Pink and blue for boys and girls


I landed on your writeup here after a friend posed the question of when pink became the “girls’ colour”, and found one part in particular intriguing.

“I’m not convinced, however, that there was ever a consensus that pink was for boys and blue was for girls. On the contrary, indications are the two colors were used interchangeably until World War II. Examples of pink as a mark of the feminine aren’t hard to come by, one of the cruder being the use of a pink triangle to identify homosexuals in Nazi prison camps. After the war the tide shifted permanently in favor of blue as a boy’s color.”

Given the timing of the shift in preference (clearly unisex until the war, then pink for girls afterwards), is it possible that the causality runs the other way round, from prison camps to fashion?

That is, potentially the pink triangle for homosexuals was originally an arbitrary choice. GIs returning from the war, knowing what use the colour had been put to, might then have resisted dressing their sons in pink, which in turn would drive the change in fashion.

Sorry to piggyback this onto songster’s comment, but I’ve been meaning to post this for some time. Readers here might be be interested in Marco Del Giudice’s letter to the editor on “The Twentieth Century Reversal of Pink-Blue Gender Coding: A Scientific Urban Legend?,” which appeared in the December 2012 issue of The Archives of Sexual Behavior (41: 1321-1323).

Here’s a direct link to the PDF

Del Giudice gives some background on previous research into a “reversal of pink-blue gender coding” and then explains that he searched Google’s Ngram Viewer for phrases that might give clues as to whether a “pink-blue reversal” (PBR) ever occurred.

He notes that “[n]ot only do the present findings run counter to the standard PBR account; they also fail to support [Jo B. Paoletti’s] claim that pink and blue were inconsistently associated with gender until the 1950s.” Del Giudice concludes that “there are strong reasons to doubt the validity of the standard PBR account; if anything, gender-color associations seem to be much more stable than currently believed.”

The possible Nazi connection comes up from time to time, but it has never really seemed convincing to me. Besides the timing being wrong – pink was well on its way to becoming a girl color in most of the U.S. by the Kate 1930s – its use to designate a fairly broad swath of “sexual degenerates” (not just gay men) was not common knowledge in the U.S. until the 1970s, at the very earliest. I go into more depth on this on my blog:

As for the research arguing against “pink blue reversal”, the researcher began with a mistaken assumption (I have never said the rule was the opposite; the rule was simply not consistent), used a method of analysis that was seriously flawed, and seemed to misunderstand the nature of historical research and evidence. Biologist Anne Fausto-Sterling and I posted a response in the Huffington Post, explaining the problem with his method.