Saturday, February 18, 2017


A friend is preparing for the arrival of a grandchild and asked my help with a baby shower. 

She asked, "How do you suppose it happened that blue is for boys and pink is for girls?"  I answered, "It's probably because of the influence of Gainsborough."  She reacted, "Hunh?"  I said, "You know, The Blue Boy and Pinkie."

Naturally, I had to investigate.  I learned that prior to World War II department stores actually advertised pink for boys and blue for girls. In a 1918 issue of Good Housekeeping, it was reported:  "Pink, being of a more decided and strong color, is more suited for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate, is prettier for the girl."  That's exactly the opposite of the way people think today. 

Photographs of babies from the late nineteenth century show both male and female children wearing white, frilly dresses. That was probably because white clothing could be easily bleached.  When pastel clothes were introduced for babies, there was great variation in what colors were considered gender-specific.  In those days it was thought that blue was more flattering to blondes and pink was preferred for brunettes and that blue was better for blue-eyed babies and pink for brown-eyed babies. 

In 1927, Best And Company in New York City, Marshall Field in Chicago, Filene's in Boston, and Halle's in Cleveland showed boys in pink and girls dressed in blue.  However, at the same time, Macy's and Wanamaker's stated the opposite.

Historian Jo B. Paoletti's book Pink And Blue, Telling The Girls From The Boys In America was a valuable resource for me; however, she did NOT mention my theory about the influence of Gainsborough.

My brother commented, "Yeah, you would have to put an artsy-fartsy spin on it."

1 comment:

Jo Paoletti said...

Kimberly Christman-Campbell has an excellent article about Blue Boy and Pinky and the history of pink. I didn't mention it in the book, but it is a bit of a modern urban legend. The two paintings were not companion pieces, or even by the same artist. Gainsborough did, however, paint a Pink Boy!

Link to the article: