Wednesday, February 24, 2021

SearchResearch Challenge (2/24/21): When did which colors signal gender?


As endless gender recent reveal parties have shown us... 

... these days, in the US at least, the colors of pink and blue have commonly-agreed upon gender meanings.  Pink means female, blue means male.  But as a friend asked recently, why?  

Or, as a way to figure out the why perhaps we can think about it this way: when did pink come to mean female and blue come to mean male?  This leads to today's SearchResearch Challenges:  

1. Can you figure out the history of pink/blue meaning female/male?  Has blue always signified male?  Has pink always signified female? 

2. And, if I remember correctly, young boys used to wear dresses (or some kind of gown) in their early photos.  When did that practice stop?  (Or has it?)   

As usual, we'd really like to learn HOW you found the history of these gender signals.  What was the search process you followed?  Let us know.  

Search on! 


  1. Interesting Challenge. I was thinking about that recently. Also thinking if some country wears different color. As an example, the black and white colors for funerals in Asia.

    I like to wear pink a lot, because it's a beautiful color.

    In a quick search [Gender color history]

    It actually wasn’t until the 1940s that the colors became set in stone. Also mentions that we need to read a Superb article from


    So, I will read and keep searching!

    1. While reading the previously mentioned articles, took another search with [pink for baby boys] as I thought that could give good results.

      Some links already mentioned by Arthur and this one:

      Today I Found out: Pink , blue and dresses

      The research made by them answers both Challenge questions and also give a bonus. It was a surprise to read about dresses and how pink was a boy's color. Really good link.

    2. [In which country pink is for boys]

      Results show: From Wikipedia Pink: "In 19th century England, pink ribbons or decorations were often worn by young boys; boys were simply considered small men, and while men in England wore red uniforms, boys wore pink."

      Another result shows "colors liked and disliked by females and males"

  2. Nice and easy (I hoped).
    My only search for the first question was [pink blue colours gender history].Blue was once female and pink male. Several sites give the history - as this topic is so surrounded in gender politics I wanted a range of sites to feel certain.
    The first was: - that stated that colours only became gender specific at the start of the 19C (and before that it was a neutral, unisex white). Just before World War I, blue and pink became more gender specific. However the colours pink for girls and blue for boys is much more recent, as a reaction against the women's liberation movement. This trend continued getting stronger from the 60s and became cemented a generation later in the 80s.

    Some of this is contradicted in a BBC item at
    This mentions research by Marco Del Guidice using a database of five million books printed in American or British English from 1800-2000 where there was a lack of any mentions of “pink for a boy”, even though from 1890 onwards there were increasing mentions of “pink for a girl”.

    Except that Fast Company seems to go with the first article: This links to and they also quote Jo Paoletti (also in the first article) - except here, it says pink became the female colour around the 1940.

    Both Paoletti's research and the book research (using Google Ngram) by Del Guidice mentioned by the BBC are given in This gives the to-ing and fro-ing of both sides but concludes "The debate about how, exactly, we got to the point where something as impartial as the color pink seems infused with femininity, will probably rage on in the pages of academic journals. In the meantime, we're left to ponder the bizarre truth that just a century ago, a magazine asserted, "the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl."

    So this whole topic seems to be one where gender politics will prevent a definitive answer. This seems to be confirmed by a list of sources in Wikipedia that shows both sides have a valid case - up until the middle of the 20thC. There are no sources saying pink for boys past 1941.

    In contrast, the 2nd question seems much more clear cut. I just asked the question "when did dresses for boys stop".

    This gave a link to a Wikipedia article on breeching - and explained why boys wore dresses and when this stopped. explains more - it was easier to change diapers with a child wearing a dress, especially as trousers were fiddly. So when boys started wearing trousers is when they started the process of becoming "men" and when their fathers took a great role in upbringing. Boy's clothing started appearing in the early 1800 (with "skeleton suits") although very young children still wore dresses. According to "It wasn’t until the end of the First World War, that parents began to dress their child according to their sex. But as the 20th century progressed, gender distinction once again declined as parents began to clothe their child androgynously in t-shirts, jeans, sweatshirts and sneakers."

  3. [gender color history]

  4. [children clothing history],overtop%20undershirts%20and%20sometimes%20petticoats. "The trend of putting young boys in dresses began to dwindle as mass production of clothing offered more child-appropriate clothing options. By the 1920s, most boys – and even some girls – adopted a romper style that allowed for more ease of movement (Tescher, 2009, para 19)."

  5. Discovered a history of why pink for girls and blue for boys in which said the biggest influence based on research at the University of Maryland the key element was the rule of the retailors and manufactures .

    1. In further reading the question of why dresses is very well explained that it was for practical reasons such as diaper changing and is well-illustrated in the article in Vintage News White skirts were in particular considered gender neutral and continued to be dressed that way until the age of reason.

  6. [history of blue and pink] finds this splendid article

    Both questions nicely answered.

  7. My psych professor brought this up in a class today. He mentioned that pink was not associated with girls until toy companies around WW2 started to market it that way. Not sure how accurate his answer was but it amazes me the different coincidences you run into in your life. I'll have to read through some of the other replies here.