Helen Farmer from The Mothership tells us why she’s fighting a losing battle against all things girly…
Ready for some history? In the 1940s clothing manufacturers ‘assigned’ the gender-specific colours for boys and girls we know today; before then babies would wear white – easy for bleaching when nappies exploded. Over the decades that followed, pink and powder blue were widespread until the 1970s, when the popularity of feminism soared, and almost all children wore bright primary colours. Think awesome dungarees with unisex T-shirts that were passed down through the family.
Then came the 1980s, and pre-natal testing changed all that. Parents could find out the sex of their unborn child, and go shopping for ‘girl’ or ‘boy’ products, with retailers targeting their burgeoning desire to buy items specifically for the new arrival.
Jo B. Paoletti, author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America says “The more you individualize clothing, the more you can sell,” and, sure enough, pink and blue nappies, bedding and toys were in every baby shop – then when the next sprog came along and was a different gender to the first, parents would buy again, and nurseries were redecorated.
Fast forward to today, and we have a greater choice. Many parents choose not find out the sex of their unborn child so instead buy tiny white, cream and grey clothes with the odd yellow or green splash, and paint nurseries in neutrals.
For a lot of mums, dressing their little girls in pink seems a bit out-dated and not very ‘of the moment’. And I was like that – for a while.
As we started to accumulate clothing for our daughter while I was pregnant, many friends and family bought us candyfloss-hued dresses, bubble-gum babygrows and outfits stitched with pink embroidery. When it came to sheer numbers, I was fighting a losing battle.
I’m also realising that geography plays a part. It’s traditional in this part of the world for baby girls to have their ears pierced at an early age – it’s even part of birth packages at some UAE hospitals – so by not having Phoebe’s lobes adorned we started to confuse people. Add in my penchant for Breton and grey (for both of us), and soon every stranger we met thought she was a boy. This now happens a lot.
At brunch a few months ago she was dressed in head to toe florals and the valet still said, “He’s so cute”. I’m more used to it than my husband, who sternly said “SHE”. To my mind, if there’s any confusion over the gender of a baby (and let’s be honest, they all look pretty much the same for the first year) it’s time to break out the stock phrase:
“So cute! What’s your name, little one?” – and cross your fingers it’s not an unfamiliar name, or one that works for both boys and girls.
Aesthetically I’m more a fan of the 1970s brights, with lots of stripes thrown in for good measure, but given our previous form for supermarket cashiers/valets/waitresses/randoms in the mall telling me how cute my baby boy is, I confess that if I know we’re going to a busy place I often dress Phoebe in pink. Truthfully, I don’t like embarrassing people when I correct them, so if I have to put my preferences aside for social graces, then I’ll suck it up.
After speaking to friends who tried their best to go neutral, it seems that after a certain age (around two years old), children go their own way regardless, from boys wanting to wear Elsa dresses to girls who had previously worn their brothers’ hand-me-downs throwing themselves face first into all things purple and sparkly. You can’t fight it. And it’s all good.
Whether Phoebe grows up to wear denim and scruffy tees, or prim and proper dresses, I obviously have no idea – she may well do both, as I do. But while I’m in charge of her wardrobe, we’re keeping the pink to a minimum. Unless we’re doing the weekly shop.
My top shops for non-girly baby clothes:
I buy boy’s shorts and joggers for Phoebe, and the onesies are super-soft. If you’re in Dubai, check out the Outlet Mall for bargains.
The multi-packs of short-sleeves tops work across both genders. I’ve fallen for the fruit-adorned tees (and intend to stock up in bigger sizes).
You’ll find high quality cotton, and outfits guaranteed make you nostalgic, with corduroy and Peter Pan collars.
Jools Oliver’s Little Bird range is 1970s-tastic, with rainbow colours, classics and plenty of whimsy.
Available through Not On The High Street, this line combines great colours and stripes with my love of dogs, resulting in must-order dresses, leggings and sleepsuits. I’ve spent way too much money with this company already.