Sexism in clothing has become an epidemic.
When you read that, your first thought might be of some of the blatantly offensive logos and phrases that pop up occasionally on T-shirts designed with comedic intent. The Daily Beast covered some of these shirts back in 2013, highlighting the Plain Jane Homme brand (whose logo is a female silhouette with her panties around her calves), as well as shirts sporting phrases like “Nice New Girlfriend: What Breed Is She?” But as much as shirts like these may rub us the wrong way, another prominent issue lies in more subtle clothing trends that exist even in kids’ fashion lines.
Writing for Parent Dish in 2013, a mother named Cath Janes said, “Since her birth my girl has been almost swallowed up by a tsunami of pink, princesses, dolls, and body glitter. Worse, she doesn’t seem to have any choice in the matter, and neither do I.” If this statement from Janes makes you pause and think for a second, you’re not alone. Sometimes even those who are particularly sensitive to sexism or gender segregation don’t quite realize that it begins with the dividing of baby girls and boys into pink and blue, princesses and knights, dolls and action figures, etc. It’s often referred to as “Pink-ification,” and in some ways it’s the first way in which human beings encounter sexist behaviour. Babies are essentially shown what to wear, and to some extent how to act, before they even get the chance to develop preferences or personality traits.
And this isn’t just because it’s a cultural idea that’s taken hold. But this is less an issue of habit or culture than one of retail and commercialism. In recent years, some of the biggest retail stores in the world, including Wal-Mart and Target, have come under fire for sexist trends in toddler clothing. The primary example cited is that boys are presented with superhero shirts, whereas the female alternative may have a phrase boasting “I need a hero” or, “I only date superheroes.”
Fortunately, while these issues present a huge problem in gender segregation, there are some children’s boutiques and even large retailers looking to reverse the trend, both for kids and in adult clothing lines.
Leading the way on the children’s clothing front, at least in the UK, is Tootsa, an innovative and adorable boutique run by former designer Kate Pietrasik. She first became aware of gender issues in children’s clothing when they affected her own daughter. Pietrasik decided to present a line of kids’ clothes that appealed to both girls and boys, not only in style but design as well. Now, Tootsa offers these clothes as an alternative for parents, who may otherwise only find divisive and often offensive options. And fortunately, the idea seems to be taking hold. In addition to being sold at the original boutique, Pietrasik’s clothing is now being offered by the likes of Selfridges as well.
Selfridges, for its part, is becoming something of a pioneer among retailers in supporting gender-neutral clothing movements. Naturally, the inclusion of clothing lines like those from Tootsa are helpful for parents looking for neutral options for kids. This particular retailer is taking things a step further, though, and opening up an entire section of stores meant for gender-neutral appeal (for adults as well). In fact, according to Pink News, the department store’s London location will stock three full floors of unisex clothing, rather than maintaining separate men’s and women’s sections. That’s quite a bold move for a store, and it’s bound to influence other stores looking to mimic the trend and designers hoping to have their lines picked up and sold.
There’s a long way to go for these growing trends to take hold in a meaningful way. While flat-out offensive clothing is hopefully on its way out, core concepts like putting girls in pink and glitter and boys in blue will surely be around for years. But in designing and selling more neutral clothing, both for children and adults, up-and-coming designers and influential stores alike are making significant strides toward enabling women to express their own identities, rather than simply preconceived notions of what they ought to be.