Family / Parenting

An Order of Retail Therapy with a Side of Frustration I have been meaning to write a review of Peggy Drexler’s Raising Boys Without Men, but I never seem to have the time.  So here’s some thoughts on a somewhat tangentially related topic…  

In an ultimately futile attempt to distract myself from my most recent bout of adoption anxiety, I decided to go out and purchase the last few items we needed to bring with us on our upcoming visit trip.  My baby clothes rules are relatively simple – or so I thought.

  1. Cannot cost more than the average weekly income in my son’s country of origin what I would spend on a t-shirt here. Sadly those amounts are equivalent. 
  2. Cannot be emblazoned with advertising slogans – my kid is not a billboard for 0ld Navy or Baby G*p.
  3. No branded characters (I’m sure I’ll flex on this one once he’s old enough to start asking for them, but for now, them’s the rules)
  4. No extreme gender stereotypical imagery or language: “Future chick magnet?” “Football Star”? Monster trucks?

Ideals, which tend to be thrown out of the water by rule #1:

5. I’d like to know that a child or a grossly exploited worker didn’t make the clothes for my child.
6. It would be nice if said clothes were made from organic materials & natural fibers (ha!) & in an environmentally sensitive way.

I went to Marsha11s, 0ld Navy, T*rget, K-M*rt and the Sa1vation Army.  And it was surprisingly hard to find clothes that even satisfied the first four rules. Bright colors are nice. Why is everything blue, pink, pastel yellow, or mint green? Why must all the nice red shirts have monster trucks on them? Why is our animal vocabulary limited to puppies (marketed at boy children), dinosaurs (ditto), ducks (girl children), kittens (ditto), and giraffes (the most neutral I’ve seen)?

Higher-end baby stores seem to have less grossly gendered clothing, which makes me wonder whether there’s a relationship between social class and the desire for gender-neutral clothing.  Even so, my cousin, who works for a kid’s clothing line I can’t afford to buy from even at her wholesale discount, tells me that retailers tell her that they regularly get returns – “I’m sorry, but my husband didn’t want his son in this!”  Is there truly less demand among discount/big-box store shoppers for non-gendered clothing, or does the selection and set-up in these stores condition consumers to expect to buy gendered clothing? Is the physical layout of the store into the girl-infant section and boy-infant section consumer-driven or retailer-assumption driven?

Why is it so frightening for parents when the cashier in the supermarket can’t tell if your two month old is a boy or a girl? Is it the end of the world if someone says your son is beautiful, rather than handsome?  And yet, here’s what I wound up buying.

Tiger  Look at the cute little tiger feet! Tiger close up

Cows and Cat  Make yourself at home, why doncha, kitty?

Harmless Stripes Inoffensive stripes.

Circus Star  King Sleeper  King Detail

These two came as a set. I didn’t notice the writing on the second one until I got home.  It doesn’t make sense to me: leave the word “king” off and you’ve got a cute sleeper that could be worn by anyone.  Put “king” on there, and you reduce your potential market by 50%.  Or at least 25%, assuming that there are people who won’t buy blue for their girls even if it’s otherwise neutral. 

Nonetheless, my purchases are certainly dominated by the color blue, aren’t they? (Gives weak, sheepish grin.)  Believe me, though, when I say this is the best of a very sorry lot.

As part of a two-mom family, I think I’m a little less comfortable bending gender rules and dressing my son in pink than I might be if people weren’t likely to read that as using my child to push the infamous “homosexual agenda.”  I’m also more cautious for this upcoming visit trip – from what I’ve seen in pictures so far, gender-normative clothes are the rule here, and I’m less likely to push limits abroad than I am at home.   

How do you all handle the clothing conundrum?



  1. A good deal of my son’s baby clothing was blue and obviously male-intended. Very much of it came via gifts, so we weren’t going to make a fuss. The sleepers we bought for him tended to be more gender-neutral; Carter’s had some great lines of ducks, frogs, and farm animals. Even so, I find that I have an easier time buying the masculine-targeted clothing over the feminine. And so my son has a lot of dinosaur and fire truck pjs.

    Of course, my justification (or what soothes the part of me that chafes at gender prescriptions) is that if I have a girl next–and that’s what both my wife and I are laying bets on–we’ll dress her in those very same clothes. (Though a tiny voice pipes up in my head: “You wouldn’t be so blithe about this if you’d had a girl first and then a boy.” And I sheepishly have to admit that’s true. I don’t know how much of that is a fear of judgment on the lesbian parents vs. a recognition that it’s easier for females to appropriate masculine things than vice versa.)

  2. Pingback: An Order of Retail Therapy with a Side of Frustration « Artificially Sweetened

  3. I pretty much agree with your “standards” for acceptable baby clothes, however, I can’t say that I wouldn’t mess with intended “messages” on baby clothes. Like you know, the thought of putting a baby girl in “future chick magnet” or “Future Football Star” somehow makes me smile.

  4. Ugh, I got so sick of blue. And one of the common boy alternatives, red, is the only color that doesn’t look good with red hair. (Though imagine if he were a girl and we were facing all that PINK with red hair.) We hate all the sports things because we don’t like sports, so that cuts down on the options. Don’t mind the cars, though, since they make the kid so happy. The best boy clothes, IMO, are at Janie and Jack, and their sale prices approach reasonable. Don’t think I’d bother for summer t-shirts, but I love the sweaters and corduroys.

    But ditto to what Mouse said… I think I’ve said it here before. It’s so much easier, somehow, to dress a girl in boyish clothing than the other way around.

  5. Clothes are a real problem. You start getting into some serious gender imprinting. And you are right, the more gender neutral clothes are much more expensive.

    Our son has three older boy cousins, and in a way, we have given up the fight. Most of his clothes are handy me downs, which I really like. Why consume more? But they are BOY clothes – trucks, dinosaurs, footballs, you name it.

  6. FYI, here’s the review of Drexler’s book I wrote last spring. Bottom line, IMHO: well intentioned, but sloppy science, and ignores some of the finer points of gender identity. (Abigail Garner also questioned Drexler’s methodology in a radio interview that is no longer available online but is referenced on Garner’s blog.)

  7. In the beginning we were ANTI Pink, the whole nine yards.

    now, we stick her in what fits, truth be told. I do have some great onesies from The Salvat*on Army.

    Whole Foods sells some nice organic cotton stuff, but it’s WAY expensive!

    Macy*s has some good stuff, and they usually have a good sale going on for “last season.” So you just buy a few sizes bigger than you need, and you’re all set!

  8. Yep, Mouse hit it on the head. We have standards pretty similar to yours, but they came into direct conflict with baby shower gifts and the 3 years of hand-me-downs we got from a friend. When it came down to it, we did weed out the football star crap, but we couldn’t fathom turning up our nose at hand-me-down clothes just because they were blue. And occasionally we have purposely picked out pink onesies for him just to make ourselves feel better.

    Despite the shit fit I threw over turtles marketed to boys the first time I went to Babies R Us, this has been one of many battles in only a few short months that ended up on the “don’t fight this one” list.

  9. This is probably the biggest area where I’ve let “lesbian mom guilt” influence my decisionmaking, and where I feel like I would probably treat a daughter differently.

    I feel like it might be too much for us to deliberately add gender nonconformity to a boy who is already “different” by virtue of having 2 moms. Not that the other infants notice, much less care.

    All this will be subject to negotiation once Noah can express his own preferences about clothing. If he chooses pinks, that’s fine. But short of the sexualized male message clothes, ie “Boob Man” t-shirts, I’m ok with putting him in “boy” clothes.

    On a related note, I’d like to buy Noah a baby doll. He loves the littler babies at school, and I think he’d enjoy it. After an hour of Internet searches, I’ve found 4 boy baby dolls that were less than $100; the most common one is marketed as a potty training aide. I’m leaning towards that one since it’s anatomically correct.

    I’m not sure exactly why I want to get him a boy doll instead of a girl doll, but it has something to do with a sense that the doll should be “like him.”

  10. In a few years it won’t matter. Your kid will be wearing exactly what he or she wants. I have a friend who’s son dresses in pink dress up dresses and wears crowns while he plays football with the neighborhood boys. My daughter will wear boys clothes princess dresses cowboy boots and high heals-I do have to insist on her changing out the high heals and boots for sneakers on PE days. (of course these 2 kids are best friends, age 6 both of them). Of course I never balked at hand me downs either! Dress them in what makes you feel good-my daughter did have her own little flannel shirts when she was little!

  11. Hey Art – I love this conversation. When I had Gillian (14) I was determined to dress her in non-gendered clothes. My mother and sister showed up the day before we were released with the pinkest, laciest dress they could find. Gillian has always tended to want to wear clothes that were from the “boys” section. I have very few pictures of her in dresses. Since she is able to pick out her own clothes, she dresses exclusively in the boy/men’s section. She will ask me from time to time if I am disappointed in her because she doesn’t wear dresses, to which I tell her absolutely not. Now Katie (4) wants to wear dresses every day and the pinker and frillier the better. I bow down and let her. It’s what she likes. I tend to try and get her dresses from Hanna Andersson (on sale or ebay) where they are funkier and more versatile (play all day comes with leggings). If I had a boy, I truly don’t know what I would do. I don’t know if I could put pink on a boy, I just don’t know. I’m being honest. When we were away on vacation there was a family at the table next to us with 3 boys, the baby was dressed in pink. I assummed he was a girl and made an assine comment about having a girl after 2 boys when the Mom told me that she was a he and did I feel like an ass. Making assumptions. I apologized and the Mom said everyone says that. Still, I feel as though I should be more evolved for some reason.
    Having said all that, have a great trip, say hi to the baby from us and we’ll get together when you get back! You know I am going to want to see pictures! Traveling Mercies to you and Pili!

  12. Great topic. I have a follow up post that I’ve been working on that I was going to share, but I’m not sure if this would just be a rehash. Maybe I will post it.

    Anyhow, for us, it really really does not matter. Our kid is mostly in blue, cuz that is what folks got us, but DP went out and bought a LOT of pink, so he is in pink a lot as well. He gets “girl” from many strangers, and then when folks ask his name and we tell them and they get all apologetic. Really, it makes no difference to us. He doesn’t know he’s a boy. Really.

    I don’t know. I hear you on not pushing the gender stuff when you are abroad (I was just in the Caribbean and he did wear pink, but only when at home) but when I’m here, I really want to push it.

    Best of luck on your trip. I can’t wait to hear details.

  13. If I were you (and I wholeheartedly agree, btw), I would try this is a wonderful Swedish company, much of whose clothing is very gender neutral. It is somewhat pricey (though they are always running sales, and you can get them for less on Ebay), but the quality of the cottons are unbelievable… like dressing the baby in butter that wears like iron. The colors are vibrant and beautiful, and nary a monster truck, billboard-like ads, or dumb slogan to be found.

  14. I agree on the Hannah Andersson. We have received some of it, and it lasts forever!!

    Like many folks, we preferred gender neutral clothing for our kids, but received mostly stereotypical boy or girl stuff from other people. Some of it was too over the top to use, but after the initial gift-giving frenzy was over, we were free to buy what we wanted, which was mostly comfortable sweats and striped shirts (kind of like what we would wear ourselves, hee hee).

    We enjoy dressing our daughter in her brother’s old play clothes, but we also enjoy the cute dresses that people have given us. She LOVES pink, and will pick it over other colors when given the choice. So we try to keep the pink mixed in with other neutral-colored play clothes. For the most part, I HATE the horrid cuts of many girl clothes. Why should a baby have an elastic off the shoulder kind of style? It’s ridiculous. In general, boy clothes are more sensibly made.

    The funniest thing we purchased was a stretch suit for our daughter that said “My heart belongs to daddy” on the sleeve. It was a very cute suit, so we just cut off the letters, although I doubt anyone would have ever noticed.

  15. I consider any hand-me-downs to be an act of reusing/recycling, and thus good for the environment, so that fulfills #1 and #6, and sort of #5, because we aren’t further contributing to this problem by getting something new. So we won’t be picky with hand-me-downs or thrift store goods. Unless something is truly offensive — “chick magnet” should only be worn by cute little dogs, imho. #5 and #6 are very difficult to fulfill if you’re trying to save money, so you could register somewhere that has this type of product, and let indulgent grandparents and friends fulfill their own need to buy cute things for your little guy.

    In all of the pics we’ve gotten of our sons, at least one of them is wearing “girl’s” clothing — pinks, frills, pics of Minnie Mouse. Obviously, in an orphanage environment whatever fits and is clean and available is what is chosen for the kids. When the boys get here, and have to move in a society where they will stick out for being different in so many ways — being from Ethiopia, being black and having white parents, having been adopted — I don’t want to add to their difficulties by dressing them in ways that might make them feel uncomfortable amongst other kids, which we know can become like Lord of the Flies in an instant.

    I’m guessing we’ll have a variety of clothes, not too much “super boy”- looking stuff, and dress-up clothes. My brother and I dressed up a lot as kids, and he never thought twice about wearing dresses and wigs, nor I about wearing a false mustache. He also loved playing with Barbies. As did his GI Joe doll.

    Sorry for going on so long!

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