Indiana Unversity Press tells me that "Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America with be available in January. And of course, within a month after publication, all the arguments about gendered clothing will fade and neutral clothing for babies and toddlers will once more be abundant.
However, pink does occur in nature. But it's still a cool video.
My last post was about pockets and gender; today I am considering the other Road Not Taken: buttons. I mention gender patterns of button placement in the book very briefly, but did not wade in beyond ankle-depth, because I still have not seen a credible explanation for why women's shirts button right over left and men's left over right. I don't buy the button-in-back vs. buttons-in front rationale because it is never (ever ever ever) accompanied by evidence. Someone out there -- not me! -- needs to do an artifact-based dissertation on button placement in men's and women's clothing. The question gets more complicated when you consider that for centuries both boys and girls wore dresses and skirted styles, and we don't know if there was a button placement convention there, either.
The only "button rule" I discerned was that boys seldom had clothing that buttoned up the back, and girls often did. My school dresses -- those cotton frocks of my youth -- all had buttons AND a sash in the back, so that my mother had to help me get dressed every morning. I also needed her help to exchange school clothes for play clothes every afternoon.
The book was essentially "finished" last spring with the final round of revisions, but I am discovering more and more unanswered questions. Two came up in my Fashion and Consumer Culture course last week: What about pockets? When did button placement become gendered? At first glance, they seem like two more tempting rabbit holes that will occupy the next 30 years of my life. (Look for Pink and Blue 2 in 2312, when I am 92!) Buut both are actually interesting nuances in gender-coding, and worth a look. Right now I will consider pockets.
We read a really provocative, insightful article, by Christopher Matthews about the symbolic uses of pockets in 19th century art and literature.* His basic argument was that pockets were a strongly masculine detail, with women's clothing rarely featuring any at all (no surprise to those of us who own pants, skirts and dresses with NO pockets -- in the 21st century!).Then the students were given a variety of garments from our historic costume collection to inspect: a mix of men's, women's and children's clothing. The adult clothing was predictable; lots of pockets for men, fewer or no pockets for women. The guys in the class had twice as many pockets, on average, as the women.
The three kids' garments -- two dresses and a suit from the 19th century -- turned out to be the biggest challenge. Because they are undocumented, I nave no idea whether the dresses were worn by boys or girls or both (one was very worn). Both had pockets, but I did not feel confident in using that alone to determine gender. The fact is, I did not look at the absence or number of pockets in children's clothing in my research for the book. In the sources I used, it was not always easy to see them, and it seemed not very useful for "telling the boys from the girls" in the nineteenth century. By the 1920s, when more girls were wearing some form of pants --shorts, rompers, overalls -- the "girl" versions usually did not have pockets, not unlike the women's version. (Something that hasn't changed much.) The unisex versions generally had pockets
However, having or not having pockets does influence our behavior -- what we carry with us and how we carry it, even how we stand. (Think of the tendency to jam your hands in your pockets -- if you have them!)
I'm actually doing a little follow-up research now on rompers, and this time, I will be looking at pockets.
*“Form and Deformity: The Trouble with Victorian Pockets.” Victorian Studies 52, no. 4 (Summer 2010)
Hot off the presses!