I will let you in on a secret, when I first began Boofy I didn't think too much about children's clothing with a political slant, I wasn't actually aware that there was a political slant to children's clothing. My overwhelming feeling for the High street was simply that what they offered was boring and repetitive. It wasn't until I began writing descriptions for stock that I realised my own discomfort towards children's retailing. Designs and colours traditionally deemed as masculine or feminine made absolutely no sense to me. Faced with princesses or pirates, 'angel' or 'trouble', diamonds or dinosaurs. I don't need to tell you which design would come in pink or blue.
I am a rainbow lover and there are no bad colours. Blue and pink are only a problem when they are marketed as being exclusive to one gender. I've addressed this in detail in a few previous blog posts here and here but now it's time to dig a little deeper. The greater issue is the messages on children's clothes.
I wrote a post on social media that received my greatest engagement ever. It asked 'Have you ever read slogans on children's clothes that made you feel a bit uncomfortable?
I have seen onesies with 'I hate my thighs' and tshirts with the words 'heartbreaker', 'ladies man' and 'hola ladies'
I've seen tops with 'I'm too pretty to do homework, so my brother has to do it for me' (Yes, really!)
I've seen an email marketing campaign of a major clothes retailer, referring to young boys as 'the little scholar' and young girls as 'the social butterfly'.
While these slogans are hardly keeping me up at night, I cannot shake it off as harmless either.'
Many people elaborated on this to include phrases such as 'here comes trouble' being an exclusive addition to boys clothing only.
Why are we labeling our sons as trouble makers from the start and permitting this 'boys will be boys' mentality? Why is this viewed by retailers as not only appropriate, but even cute?
The uncomfortable truth is that we can patronise our own children and in turn stifle their personality development by prescribing them to be 'trouble', 'cute' or 'tough'. I truly believe that it is much better not to set our children up to these stereotypes.
This is a topic that I find difficult bringing up face-to-face with people, out of concern of being branded far too sensitive, and aren't their bigger concerns for children than the slogans on their clothes?
Slogan clothes, no matter what the message, are about the need to project an image that the parent/carer wants to project.
This is true even for slogan clothes that swing the opposite way, promoting babies as feminists and little girl Tshirts saying that 'The future is female '.
While I can appreciate positive sentiments, I can't help but feel that this only serves as a way to encourage judgement on appearance, while simultaneously trying to instill the message in our own children 'not to judge a book by it's cover'.
Pehaps we need to admit that there isn't a place for slogans on children's clothing and whatever the message that is written, is it appropriate to use our children's clothing as billboards or a comedy extension of ourselves?
The joy of free speech comes with the freedom to buy, perhaps you have got to this point of reading and feel indifferent "It's just one shirt." You'd be right, one shirt is not going to be the final straw that breaks your childs identity, but it is indicative of the culture in which children are socialised.
Young children are usually rigid about gender stereotypes and learn that there are lots of complicated rules about 'how to' be a girl or a boy and are at an impressionable time where they are soaking up societal norms.
Even if you don't buy into the slogan phrases, we are still in a society that does. I understand that retailers sell what sells, so there is a huge market for slogan clothing that the rest of us are caught up in by default.
What can we do about that?
Bestselling Author Peggy Orenstein advises to "ask questions like, ‘Gosh, I wonder why the boys have a shirt that says Batman and the girls have a shirt that says Batman’s wife? That’s funny, isn’t it?'".
Teaching our own children to be critical thinkers has the greatest potential for a powerful change in how future societies view gender.
The problem with children's clothes are more than pink and blue, it is more than slogans too. This is a topic that needs further exploration including an additional blog post discussing the potentially harmful effects of the adult style of children's clothing, beyond colour and slogans.
Further reading: Peggy Orenstein: Cinderella ate my daughter