Unisex clothes are designed to be worn by children of either sex. Obvious, right? But when you unpick it, it doesn’t actually make much sense. After all, a 2 year old child could technically *wear* any piece of clothing that’s the right size for their age. You could put it on them and it would fulfil the function of clothes. So what are we really talking about here?
It comes down to what society expects a boy or a girl to wear. It’s not about the wearability of the clothes themselves; it’s about the associations we make when we see them.
Most obviously, we expect that dresses and skirts will be worn by girls (more on that later). But more insidiously, these gender-based associations have crept into colours, patterns, prints, fonts, trims, even the fit of an item.
If you walk into (or log onto) pretty much any High Street kids clothing store, you will see an actual and stylistic divide between boys' and girls’ clothes that goes way beyond skirts:
- Colours - pink, purple, pastels & lighter colours for girls, blue, red, black & darker colours for boys
- Designs - sweet and cute for girls (princesses, unicorns, baby animals, flowers), active and aggressive for boys (vehicles, dinosaurs, wild animals, superheroes and space)
- Fonts - smaller and more decorative for girls, larger and bolder for boys
- Trims - decorative ribbons, frills, bows, glitter etc for girls, plain for boys
- Fit - often tighter and shorter for girls, looser and longer for boys
(If you don’t believe me, just take a quick look at Next, H&M, M&S, your nearest supermarket…)
For me unisex baby & kids clothes would be better defined as clothes that do not conform to gender stereotypes.
If you buy unisex baby or kids clothes at a store like ours, you’ll find:
- No divide between boys and girls clothes at all - shop by age or type of clothes instead
- All the colours of the rainbow to choose from
- Original designs that any child can wear - and then pass on to siblings, cousins, friends
- Comfortable, practical styles to play and grow in, from rolling and crawling to running and jumping
- No old-fashioned gender stereotyping whatsoever
Confession time: I actually don’t like the word ‘unisex’. I prefer ‘stereotype-free’ because that’s what we’re really doing here. We’re excluding gender stereotypes. We’re choosing cool, original, interesting, varied clothes in their place. And that includes dresses and skirts because there’s nothing wrong with traditionally female clothing, minus the baggage of stereotypes that usually go with it.
But does it matter if babies and kids wear unisex clothes or not?
Good question. I think it does.
Let’s go back to those differences between boys’ and girls’ clothes. Why do they exist? It’s not because little boys and girls are physically very different - the actual sizes of the clothes (height and weight) are identical for babies and toddlers. So what’s at play here is, again, our society and culture. And what do the differences say about our expectations for boys and girls?
Girls’ clothes are pretty and decorative, filled with sweet and cute things, expressions of love and emblems of femininity like princesses.
Boys’ clothes are functional and plain, characterised by loud, dynamic, roaring things (cars, dinos, rockets, trains - the list goes on) and a complete absence of anything sweet and cute beyond the baby stage.
Is this underlying message - that girls are pretty and loving, while boys are strong and aggressive - really one that we’re happy with? Are our children really as simple and easily divided into two opposing camps based on their biological sex?? Of course not - and you are probably thinking that just wearing clothes like this doesn’t make them so.
Absolutely not. But to quote the novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the problem with stereotypes is that they make one story become the only story [my italics].
When there are so many dinosaurs, cars, princesses and unicorns, they push out other designs - and by extension, other interests and ideas, out of the picture. So one day the kid who’s not into those things feels like they should be, because everyone else is. Or that if they don’t like those things, they’re not a ‘normal’ boy or girl. They refuse to wear a colour they really like because they know they’ll be teased at pre-school. One story becomes THE story, and diverging from it becomes socially very difficult.
I’m not saying never buy a dino onesie or a unicorn tee - but let’s hear it for variety. Let's give some other stories space to unfold. Let's give children the freedom to like and wear whatever they want.
That's what unisex clothes are for and that's why they matter.
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