This adorable pink and white cotton-print dress would have been perfect for a little girl, with one exception…it was worn by a boy.
The little boy was George Munroe Gleim of Lancaster, who was born in 1859. Little George was highly fashionable during his time. Gender-specific colors and styles did not yet exist culturally. Boys and girls were dressed equally until the age of 6 or 7, when they began to dress more like their adult counterparts. Typically, the color white was the preferred choice for infant and toddler clothing, since such fabrics were easily laundered and bleached.
CAP Curator Katie McGowan submitted the dress, which dates to the early 1860s, as this week’s Pennsylvania Treasure.
At the time of George’s birth, various shades of red were considered masculine colors. Girls, on the other hand, were thought to benefit from dressing in blue, a cooler, daintier color befitting a feminine personality.
You may also be wondering as to why George would have had a dress, rather than pants. He would have worn pants, once he was sufficiently bathroom trained. Little Victorian boys were often put into skirts until they were “breeched,” essentially when they were dexterous enough to undo the laces and buttons of the fly on their breeches. Notice the tucks (pleats) on the skirt of George’s dress, indicating that his mother accommodated a lengthy wearing period for the dress. If George grew, the tucks could be let out and the dress worn another year or until the next child was born.
When did pink become a suitable color for girls and blue for boys? Both colors were available during the 19th century, though not prescribed to any gender. By the early 20th century, the color pink was considered the only choice for boys, while blue was reserved for girls. It wasn’t until World War II that the colors flipped genders, and that was done by clothing retailers. Around that time, clothing also began separating from a gender-neutral style into dresses for girls and pants for boys.
Although it may seem like a foreign idea to us today, the idea of a boy wearing pink was socially acceptable in Victorian society. Today, many new mothers are again choosing gender neutral colors, like yellow or green, to decorate a nursery. In another 100 years, perhaps the color choices for infants will change again.
About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.