed of fine nansouk and insertion. If the child is a boy, the ribbon sash is blue; if a girl, it is of pink taffeta

From an 1888 German novel:

“Blue for a boy, pink for a girl,” murmered Leonie to herself, as she smiled sweetly over her labor of love.

Alas, this is one nice myth that has to be put to bed. A shame, really, because it was a great way to challenge traditional gender stereotypes as arbitrary and capricious.

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