Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Monkey Butt

        Kiley has a monkey on her butt. Believe it or not this bizarre development indicates that she is a girl and that gender specific clothing for babies has undergone another twist in its increasingly rapid evolution. Today it is taken for granted that we dress baby girls differently from baby boys but it hasn't always been so. This is a relatively new phenomenon, historically speaking. In the distant past babies of both genders appear to have either gone "swaddled" (wrapped tightly in binding cloth) or naked. As far as "swaddling" is concerned, that strange practice was employed even in biblical times. Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes, as you will recall. In later centuries swaddling was diligently employed based on misconceptions about the development of infant appendages (infants who went unswaddled ran the risk of their limbs growing crooked. Good lord!). As far as "naked" is concerned it may be a misconception on my part but I don't ever recall seeing any renaissance painting that depicted an infant with any clothes on. This may simply have been an artistic statement about the spiritual purity of  infants, or something, especially ones with halos around their heads or wings on their backs, but I can't help but imagine a 15th century Italy where adults were covered from head to toe with voluminous yards of cloth while their children crawled as naked as jay birds through the Tuscan countryside.

Somewhere along the way parents started dressing their babies in long gowns which were basically unisex, with both baby boys and girls being dressed identically. The unisex thing seems to have been the norm throughout history. Babies, it appears, were often thought of primarily as babies and their gender was secondary to their "babyness". Late in the 19th century "rompers" came into fashion. These were (and are) like onesies with attached bloomer type pants and were the same for both boys and girls. Rompers were standard baby fare in the first half of the 20th century and came in different colors. By the late 1920's floral and animal designs started appearing on baby clothing. Originally these designs were unisex just like the rompers they adorned but eventually they began to be differentiated by sex with motifs such as drums and dogs for boys and flowers and kittens for girls. These gender specific motifs created the designations of boys and girls clothes even if the styles themselves were identical. That gender specific trend has continued.

The familiar concept of gender specific colors (blue and pink) began around 1910 but was originally reversed with pink for boys and blue for girls. It was reasoned that pink was a milder form of red which stands for Mars the god of war. Therefore pink was appropriate for boys. By the same logic blue was associated with Venus the goddess of love and was designated as feminine. These designations, however, were merely what fashion dictated and in practice both colors were interchangeable. It wasn't until after WWII that pink became the color for girls and blue for boys and has remained so ever since.

Over the past couple of generations baby fashion has swung this way and that, from practically unisex to extreme gender differentiation in clothing and back gain. Maybe it's just a personal impression but it seems to me that the emphasis is more often on feminizing girls clothing to differentiate them from boys rather than the other way around. This observation, if valid, points to the double standard that exists in what is acceptable for girls and boys and the gender colors highlight this. Generally it is permissible for girls to wear blue, no one thinks anything about it, but it is not permissible for boys to wear pink. A boy dressed in pink raises eyebrows. This translates into adult fashion as well. Women can wear men's clothes but the other way around doesn't work, the Rupauls of the world notwithstanding.

And that brings us to the monkey on Kiley's butt. Now that I'm around a baby again I notice that baby girls often wear pants that have some kind of whimsical image on the bum. Flowers, kittens, elephants, monkeys – whatever you like it is there to decorate your baby girls bottom. Baby boys? Not so much. The boys have them on their chests or bellies (usually sharks or dinosaurs or lions or some other predator, appropriately cartoonized of course) but we don't seem to want to draw attention to our baby boys bottoms the way we do our girls. It's kind of weird when you stop to think about it but at the same time it seems very natural to me. Baby girls look adorable with something decorating their bottoms but on baby boys it would raise eyebrows. I won't try to psychoanalyze our society over this or try to make some kind of insightful point. That's for sociologists, anthropologists, and "gender-studies" crackpots to twist into their own political agenda. The bottom line is that boys will be boys and girls will be girls and their parents will continue to dress them for the job. Girls actually have the best part of the deal. They're the lucky ones. They have so many more options when it comes to fashion than boys and have the option to either take advantage of it or not. The vast majority do take advantage of it because that's the way girls are. They love fashion. I'm sure Kiley will be no exception. I expect she'll be a regular fashionista when it comes to clothes because, believe me, from her big brown eyes and curly locks to the monkey on her butt she's all girl.


This post linked to the GRAND Social


  1. Very interesting, well researched, well thought out.

    Now I guess I should throw out my Curious George underwear.

  2. Fun history of the children's fashion world. I hadn't realized how recently some trends have come to be and how far back in history others have been. Thanks for an interesting post!!