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Clothing Has No Gender

Removing Gender Labels on Kids’ Clothes Can Reduce Pressure to Conform

Anna Sundquist, Communications Intern

The UK clothing company John Lewis recently announced a plan to remove gender labels on their children’s clothing. This decision was met with a large amount of controversy, with many people supporting the decision and others criticizing it. Overall, however, the move is a step in the right direction of supporting children and their ability to express themselves as they choose. 

While the change was originally announced in 2016, it has not come to public attention until now. This is due perhaps to the conversation around Pink’s speech at the VMAs about gender non-conformity. 

Clothing should be a practical, comfortable way to express oneself, if they so choose. The gender stereotyping and often blatant sexism that exists in the children’s clothing industry is not appropriate, such as the recent backlash the National Trust faced when it was selling pink hats that read “Future Footballer's Wife.” Other companies such as Gap and ASDA were criticized for designing shirts for boys with slogans such as “Future Scientist,” or “Boys will be Boys,” while girls’ designs featured phrases such as “Ponies rock.” Not only are these phrases harmful to children by discouraging dream careers or promoting bad behavior, but they are completely unnecessary. At such a young age, clothing is not something that needs to be gendered. 

John Lewis is not changing the styles of the clothing; rather, the brand is simply removing the “boys” and “girls” labels from it. There will still be “feminine” clothing, such as floral dresses, but they simply won’t be assigned to boys or girls on the label. The purpose of this decision is not to diminish the expression of gender, but rather to enhance it. If a little boy desires to wear a dress, but it’s labeled for a girl, he might be discouraged and pressured to suppress his style. New pieces have also been introduced to accommodate all types of expression, such as a dress with dinosaurs printed on it. 

The company’s decision is important for several reasons. First of all, children in our society already face enough pressure to conform, whether that be to a certain body size, a hobby choice, or gender expression. There is no need to add onto that pressure by dictating what styles of clothing a child can wear. Additionally, every child (and adult, for that matter) deserves to feel comfortable and confident in the clothes they wear. 

As the first UK retail brand to make this change, John Lewis has set a positive example for other retailers to stop gendering their clothing, and allowing children to express themselves without shame. 

Anna is a recently-retired ballerina, trying to use her experience to bring awareness and help others. She is excited to work with NEDA as an intern after her own recovery from an eating disorder. Anna is currently pursuing a degree in psychology.