baby proof: gender-neutral colors.

April 15, 2014

onesie James and I made our first baby purchase two weeks ago when we bought this impossibly tiny onesie in an innocuous shade of cappuccino brown.

Rehashing the problems with the old ‘blue is for boys’ and ‘pink is for girls’ business seems tired, until you are about to have—or have had—a baby. You think that all of that must be so passé and that we’ve surely moved on as members of an enlightened society to realize that colors say nothing about the gender—and certainly not the sex—of an infant. And then your sister has a baby boy and her home becomes flooded with fluffy blue things in the very worst shade of the color and you realize that you’ve been very, very naive.

Months later, you might even find yourself appalled at your own giggle, when the tiny nephew appears at your door wearing a pink hooded sweatsuit purchased by a doting, if colorblind grandfather.

Of course things haven’t always been this way. And lo, we might still see the day when little boys run around in long locks and white frocks. But save a brief respite heralded by some supposed bra-burners in the 1970s, pink for girls and blue for boys has pretty much been the standard since the 1940s. (These guys give a little historical run-down if you’re interested.)

And what happens when you’re foolish enough to wait to know the sex of your unborn child? An onslaught of yellow and green and baby animals is what.

If I’m going to be picky—and I am—I prefer a rosy-cheeked babe in the soft neutrals of the near-colorless.

It’s not that I don’t like color. It’s just that I often find more comfort in a softer palette. And just because there’s a wee one on the way, I won’t suddenly be embracing all things pale green and butter yellow for the sake of so-called gender neutrality.

A week ago when at my mom’s bidding I put together a little collection of wish list items for what she insists on calling Junebug’s layette, she sent this reaction to my “color” choices…

“…And when Junebug goes to Pre-K and the teachers ask about colors, Junebug will say that the carpet is more of a dove and the chalkboard is actually closer to a charcoal than the more accurately true gray of Farrow & Ball Mole’s Breath. That is a nice quality in a small child—to be able to distinguish between these shades, because not everything is black and white and rainbows, you know?”


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  • Reply Bethany Radcliffe April 15, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    Your mom is hilarious. I'm cracking up!

  • Reply Kate Harvey April 15, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    When we have children we don't want to find out the sex either, and I'm completely on your side as far as neutral baby clothing goes. There's nothing cuter than a simple white onesie 🙂

  • Reply Nina April 15, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    Love this. You know what's even more infuriating? The baby arrives and people can't comprehend that his or her gender isn't *immediately* distinguishable by some awful pink bow or fake imprinted tie, and you find yourself educating (innocent?) passersby that yes, she's a girl, and yes, she can wear slate blue and gray, and WHY NOT? no, "she's" not a "he", and ugh, nevermind, leave us alone.

  • Reply Kimberly LaCroix April 15, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    Dove and charcoal- I love it. I'm full-term with our first right now and we waited to find out the sex too. I've been pleasantly surprised by the colors we've been given though- lots of whites and beige, and some beautiful reds too. We haven't received one piece of yellow clothing!

  • Reply DontBlameTheKids April 15, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    I actually love cream, gray, yellow, and especially blue for all babies. I really hate that I got buried under a mountain of pink for both my girls. And I hate pink. And blue looks so good on both of them with their blue eyes, but it is hard to find without words like "handsome" or "mommy's boy" on it.

  • Reply Liz A April 15, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    That last paragraph just MADE my day, hilarious!

  • Reply Libellula Jewelry April 15, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    You can imagine my horror when an in-Law adopted a baby girl and requested that I make a baby afghan in the brightest of yellow "to match the other bright yellows in her yellow and navy nursery". I though my retinas would burn out while I worked on that hated afghan.

    • Reply Erin April 22, 2014 at 11:27 am

      Oh, dear! I'm not myself yellow-opposed, but it can be hard to work on something that's not to your own taste, for sure!

  • Reply Linda Zimmerman April 15, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    and the cool thing is…THIS child WILL BE that articulate on color and everything else around him/her…love the onesie. xo

  • Reply oliviajamie April 15, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    "If I'm going to be picky—and I am—I prefer a rosy-cheeked babe in the soft neutrals of the near-colorless." This was my sister for both of her kiddies, and i think it was surprisingly refreshing for friends and family to boycott the stereotypes and choose neutral and classic pieces for her! She designed a beautiful and enduring nursery/bedroom for them with the same theme. Good thoughts, Erin.

  • Reply forefront April 15, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    only a writer mama could put that so eloquently

  • Reply Neurotic Workaholic April 15, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    I like it! And I think the colors should be whatever you like best; the baby will grow quickly enough and will need new clothes again at some point anyway.

  • Reply Linlin April 15, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    In the past toddler boys wore dresses too. My great aunt told me how my great-grandfather as a little child was really unhappy when he was supposed to change from dresses to (short) trousers, cried and insisted, he wanted to continue wearing dresses. So actually dressing a boy in a pink dress would be the most traditional choice! In my hometown pink continued to be the boy colour in hospitals for quite some time, a well-known local journalist wrote about how shocked his out of town aunt was when she saw him at the hospital, dressed in a pink gown (that was in the 1960s).

    • Reply Erin April 22, 2014 at 11:26 am

      Yes, totally! Meant to add the word (again) to my comment re: baby boys and their long locks and frocks!

  • Reply caitlin April 15, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    Love that quote from your mom!!

  • Reply Kayla Poole April 15, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    I just need to say how happy I am to see you distinguish between sex and gender…it's almost appalling how often (well-meaning, but-misguided) people get this wrong.

    P.S. your mom is fab! fondly, a rainbow-loving pre-k teacher.

  • Reply Alexa April 15, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    I could not agree more. What happens, though, when well meaning family or friends bring you clothes in colors other than those that soothe you or suit your taste? Hooray if they are all on board. Ours were not. Initially, I wanted to return many clothing items that did not suit 'us' but we graciously used those items (and passed on whatever was more than we needed) because, in the end, time with our baby has been so much more important than worrying about what she is wearing…so all those returns we wanted to make never happened and we were grateful for more clean laundry.

  • Reply Lyndsay Buchanan April 15, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    It's always a struggle buying baby clothes, I've found H&M have a pretty good basics range that is all grouped together and doesn't stereotype. My little boy wears a lot of navy, it matches his eyes and really suits him – plus I always wear grey and navy so I like us to match!

  • Reply Ceci Bean April 15, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    I totally totally agree with this. I don't think I will wait to find out the sex of my baby, but I've already considered the fact that once it is announced, we will have to brace ourselves for the onslaught of gender-specific clothes.

    I absolutely love your mother's response! My mom would roll her eyes and say "still with all the grey, eh?"

  • Reply My Little Bungalow April 15, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    Well put. My mom was a maverick back in the day, dressing me in navy blue, red and brown when I was a toddler. I had such cute clothes, and some were the opposite of girly. With my short hair, red corduroy pants, navy blue coat and black saddle shoes, I'm sure people would say to my mom and dad, "What a cute little boy!" I'm sure they didn't care. They had nice dresses for me too, but when it came to play time my mom was all practicality. She didn't want to be like other moms telling their daughters not to get dirty. She chose clothes that were practical and durable. Smart mom. I like your philosophy too. And more and more people are thinking the same way.

  • Reply Martie @ Spunkyrella April 15, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    Your mom´s comment is spot on! And I agree. A friend of mine just had a baby and even though it´s a girl, she was never a fan of pink and she didn´t want to go all-pink for her daughter. Even though I did know by the time I purchased a soft jacket and pants, close to the onesie you got, I would never go for pink just because it "has to be pink for girls".

  • Reply Anonymous April 15, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    One obvious benefit of baby clothes in soft neutral colors is that they can be passed down to another child regardless of gender. (Not so easy to do, for example, if child number one is a girl whose entire wardrobe is pink, and child number two is a boy.)

    Also, I read somewhere that Angelina Jolie dresses her children in neutral colors (mostly black, white, and gray) and in androgynous styles. This allows them to share clothes when they travel. And, of course, she just might be making a political statement as well.

    (For lots of interesting viewpoints, try googling "angelina jolie kids clothes gender neutral."


  • Reply laurab April 15, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    i am exploding with how adorable you are.

  • Reply Anna April 15, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    I had a stranger tell me that I had deliberately set out to confuse them by putting my child in a blue onesie and topping it off with a pink blanket. When we put a pink dress on her one day, someone commented on how nice it was to "finally" see her wearing pink.

    I don't object to the colour pink. The pale pink favoured by clothing designers for little girls doesn't really suit my child–I'd prefer darker, more vivid shades. But I do object to dressing my child in nothing but pink. Adults don't typically dress in monochrome colour palettes, why should children? I spent a lot of time trying to track down dark, plain onesies (as I also object to my child wearing clothes with slogans like "Daddy's girl" or "Mommy's best friend." Finding clothes without stuff printed on them is harder than I thought it might be without ordering them online).

    This tendency to not overdo pink has led to people assuming that my daughter is a boy when she is wearing any colour but pink. Purple dress? Must be a boy. White jacket with embroidered flowers? Must be a boy. Pale mushroom brown onesie? Obviously has to be a boy. Can't wait to see how the black dress with rocket ships goes over.

    Dressing your child in neutrals sounds like a fantastic idea. Most of our kid's clothing is hand-me-downs from other people and then some things from the thrift store, so it's a mix of "boy" clothes, really pink stuff, and in-between things. Basically, limited choices. As most of it was free, I don't really object to the extremely pink items, but there were a couple things that went straight to the "find a new home" pile.

    • Reply Erin April 22, 2014 at 11:24 am

      Stay tuned: more on hand-me-downs to come!

  • Reply Kari April 15, 2014 at 6:06 pm

    I find the best thing to do is wait till after they're born to buy most of their clothes. That way, you can see what looks best on them. My two kids have very different colouring, so I bought them very different colours. This way, you're doing what's best for them, rather than reacting (pro or con) to the stereotypes of the day.

  • Reply poisonwood April 15, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    I love your philosophy on gender neutral colours, sometimes the pale greens and yellows are too much! It must be hard to shop for gender neutral baby items, I feel like everything I see comes in baby pink or baby blue (not too pleasing). Best of luck finding some nice neutrals! Also, your mom is hilarious!

  • Reply infusionfibers April 15, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    Grinning ear to ear on your mom's comment. Under The Nile is one of my favorite places for baby items. And I am very with you on the neutrals! Another consideration, where the colorless/near-colorless makes such sense, is that most dyes are loaded with chemicals and heavy metals.

  • Reply Amanda April 15, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    Ohhhh man, please post more notes from your mom, that's hilarious!

  • Reply Hello. My name is Allison. April 15, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    Your mother made me, literally, LOL 🙂

  • Reply Nicole April 16, 2014 at 12:08 am


  • Reply elizabeth April 16, 2014 at 2:51 am

    your mum's comment made me smile.
    also – i loved navy blue on my girl and my boy.

  • Reply MelD April 16, 2014 at 11:49 am

    LOL – from one grandmother to another, love your mom's comments!!
    My girls had very colourful childhoods: 30 years ago it seemed more blue/red than pale blue/pink, my 23 yr old had a lot of purple/light green and the 18 yr old had everything from black/white check to pink/lilac…
    Nowadays, if it were my time again, I think I'd be going for cream/dark red and plain, simple, classic stuff like white and denim alongside the other neutrals. I remember way back thinking grey was very chic – only featured in French baby knitting patterns but not in UK/other European ones – but the older generation thought I was crazy.

  • Reply Anonymous April 16, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    I had my daughter first, so lots of pink appeared. Needless to say, my son , who was born second, wore lots and lots of pink ! Guess what ? He's 17 now, and has turned out just wonderfully, if I may brag ! Straight A's all the way – and cute with a great personality !! So there !

    • Reply Erin April 22, 2014 at 11:23 am

      No surprise there!

  • Reply Anonymous April 16, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    Nous nous rejoignons une fois de plus !!
    Also, I must confess that I still buy most of my son's clothes and shoes in France.
    Love the onesie and your Mom's comment.
    Porte-toi bien.

    • Reply Erin April 22, 2014 at 11:23 am

      Coucou! Sigh, the French really get baby clothes right, don't they? Wish they sold Petit Bateau in grocery stores in the US like they do in France!

  • Reply Lara April 16, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    I, too, wanted to dress my daughter in mainly neutral tones, because that's what I gravitate toward and find classic. However, I will say that I have thrown up the white flag of surrender because a) the people in my life aren't as classy as your mom and buy a lot of pink, cupcake-bunny-flower themed clothes for her and b) I got so tired of people calling her a boy. Aye. I love the onesie you purchased. 🙂 Your baby will be adorable in it.

  • Reply Sol April 16, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    I don't have time to read the comments and probably someone said this before, but one of the best color for children is bright red!

  • Reply Anonymous April 17, 2014 at 1:29 am

    I like H&M for baby and kid clothes, they have some great neutral and even bright color options that could work for either gender, a lot of it is also organic cotton.

  • Reply adae April 18, 2014 at 8:15 pm

    I am so with you on this topic! But since I do like bright colours I take pleasure in confusing people by mixing them 'ambiguously' when dressing my little daughter — like… turquoise with red, grass green with purple, blue with orange… (seldom all at once though ;-), and mosty with some neutrals like gray, dark blue, brown etc). I am still surprised at how people are fixated on finding out and defining a baby's gender as early as /possibly/ possible.
    Greetings from Germany! A.

    • Reply Erin April 22, 2014 at 11:21 am

      Incredible, hunh? Once had strangers try to convince me that I had little brothers, not sisters, because they were dressed in gray and navy snowsuits!

  • Reply Audrey April 21, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    Hilarious response! I don't know why people are so concerned about strangers knowing if their baby is a boy or a girl. I could care less. People make stupid comments. One time I had my son dressed in navy pants and tan shirt with puppy dog paw prints and someone still asked if he was a girl. Buy what you like. Love the idea of white, beige and gray clothes.

  • Reply Suzanne April 21, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    Did you get this adorable onesie at Sprout San Francisco in NY? I work at the one in SF and just had a baby boy. We didn't know the gender either so went for a lot of whites, greys, and navys knowing we would use those for a little girl or boy. Sprout has so many good gender neutral options that aren't your normal green/yellow.

    • Reply Erin April 22, 2014 at 11:21 am

      Sounds like a good shop! I found this one at Half Pint Citizens in DUMBO, here in Brooklyn!

  • Reply Anonymous April 21, 2014 at 10:14 pm

    I love reading your posts! I am in awe of how you live even though I have lived in tiny places (pre-children). Now with a handful of little ones, I am trying to get back to simplicity and minimal living with quality over quantitiy, and with lots of boys, I also want to balance with making sure there is space to run-somewhere (outside at least). I especially love to read your baby dreaming posts because you have no idea what is to come, but in spite of that, I believe you are going to do just fine with any amount of space. You'll get even better. And your mind will be blown by what's ahead…there is nothing like it and no way to understand it but to have a little one of your own. It's fun, it's really hard, it's amazing, and it's a huge change, but most of all It's going to be great! Enjoy!

  • Reply Kristina April 22, 2014 at 5:17 am

    I love neutral baby clothes! Neutrals look so soft and cozy on them. Your mom's comment was hilarious though 🙂

  • Reply zara April 25, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    I love this. And as a soon-to-be mom not finding out the gender of their baby I can totally relate to the color issues!

  • Reply Bethany Brett April 30, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    To start with, my husband and I want more than one kid so we planned to have a gender neutral nursery. My mom loved the joy of discovering our gender at birth and I want no different… but now that I am pregnant, I realized that people have TONS of opinions about my baby and there are people trying to bully me into finding out the gender. WHY!?!?! I don't like baby blue or baby pink and I would rather not have that stuff anywhere near my baby.

  • Reply Sasha January 17, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    This is a fascinating read. Why gendered baby clothes? Why gendered clothes at all?

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