Gender neutral clothes for new great-grandbabies

Gender neutral clothes

Ideas about gender neutral clothes for my next batch of great-grandbabies interest me. Three of my granddaughters will present us with babies in the next few months. Two other babies were born at the end of last year. By June, I’ll have twelve great-grandchildren. How did happened so quickly? I should feel incredibly old, but here I am instead, writing an article about colours and shapes of baby clothes.

I’m not sure why this is only the second blog I’ve posted about my great-grandchildren. Being their great-grandmother is a source of great love and pride for me. Here’s a link to the other blog about them.

Two things prompted this blog. The first, a trip to Claremont Quarter with my daughter, Jenny. Two of her daughters and a niece will deliver soon. The second, the prompt ‘Flashback’, in an online writing challenge to which I haven’t even committed.

The flashback

I’m sitting at the kitchen table, my trusty old Singer sewing machine in front of me. It’s a year in the mid sixties, a cool afternoon. Cut-out shapes of white cotton-flannelette (wincey) material sit at the other end of the table.

I’m making nightdresses for a new baby. When I’ve sewn the them, I’ll crochet a soft cotton edge around each neckline and sew a tiny spray of flowers (red, yellow and purple) on each one.

He or she will be born within a month. Until then, no one knows if it’s a girl or boy. Neutral clothing and nursery decoration prevail so far.

New matinee jackets embroidered with elephants, frogs, flowers and ladybirds, bibs and bunny rugs are ready, white and lemon and pale green. Small cast-offs from the baby’s older sibling have been carefully laundered and stacked in a drawer.

Already I’ve washed and folded the pile of new cloth napkins waiting until we return from the maternity hospital where I’ll stay for over a week after the baby’s born.

The current baby, my youngest child, plays under the table. The machine hums softly as I feed the soft fabric through it. Suddenly the mechanism roars and speeds up. I feel the pressure of a damp nappy on my foot as the child sits on it, compressing the control underneath. I yank the cord so that the machine stops abruptly.

Scenes like this were common in families then, saccharine as it sounds.

None of my friends worked outside their homes. We wouldn’t, at least until our youngest children went to school. We routinely bought fabric and made baby clothes as expected by our husbands, mothers and mothers-in-law. We passed the clothes on when our babies grew out of them.

In those days, responsibility for housework and childcare fell almost entirely on women.

What happened next

In those days, relatives, friends and family brought gender specific gifts for the new baby. Blue for boys, pink for girls replaced my gender neutral newborn preparations. And so began again, in subtle and not so subtle ways, the cycle of reinforcing gender specific preferences and behaviour.

Big changes

In the late 1960s I read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. More feminist texts followed, including

My feminist education took off. In the early 1980s I completed a Graduate Diploma in Women’s Studies at Curtin University, and soon after began to teach (radical) Sociology of the Family at the same university.

My first grandchild was born in 1982. I sewed, knitted and crocheted for the new baby not knowing its gender. As she grew, continued to sew and knit for her. I (mostly) steered clear of pink, although it felt difficult to reconcile my need to celebrate this beautiful girl-child in the way I knew from my upbringing and my intense second-wave feminism.

Welcome to the world of gender neutral clothes

I entirely understand the wish of my granddaughters for gender neutral clothes for their babies.. First there’s the practical aspect. For example, when my kids were small, we dressed our girl-babies in frocks. When the poor little things began to crawl, the dresses got in the way. Our solution? Tuck up the dress and tie a knot in the fabric or else tuck it into the back of her nappy. Little boys enjoyed the freedom of overalls and T-shirts.

More importantly, when we’re teaching our kids that, ‘Girls and boys can do anything’, we need to reinforce it. We need them to know that they can climb trees and play on monkey bars and swim in comfort. They can study anything they want, do the jobs they choose without restriction. As youngsters, their clothes should echo our sentiment.

The photo below shows Claire-Helen and Bhen Linton with me, with Alexandra and Edward, rejoicing after a ballet concert in which both children danced.

boys and girls can do anything

The clothes we dress children in is one small sign of how we expect them to grow up. However, if we want them to be equal, then their clothes should echo that. Which means, of course, that girls and boys can wear all colours and types of clothes. They can also choose what to wear from an early age.

Shopping for gender neutral clothes

Jenny and I went to several shops to look at baby clothes. My first thoughts included ideas about how expensive everything seems, and how boring. I would hate to be responsible for putting together a ‘layette’ for a newborn. (Layette, such a delicious old fashioned word. I love it!)

Evidence of mass production of baby clothes at such volume alerted me to the commodification of this market, once such a personal area. Families still pass too-small clothes on to family and friends.

In spite of the discussion about gender neutrality, pinks and blues still feature everywhere. But so, also, did brown, fawn and greys in various shades and intensities. We saw a small smattering of navy and red, and some yellow and lilac. The helpful woman in my favourite wool shop at Crossways in Subiaco pointed me in the direction of sea-green as currently one of the most sought after colours in baby wool.

As for logos! I can’t imagine wanting to dress a baby in something with ‘Country Road’ or ‘Seed’ emblazoned on the chest. Like a living breathing advertisement for multinational companies who have commodified baby wear beyond belief.

When in doubt, do nothing!

I bought nothing.

Instead, I thought about the embroidered baby clothes I once made and decided to embroider some inoffensive items of clothing for the newborns. Singlets! Better still, I found some neat little cotton body-suits. More convenient than conventional singlets.

These will be the canvas for my labour of love. I’m so delighted that I can sew again. (See my blogs about Brain plasticity new science and chronic pain and Rediscovering craft the joy of making things.)

I’m still deciding about my project. The baby body-suits made in Australia are a blend of cotton and elastane. Those made of pure organic cotton originate in Bangladesh. The decision – a first world problem, but something I can contemplate. We still have a month until the first of the new arrivals puts in an appearance.

Copyright, Maureen Helen 2022

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16 Comments

  1. Boys and girls in neutral gender clothing-dresses?
    Just saying!
    Up until the 1920s babies were dressed in white dresses u til they were around six years. Then it came into vogue for blue for girls and pink for boys. Stayed that way until around 1940’s when the colours were switched
    No matter what kids wear they are all special – so wearing neutral clothing can’t change that.Kids can be encouraged to be and do whatever they choose no matter what they wear or what colour!

    1. Hi, Elizabeth. Dresses are impractical for kids of both genders. I remember you tucking Jenny’s dress into her nappy so she could pull herself up on the coffee table! That’s really interesting history. I didn’t know about the switch from pink and blue in the 1940s.

      I absolutely agree that kids are special no matter what they wear. But some ‘gender neutral’ baby clothes seem really ugly and boring with their grey with white elephants in rows and fawn with company logos.

  2. Try UNIQLO in Perth or Karrinyup. Its a Japanese clothing shop & has sme good , different & well priced clothes for all. Worth a visit .I recently purchased 2 newborn, cotton all in ones in lovely designs & colours..$9, made in Sri Lanka.

    1. Thanks for the idea, Maureen. I bought a couple of lovely merino cardigans there for myself last winter, and want to go back for more this year.

      1. Happy that I found this shop. My 20 yr old granddaughter took me. I must confess that I still struggle being completely politically correct in some things. ⚘

        1. Sometimes I think I scratch the surface of political correctness, Maureen. Yet in other ways, people of our generation understand environmental issues because of our childhood as children of people who suffered through the Great Depression. For example, we were taught to not waste a drop of water, to recycle whatever could be used again, to think before we buy anything and make decisions about whether we have something similar, do we really need it, is it made in Australia. There are many other things I struggle with.

  3. What I struggle with is the amount of baby/tot clothes in all places – Target, KMart, David jones, Myer, etc. The rows and rows of clothes. But, of course, I struggle with the amount of adult clothes as well. Look how huge our op shops have become? I managed to clothe my five babies in six years without having to worry what they wore! yes, i know we are living in different times but …. quite often i wish we were still in some olden times.

    However, dear Friend Maureen, i hope your granddaughter is able to find what she would like. That is important.

    I apologise if my comment is hurtful in any way – it was not intended.

    1. I appreciate your comment, Elizabeth Brennan. I am also overwhelmed and horrified by the commodification of childhood that we see in the racks and piles of clothes everywhere. Almost all mass-produced at the cost of badly underpaid workers in sweat-shops. And, as you say, not just clothes for children and babies. I think we were lucky that our baby clothes were simple, often home-made and passed from family to family. I can’t imagine why you’d think your comments would be hurtful in any way. We think alike on most things.

      My three granddaughters who are pregnant are amazing young women and I’m sure their babies will be dressed as much-loved infants of doting parents.

      1. Dearest Friend – my apology was not meant for you. It was for the ‘ether’ – yes, what I treasure about our friendship is that we do think alike on most things. Thank you for that.

  4. Great post, Maureen.

    I doubt I ever gave a thought to gender neutral when my children were small. I dressed them according to what they were, but I adored white for babies and everything I knitted pre birth was white. My girls wore dresses and babygros and when it came to the crawling stage they wore little dungarees. If we were going out I would re-dress them in pretty dresses.

    Three of the girls were absolute Tomboys, but as teens they became much more feminine.

    When Joss was born I was thrilled when the nurse wrapped my boy in a blue blanket. At first, I dressed him in old fashioned little romper suits in white or blue and later in dungarees usually in blue or bright colours from a little French shop that specialised in gorgeous bright colours.

    Joss’s toys were mainly boy things but he also had a tea set and a doll. He only ever played with his doll and the tea set when little girls came to play. He adored train sets, cars and aeroplanes and could tell you the model of any car well before he was three years old. His love of cars has remained.
    He disliked rugby and football; when he went to high school he told me he was surprised to see that some of the boys still hadn’t grown out of football! The only sport he enjoyed was swimming.

    Just before his seventeenth birthday Joss told me he was Gay, he has never been ‘Camp’ and is very traditional in many of his ways and ideas.

    As for grandchildren I knitted mainly white and later in pink or blue if the girls asked for It. When they were no longer babies, The girls wore dresses, jeans and all colours including pink and the boys wore the usual boring boy colours. All the girls loved to wear the modern character Princess dresses, the little ones still do.

    As each child grows older, no matter how they have been dressed, pink or blue they will find out who they are, it’s not a decision they consciously make, it’s inbuilt and none of them need any assistance from us

    None of my children care much for political correctness and the ‘Woke’ brigade except where it would be rude or offensive to do otherwise. They are of a similar mind to me, we now live in a mad world where the occupants make too much fuss about just about everything.

    1. Oh, I just love this response, Sue, and your detailed description of the clothes your children wore and grandchildren now wear. I have one delicious granddaughter (one of 13 granddaughters!) who her parents and some others call ‘the wild child’ for no reason that I can work out except that she is determined to define herself on her terms. No gender neutrality for her! She wears dresses almost all of the time. Delights in tulle skirts, even for trips to the supermarket or garden shop. Her favourite animals are unicorns. She often wears tiaras. And makes a lot of noise.

      I also knitted white, for my own children and for grandchildren and still knit white for great-grands, although lately it’s become a bit more difficult because arthritic fingers notoriously fail to bend or tuck themselves in as required for knitting. Still, I’m determined and love the activity of knitting.

      Your comment about a mad world where the occupants make too much fuss… should be emblazoned on our hearts. Anyway on my heart, everyone else can make their own decisions. But I know I often make too much fuss about things that won’t matter in five years, or even in five months.

      Thanks again for your comment.

      1. I’m just like you Maureen, I sometimes make a fuss about things that in the scheme of things don’t really matter.

        Isn’t it wonderful that each of our children and grandchildren are so different and are able to be themselves?

        After I sent my reply, I re-read it later and made a copy. I thought I might also write a blog about the subject if you don’t mind.
        Thank you, Maureen.

        1. That’s a good idea, SueW. I like that we are able to spark off each other’s creativity. I think that’s what makes a ‘community’ of writers, bloggers, Facebook friends. I look forward to seeing your blog.

  5. I am also working on same profile. I am searching for the best fabric for babies as it is very tough task. But this article really gives me the correct direction about babies clothing. Thanks for sharing

    1. Thanks for your comment, Ted. I’m glad you found the article helpful. Good luck with the search.

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