Clothing tends to be designed, marketed, and shopped for in very gender-binary terms, with separate collections, sizing, and store sections for men and women. But that's slowly shifting: In the past year, major retailers like Zara
have introduced unisex ranges, with varying degrees of success
. While progressive and forward-thinking, these collections tend to have a disconnect between intent and execution. However, there are some noteworthy, genuinely gender-neutral apparel options for one particular market demographic: kids.
A few labels prove that kids should just be (and dress like) kids, free of any gender-confining messaging. "Until around age 11 boys and girls have the same body shape and clothing needs," Karina Lundell, head designer of gender-neutral Swedish clothing brand Polarn O. Pyret, told Refinery29. "Kids need comfy clothes with good fit and function that they can play in." (Granted, it's a lot easier to design with a "one style for all" approach for kids' body shapes and proportions than adults' physiques.)
The same heteronormative pink-or-blue tropes dominate clothing as well as toy
offerings for kids, but it hasn’t always been this way. Until around World War I, pastels were standard for children's clothing in the U.S., but today's gender-hue correlations weren't in place, per the Smithsonian
. At first, pink was actually seen as a more masculine color, and blue was considered softer and more appropriate for girls — conventions that didn't switch until the 1940s, when gendered kids' clothing really became a thing. The effects go beyond merely dressing a tot in pink or blue: "Children may then extend this perspective from toys and clothes into future roles, occupations, and characteristics,” Megan Fulcher, associate professor of psychology at Washington and Lee University, told The New York Times
Gender-neutral children's clothing brands have actually been around for decades, and they've been particularly popular in Scandinavia and in the U.K. (Polarn O. Pyret launched in the '70s.) More recently, major retailers in the U.S. are catching on. Target, for example, axed gender-specific labels for its toy and children's clothing departments
last year, which was praised as a step in the right direction
. And then there are the small-scale brands doing it differently. The labels ahead aren't using "unisex" as a marketing ploy. They talk the talk, and walk the walk: Taking gender stereotypes out of kids' clothing is ingrained in their mission statements and integral to their businesses.
Click through for four gender-neutral kids' brands changing the game.