(Why the disparity? Photos courtesy of Google Images)
“I like design, I like details. To me, it is just another form of self-expression” -John Malkovich
The clothing retailer Land’s End made news over the summer when it announced that it would start producing science-themed t-shirts for girls. This announcement and their production of these t-shirts was prompted by an open letter by Lisa Ryder, a mother who was frustrated about the fact that Land’s End had cool, science-y graphic tees for boys, but no equivalent designs for girls.
Personally, I am a strong believer in letting my children express themselves through their clothing, if they wish. So much of their lives are scheduled and programed and controlled for them, so I let them choose a lot of their clothing themselves and allow them to wear what they want; whether it matches or not, or includes rain boots when it’s sunny, or capes, purses, wands or tiaras, as long as it’s weather and (at least mostly) occasion appropriate.
So keeping Ms. Ryder in mind, I decided to look at a couple of the stores where I purchase my children’s clothing. I chose to search specifically shirts with graphics, both because those are where Ms. Ryder focused and because graphic shirts are a way for people of both genders and all ages to express themselves quickly and up front.
I first looked at The Children’s Place. We have wandered over to the boys’ section several times and made purchases of graphic tees over the years for my older daughter, based on her affinity for things like legos and skull designs, and her aversion to the color pink. I still have a clear recollection of purchasing a black skull t-shirt with a Santa hat and the look I got from the saleswoman when she commented on how “cool” the shirt was and I responded with, “Yes, my daughter is going to love it.” She looked at me quizzically, and mouthed the words, “Your daughter?” Yeah lady, MY DAUGHTER.
So I went to the Children’s Place website and looked at their graphic tees for both boys and girls. For boys, I counted 23 sports/activity-themed t-shirts, 10 skull-themed t-shirts and 1 science-themed t-shirt. For girls, I found 6 sports/activity-themed t-shirts, 1 skull themed t-shirt and exactly no science themed t-shirts. There were however, a plethora of tees with ponies, princesses, cats, shoes and cutesy sayings on them. The boys’ shirts were overwhelmingly blue, gray and green, while the girls shirts were mostly pink, purple and pink.
Then I checked Old Navy. And I have to give Old Navy some props here, because their graphic tees were significantly more color-neutral and they seemed to have a lot of equivalent tees for boys and girls. However; there were also significantly more sports/activity-themed shirts for boys, and more animal-themed shirts for girls.
It should be noted that a lot of the sports/activity-themed graphic tees for girls are related to dance or cheerleading, rather than the activities generally represented on the boy’s shirts (football, basketball, skateboarding, auto racing). And while I have one daughter who likes the dance themed shirts, I have another daughter who is perplexed and annoyed by the fact that it’s difficult for her to find clothing that isn’t pink or sparkly, and that she has to cross the aisle to the boys clothing to find shirts that she feels like actually express her personality. Which made me start thinking, what if my perspective were different? What if I were a mother to boys? What if, instead of being a mother to a girl who likes to watch tennis, read Percy Jackson books and who wants to play football…what if, I were the mother to a boy who likes horses, wearing purple, doesn’t like trucks or soccer, or otherwise felt like the clothing offered to him, as a boy, wasn’t appealing? And I’m not talking about gender identity here; that is a completely separate and much more complex topic. I’m talking about the ability for children to wear clothing that provides them a simple self-expression of themselves. Especially during this time in their lives and in our society when they should be encouraged and able to discover their own talents and interests across the spectrum, without having gender roles thrust at them in the form of shirts with big trucks on one side of the store, and sparkly butterflies on the other side. What say you, parents of boys and girls; have you encountered similar issues and what, if anything, would you like to see change? Are the clothing manufacturers supplying items that consumers want to buy, or are we just purchasing what they decide to offer?
I’m not really sure how to answer these questions, other than appealing to the clothing industry to diversify their offerings with respect to graphic shirts. Perhaps just putting out a simple request asking for less cupcakes and kittens and more cleats and skateboards on girls’ clothing and less trucks and footballs and more peace symbols and animals for boys’ clothing would be a good start.
Consider this that simple request.