Little Boy Blue (and Peach, and Lavender, and Mint, and Blush...)
Pastels are not staple colours in most boys’ wardrobes. When they’re small, we more often see the softer shades, but as boys grow up it seems that clothing brands, family members, friends -- and as a result, boys themselves -- put pastels out to pasture.
Why do our boys and "softness" part ways, culturally?
In my role as primary school Media Literacy teacher and librarian, asking kids to turn their critical thinking skills to their closets is one of my favourite units of study. We talk about the meanings (explicit and implicit) of the graphics and text on our t-shirts. We debate the pros and cons of skirts vs. pants. We tally and graph the wild and domestic animals presented to “boys” and “girls” by mainstream clothing manufacturers. And we think. Why are sharks for boys and unicorns for girls? Are boys themselves wet, wild and deadly, and girls sparkly and lost in imagination? Hmmm.
There’s lots of historical reporting, nowadays, about how pink and blue came to be associated with girls and boys, respectively. It’s important to know that it wasn’t always the case -- and that, in fact, the opposite was true at one point in time. When iSpy Clothing friend Hard Knot Life shared these beautiful pics of her growing family this week, I was struck not only by the beauty of her babies (wow!) but also by the soft palette and glow in which her boy/girl duo were presented, by Sacha de Klerk Photography - Toronto family and newborn... photographer. You don’t see that every day. Why not? That’s an interesting question.
Somehow the pastel shades that are acceptable in babyhood and toddler years -- perhaps because of associations with the home front, milk and mothering -- become colours to be shunned as boys grow towards “manhood.” Gentle pastels are rejected in favour of loud fluorescents and bold primaries. Clothes for boys are filled with graphics that range from aggressive and sporty, to aggressive and carnivorous. Ummm...that’s not such a big range.
I think this warrants a fresh look -- not just a fresh look at wardrobes, but at masculinity too.
Doesn’t every person deserve the room to be soft, sometimes? Vulnerable? A little bit quiet? Shouldn’t all humans have access to the full palette in which to express themselves? When boys shut down on pastels, what else are they shutting down?
My own son came home from senior kindergarten one day, with the news that he “didn’t think [he] should wear [his] favourite colour at school anymore.” Because of his friend’s teasing, he lost a piece of himself, as well as lot of perfectly good t-shirts, sweaters, socks and a fantastic pink scooter. Suddenly, even his hockey helmet was embarrassing, because the name label was (shudder) pink. In one day, his classmates taught him to hate not only a colour, but a little part of himself.
Feminism has a great many achievements under its belt, opening doors for girls and women. Women have more access to positions of power, in more places in the world, than ever before. Girls (in many parts of the world) have the freedom to wear whatever we want, in the colour of our choice. In our fashion and our lives, we can be fierce or fragile, quiet or riotous. For my son, my nephew, the boys in my classes, and my future grandsons, I hope that boys will allow themselves, and one another, to do the same.