I’m a fashion psychologist, the secret messages in your kids’ clothes – and some are VERY problematic

IT’S blue for a boy and pink for a girl . . . but does dressing our children in these colours affect their development?

The 2022 trend of putting kids in “gender neutral” beige colours has sparked debate on online forums, with the hashtag #sadbeigebabies racking up more than 300k posts on TikTok.

More parents than ever are putting kids in 'gender neutral' colours instead of pinks and blues

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More parents than ever are putting kids in ‘gender neutral’ colours instead of pinks and bluesCredit: Shutterstock
Dr Dion Terrelonge, a fashion psychologist, agrees that children’s clothing designs can be problematic

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Dr Dion Terrelonge, a fashion psychologist, agrees that children’s clothing designs can be problematicCredit: SWNS

On the other hand, searches for beige baby clothes on Etsy have shot up by 67 per cent this year.

While some mums claim the trend is more reflective of the modern world, others think that the muted tone is depressing for developing infants.

Dr Dion Terrelonge, a fashion psychologist, agrees that children’s clothing designs can be problematic.

She says: “Humans take on traits associated with certain items of clothing, which in turn affects cognition and behaviour. Essentially, this means that the clothes we dress our children in could have an impact on them.”

Here, she reveals the meaning behind children’s clothing. . . 

GIRLS AREN’T EXPECTED TO BE COVERED IN STAINS

“WHEN it comes to kids’ clothes, the majority of bright colours are reserved for girls, while boys’ clothes tend to have more muted tones,” says Dr Terrelonge.

“This is something that goes way back to the Industrial Revolution.

“There was a change in clothing production whereby men’s outfits were suddenly made much more functional as men went out to work in factories.

“From then on, we’ve seen men wearing outfits for functionality while women wear clothing for fun, which filters down to children’s dress.

“Little girls aren’t expected to be covered in stains and so have the privilege of a more varied colour palette.”

BOYS CLOTHES ARE MADE FOR PLAY

“YOU are likely to see a lot of light cotton and tulle on girls’ clothes, while boys tend to have sturdier fabrics such as denim and leather,” says Dr Terrelonge.

“The same goes for shoes.

“Girls will often have patent tee-bars with a thin sole, while boys might have a thicker sole with a matte hard-wearing leather that’s waterproof. This is down, sadly, to the type of play that is assumed of both genders.

“The assumption is that girls don’t need practical clothing because they are there to be aesthetically pleasing.

“Whereas boys need robust clothes because they are rolling around and they’ll only destroy them — again reinforcing those gender stereotypes.”

Dr Terrelonge also says there's an assumption girls don't need practical clothing because they are there to be aesthetically pleasing

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Dr Terrelonge also says there’s an assumption girls don’t need practical clothing because they are there to be aesthetically pleasingCredit: Shutterstock

CLOTHING AFFECTS BEHAVIOUR

“THE fact that your son has a dinosaur on his top or your daughter has a fairy on her dress may seem innocent enough — but it does in part influence their identity,” says Dr Terrelonge.

“Anything they’re exposed to they soak up like a little sponge, including what they’re wearing — and this is known as enclothed cognition.

“The theory of enclothed cognition says that we take on the traits linked to our clothing depending on the symbolic meaning of it.

“So, as children get a little older and their understanding of the natural world develops, for example that the animal on their shirt is a tiger and tigers hunt, are strong and ferocious — then they may embody these traits.

“They may feel faster, stronger and more ferocious when wearing that item of clothing.

“That we, as humans, take on the traits associated with certain items of clothing, which in turn, affects our cognition and behaviour, has been proven. But obviously parenting and the other messages that children are exposed to play a big role in the level of impact.”

PARENTS SCARED TO ROCK THE BOAT

“IT’S important to remember the people who are buying these kids’ clothes are adults who might not see the hidden messages in children’s clothing from times gone by, or know the psychology behind it,” says Dr Terrelonge.

“While many parents understand that it is perfectly fine for boys to wear pink and girls to wear blue, they aren’t sure enough of that to take that risk with their child. They don’t wish to rock the boat by deviating from what’s gone before.”

DESIGNERS STICK TO WHAT THEY KNOW

“WHEN you see these gender biases happening, it’s easy to wonder whether these designs are deliberate,” says Dr Terrelonge.

“But I doubt very much that designers are setting out to make girls appear more passive or boys more aggressive.

“The designers behind these clothes are adults and they are likely basing their designs on what they wore themselves as children.”

‘I hate how girls are expected to wear pink’

LIKE many mums, Kirstie Beaven is sick of High Street stores stocking boring blue garments for boys and sparkly pinks for girls.

Kirstie, who has a daughter Birdie, nine, and seven-year-old son Hal, has decided to ditch traditional colours.

Mum Kirstie Beaven has ditched traditional colours for her kids and lets them pick clothes from any section they want

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Mum Kirstie Beaven has ditched traditional colours for her kids and lets them pick clothes from any section they wantCredit: David Cummings

The 42-year-old says: “I just want to dress my kids in comfy clothes that they can play and learn in. So now I let them pick clothes from any section they want, or buy unisex.

“Since my kids are quite close in age, they often share clothes. I’d rather buy fewer, better quality items that last longer.

“I’ve found clothes labelled as boys’ clothes or as unisex tend to be bigger and more hard-wearing, even though they often cost the same or less than similar items in the girls’ section, so it saves money.”

Kirstie, who lives in Hackney, East London, with husband Luke, 50, a special effects producer, adds: “I hate how girls are expected to wear pink fluffy dresses while boys are seen as obsessed with mundane things like tractors.

“My son loves bright colours, soft fabrics and sparkly stuff. Why shouldn’t boys have rainbows or fruit on their clothes? Why shouldn’t girls like vehicles or dinosaurs?

“Often the stereotypes presented to children are quite narrow, and I want my kids to feel like they can be whoever they want.” But while not everyone is open to the idea of unisex clothing, she is seeing a shift in attitudes.

Kirstie says: “People say, ‘If you let your son wear pink, people will think he’s a girl’. I definitely think it’s more acceptable for girls to wear clothes that are seen as ‘boyish’ than for boys to wear ‘girly’ things.

“That’s why I launched an Instagram account called Sonshine to highlight the differences in how boys’ and girls’ clothes are marketed.”

Kirstie adds: “There are many concerning aspects of gender stereotyping in children’s clothing, but there are two main things that stand out. Looking at slogans and motifs on children’s clothes, research has found that overwhelmingly, animals on boys’ clothes are predators bearing sharp teeth, while animals on girls’ clothes are more often prey, like rabbits.

“It might seem small, but these subtle messages impact girls and boys, how they see themselves and each other, and how adults see them too.”

There are a few shops out there who, in Kirstie’s opinion, are getting it right.

“George at Asda has some fantastic unisex items. So does Stacey Solomon’s range at Primark along with Next and Marks & Spencer,” she claims.

“My advice is to shop both sides of kidswear – it’s nonsense to have separate boys’ and girls’ sections.”