... protounisex? In every Sears catalog from the 1950s and early 1960s, there were several pages of neutral play clothes for boys and girls in the size 2-6X range. They are pretty much boys' clothes in a variety of colors, but they are modeled by girls as well as boys with not a peep of comment in the catalog copy. This example is from fall, 1964, but typical of styles worn by children for years before "unisex" fashion was invented.
Before you start thinking how awesomely gender-free we were back then, keep in mind that this is also the "Mad Men" era and the year after The Feminine Mystique rocked the domestic scene. So why was boyish clothing for girls ok? And why did unisex clothing for adults seem so revolutionary?
From the Perryville, Arkansas school dress code, 1972:
After checking in some stores and talking with parents concerning the girls' dress, we have decided to relax the code. We will allow jeans that are made for girls to be worn, providing:
If the jeans open in front, a tunic or square-tailed blouse must be worn to conceal the opening. If the jeans open on the side, then an ordinary blouse may be worn.
Oh, the horror of girls in fly-front jeans! (Sears, Fall 1972
Yesterday, February 12, would have been my mother's 90th birthday. In her memory, I decided take a close look at children's fashion in the year of her birth. As the third child born to a young German Lutheran minister and his wife in rural Canada, I doubt if she ever wore any of the fancier styles shown here, but family photos certainly confirm the rules of appropriate clothing for children under 7.
Babies from birth to around 6 months: long white gowns, ranging from minimally embellished to elaborately trimmed with lace and embroidery.
Babies from six months to a year or slightly older: short white dresses and one-piece rompers. Again, these could be plain or fancy, depending on the occasion and the family's budget and needlework talents.
Gender differences were introduced between one and two years, with little boys exchanging dresses for short trousers, often attached to their shirts or blouses with buttons at the waistline. Little girls stayed in dresses, but in an array of colors.
Here's a video I created for the occasion:
I just acquired a 1962 Fall/Winter Sears catalog from a new friend, and have been enjoying the trip down memory lane.
So many of the play clothes, like those on the left, were neutral -- plain, solid color styles that could be worn by either boys or girls and handed down to younger siblings.
I'd forgotten that pink used to be pretty much a spring color. Fall clothes meant fall colors: more saturated hues, fewer pastels, heavier fabrics.
There were four pages of "school dresses" like these, and not a pink dress among them.
These blanket sleepers came in three colors: blue, yellow and a "nursery print" of pink and blue animals on a white background.
Chinese-American brother and sister, ca 1900.
...if she was a Chinese-American girl living in San Francisco in the early 1900s. When did Chinese-American girls start wearing dresses? Did Chinese-American boys ever wear them? This could be someone else's dissertation or book. I'll only be able to skim the surface of ethnic differences in this book, alas!