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Gender stereotypes in kids clothing

So we all think it’s probably not a great idea to design clothes that convince boys that they should grow up to be insensitive, loud, shouty adventurers in mega trucks, right?

Or that girls should be sweet, passive princesses who dream of eating fruit with mythical rainbow creatures, right?

Right, Marks & Spencer? Yes, Next? You with us, Sainsbury’s? Tesco? Asda? 

To check how we are getting on with this I looked at tops and t-shirts marketed to young boys and girls from these shops. I categorised over 1,000 items that had either text or imagery on them. These are the results:

Girls' tops datavizBoys' tops comparison dataviz

  • Almost two-thirds of content on girls’ tops fall into only a handful of key categories: flowers, unicorns, female TV/film/game characters, rainbows, fruit (?!), hearts and a random collection of domesticated, dainty or pink animals.

Boys' tops datavizGirls' tops comparison dataviz

  • Almost two-thirds of content on boys’ tops fall into even fewer categories: vehicles, dinosaurs, male TV/film/game characters and a random collection of mostly wild, large, dangerous animals.

What about colours? Fancy bits? 

Colour analysis results dataviz

'fancy bits' dataviz

And instead of doing some proper, thematic analysis on the slogans, I just thought I’d throw a selection of them at you in the form of short story…

Examples of slogans on tops in form of a short story

Conclusion: It’s 2019 and this is all a bit bleak, innit?

 

Small print/method note: 

Data was collected between 27th and 31st May 2019. It was taken from the websites of Next, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Asda. Tesco do not sell their clothes online so this was collated from their Tesco Extra Kingston Park, Newcastle upon Tyne store. The age range of clothes used in the study varied depending on how each shop categorised their clothing for young children: Next: 3mths – 7yrs; M&S: 3mths – 16yrs; Sainsbury’s: 9mths – 14yrs; Tesco: 1 – 7yrs; Asda: 1 – 6yrs. All tops and t-shirts with imagery/text were included in the study, abstract patterns and plain tops were not. A single top could be categorised into more than one category (i.e. a dinosaur driving a car would fall into both the ‘dinosaur’ and ‘vehicle’ category). I was quite strict at only categorising rainbows when they were presented as a rainbow, there were many occurrences of rainbow colours being used, unicorn with rainbow-coloured tails etc. that were not included in this category. For colour categorisation, when two or more colours used the dominant one was chosen (where there was no clear dominant colour this was given a ‘multi-colour’ categorisation).

 

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17 Comments

  1. E E

    Really interesting. I’m fed up of clothes being so different, not to mention the shortness of tops and shorts for girls compared to boys. I don’t not want or need to see my four year old daughter’s bum because her shorts are short shorts nor her stomach because her top is a good few CM too short on purpose.

    Kids are kids and should be allowed to dress like kids.

  2. Alice Alice

    Love the visuals. But very depressing given that this is 2019.

  3. Mary Mary

    Thank you for this, it’s such a big bug bear for me when buying clothes for my son and speaking to other parents it’s a common annoyance. It’s shocking that a mythical creature (unicorn) is only for girls and boys only get slogans and dark primary colours what happened to the rest of the spectrum?! It also worries me how significant this has an impact on the little ones the choices available in clothing makes boys and girls believe how they should look feel from a very young age, just like you have covered in your opening. Girls are led to think about their image and boys to be boisterous.

  4. Sarah A Sarah A

    Thank you for all your research! With one of each (boy aged 4 and girl almost 1). I am acutely aware of the gender stereotyping that goes on in children’s clothes. It really is so frustrating, limiting and boring!

    I also can’t believe the difference in the way their clothes are made and feel that the cut of girls’ clothes exposes their shoulders more too and is generally more flimsy (see underwear especially, but a wide range of things really).

    All the best with your blog!

  5. Jo Jo

    This is a good way of assessing the problem, nicely done! (Depressing but predictable result)
    What would make it perfect is if you also let us have a link to the raw data because data is great 🙂

  6. Phoebe Phoebe

    Thank you for doing the hard work for us!
    I have a girl, 2 years old. And all along I’ve been trying to help her choose clothes based on whether she likes them and their colours, their styles and their message.
    She doesn’t ever reach for a slogan or a picture of a unicorn or a heart. This is because even though I offer her choice , she much prefers plain colours, in the main colour spectrum. She doesn’t have a white T-shirt as it’s impractical and she has a few pink tops but doesn’t choose them.
    I had a hard time in next lately. I went in to but her some shorts.
    The girls selection was appalling.
    Only light denim, light pink, white and navy. They were obscenely short. Just covering the nappy.
    The boys section had quite a few nice long shorts in red, navy, burnt orange and grey. I just felt so bad I needed to buy some there as I had a gift card I didn’t want to waste.
    So I bought a red and navy pair for her. These have gone the opposite way, they are too long as shorts. In 18-24 months (my girl is 89cm tall. They come halfway down her calf! They’re more like 3/4 trousers!
    I just wish they’d all come to knee length.
    I also wish they’d sort out the clothes, make them look less boyish and girly and just put them in the clothes section. Same with men’s and women’s clothes!
    Put all ‘shirts’ together, ‘tshirts’ Together, ‘trousers’, jeans, shoes, tops etc and just let people choose!

  7. Siobhan Siobhan

    I have a son who is nearly 3 and he loves pink and purple. I have a limited budget (don’t we all!) so am largely limited to shopping in the shops you’ve analysed above. I wish I could buy him pink tops which don’t have ghastly slogans or impractical adornments all over them. Thank you for this blog – I hope the retailers start to take notice soon.

  8. Tracy Tracy

    I have a 9 year girl who decides mainly boys t-shirts and girls leggings. And a 7 year old boy who moans about his sister stealing his clothes! 😂 but borrows her black leggings for his ballet class. I am a parent to 3 children each deciding that basic clothing and colours have no gender. A shame our stores can’t think the same. Good analysis. Well done.

  9. Rob Rob

    I’m raising the topic with some of my classes to see what kids themselves think. Will they be shocked? Why? Why not? Might raise some interesting questions.

  10. LOVE the graphic communication! Brilliant work.

  11. Caroline Starr Caroline Starr

    There was a Mum the other day who bought her son a bright pink t-shirt with a dinosaur on it, because he liked the colour. His father made her return it because it was ‘girlie’ .
    I would like to put these macho men in the dressing room at Stade Francais rugby club and get them to tell the players they are ‘girlie’.
    Also he should have seen the guys running Race for Life yesterday, pink t-shirts/wigs/tutus, none of them looked remotely girlie.

    • Barbara Davidson Barbara Davidson

      “His father made her return it”.
      There’s your basic problem, right there.

  12. Louise Louise

    I loved this, mostly because it intersects two things I am really passionate about (infographics and annoyance at gender-based children’s clothing). I find it particularly absurd that animals are gendered, eg my son can wear badgers and foxes and bears, but not rabbits or cats apparently *shrug/eye roll

    Please do more on this, in particular I would be really interested to see a detailed analysis just on slogans. I find ASDA to be the worst for this; everything for boys is about adventure, success, etc FUTURE PILOT, WILD AT HEART whereas girl’s tops would be PRETTY LITTLE BUNNY or CUTIE. From newborn we’ve already conditioned children into stereotyping and it’s appalling in this day and age.

  13. This is a fabulous study and its results are the exact thing that propelled us to launch Lottie & Lysh 4 years ago. We make sure the bulk of our prints are gender neutral and our items can be customised to make them that extra bit special.

    It’s all moving in the right direction, but it does often seem like two steps forward and one step back where larger stores are concerned. All the more reason to embrace you local and small sellers 😉

  14. Wilf Wilf

    This shows that boys can wear girls clothes. Like my sister wears boys clothes. Also boys need more sequins on tops. THEY NEED UNISEX CLOTHES.

  15. Hettie Hettie

    This is showing us how behind the ages we are. It soon should be changed along with girls school shoes and boy school shoes as boys are more practical and girls are flimsy. At least I find this, does anyone else? Reply.

  16. Gaynor Thomas Gaynor Thomas

    Terrific research. Always good to see the numbers (if rather depressing!)

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