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Was blue originally a girl color?

The association of the color blue with gender has shifted over time. Today, blue is commonly associated with boys and pink is associated with girls. However, this gender-color association is relatively modern and has changed throughout history.

The History of Blue as a Gendered Color

For much of history, blue was not strongly associated with either boys or girls. Here is an overview of how the gender association of blue has shifted over time:

  • In ancient societies, blue was rarely used in art and textiles due to the difficulty of producing blue dyes. Neither boys nor girls were strongly associated with the color blue.
  • In the Middle Ages in Europe, blue began to be used in art and was associated with the Virgin Mary. Blue carried sacred and spiritual meanings rather than gendered meanings.
  • From the 17th to early 20th centuries, babies of both genders wore white dresses. Blue was seen as an elegant color for girls and women’s clothing, while boys transitioned to breeches and coats in more neutral or earthy colors.
  • In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some gender differentiation emerged with blue used for boys and pink for girls. However, this was a trend rather than a rule, and many families did not follow this early gender-color association.
  • In the 1940s, retailers and manufacturers more strongly promoted the association of blue with boys and pink with girls. Gendered children’s clothing, toys, and other products gained popularity.
  • From the mid-20th century to today, blue has been firmly established as a boy color and pink as a girl color, especially in the United States and Europe. However, the strength of this association varies by culture.

As we can see, blue was not always equated with masculinity. Its emergence as a “boy” color only solidified in the last century with the rise of gendered consumerism and marketing.

Why Did Blue Become Associated with Boys?

If blue was not originally a boy color, how did the association develop? There are a few leading theories:

  • Distance from femininity – As pink emerged as a feminine color in the early 20th century, blue may have been increasingly recommended for boys to diverge from feminine association.
  • Virgin Mary’s cloak – Blue’s sacred history with the Virgin Mary’s iconic blue robe led to it being seen as a delicate, dainty color, versus the bold reds and greens used for boys.
  • Political associations – Blue was associated with conservative politics, which aligned it with traditional masculinity versus more feminine, elaborate women’s fashion.
  • Color rarity – The rarity and expense of blue dyes once made blue clothing a status symbol for elite men and boys.

There was likely no single deciding factor but rather a convergence of cultural associations that led to blue becoming coded as a masculine color. As we will see next, the 20th century marked a major shift in firmly establishing this gender-color divide.

20th Century: Blue for Boys, Pink for Girls

While the association of blue with boys and pink with girls existed in the 19th century, it was not firmly established as a gender norm until the mid-1900s. Several factors promoted this shift:

  • The 1940s saw a significant increase in gendered children’s clothing and product marketing, playing into gender stereotypes.
  • In the 1940s and 50s, some parenting experts began specifically recommending blue for boys and pink for girls to develop early gender identity.
  • Department stores promoted these gender-color divisions in children’s clothing sections starting in the 1940s.
  • Media and popular culture increasingly portrayed gender stereotypes in the 1950s-60s, further entrenching the blue/pink gender divide.

By the 1960s and 70s, blue was a ubiquitous boy color in the United States. A Time article in 1927 had described pink as a “more decided and stronger” color suitable for boys, but cultural convention had completely flipped by the postwar years.

Gendered Color Marketing Over Time

Here is a summary of when major retailers started promoting blue for boys and pink for girls:

Retailer Started Gendered Color Marketing
Sears Roebuck catalog 1918
Marshall Field’s department store 1927
Macy’s department store 1940s
Abraham & Straus department store 1940s

This marketing solidified blue and pink as gender signifiers in the cultural consciousness, a division that mostly remains to this day.

Persistence of the Blue-Boy Pink-Girl Divide

While some challenge the gendering of colors today, blue and pink remain deeply ingrained as symbols of masculinity and femininity. Reasons this color division has persisted include:

  • Familiarity and tradition – Conventions are hard to break once established as the norm over generations.
  • Continued gendered marketing – Gendered products remain profitable, so marketers have little incentive to change.
  • Reinforcement across culture – Media, retail, language, ideas about biological differences all reinforce the gender divide.
  • Preferences and identity – For some, gendered colors have become intertwined with personal preferences and sense of identity.

Beginning in the 2000s, some parents pushed back by refusing gendered clothes and products for their children. However, studies suggest even girls raised gender-neutral show an early preference for pink, indicating an embedded cultural preference.

While the gendering of blue and pink may naturally evolve over time, the associations will likely persist for the foreseeable future given how deeply ingrained they’ve become in society and commerce.


In summary, blue was not always equated with boys and masculinity. This gender association only solidified in the last century due to increased gendered marketing, alignment with gender stereotypes, and the evolving symbolism of colors. The gender-color divide became further entrenched as pink and blue were established as opposing symbols of femininity versus masculinity. While some challenge this binary today, the blue-for-boys pink-for-girls norm remains deeply embedded in culture and difficult to overturn overnight.

Examining the relatively recent history of how pink and blue came to signify gender reveals that these associations were not innate nor are they fixed. Like many aspects of gender norms, they evolved over time due to societal attitudes and commercial interests. Yet the example does illustrate just how quickly a cultural convention can become entrenched once a marketing and media machine reinforces it at a large scale. This reflects the broader challenge of undoing gender stereotypes that have been embedded across generations.