The other day I gave in and bought something blue for my mama’s boy in the making — a winter baby bunting that my husband Neil said looked like the color of an icicle. For years, ever since I began trying to have a child, my mommy-fashion eye focused on little girls in striped Pippi Longstocking tights worn with smock dresses and t-shirts and turtlenecks all in mismatched colors — bright purples and reds and oranges and hot pinks. When I (rarely) considered baby boy clothes, it was just to note that I would never be the kind of mother to succumb to gender stereotyping in dressing my child. I could still hear my grandmother’s admonitions to tidy my appearance by brushing my hair (she didn’t get that curly hair brushed turns to frizz), and my mother trying to get me to wear sailor suit dresses and patent leather shoes, and behave like a proper girl. I doubt that they would have been so passionate about my looks had I been born a boy. When it came to my own children, I vowed, no pink/blue divide for me! (Never mind the Pippi Longstocking tights and all those purples and pinks . . . ) I’d dress my boy in pink ballet tulle skirts, my girl in the most rugged jeans and t-shirts. And there is a pair of infant size pink checked Vans my friend Emily passed down to me that I can’t wait to pop on my baby boy in a couple of months. But when it comes to the other inherited items and purchased things piling up in the corner of the living room, I’ve quickly learned that gender neutrality is hard to come by, even for a newborn.
Walk down an aisle of any store that carries children’s clothes — from H&M to Old Navy to Target to the local swanky boutique in your town, and there it will be — the dreaded divide. Baby boy clothes on one side of the aisle and baby girl clothes on the other. Sure, there are the occasional neutral green or yellow onesies for expectant parents who are letting their baby’s sex stay a surprise, but, for the most part, gender typing starts in the womb as a mother is busy preparing for her baby’s first weeks and months.
To side step this, I’ve been collecting mostly sleep-ready soft things of any and all colors for the “fourth trimester” and, when it comes to actual out-and-about clothes, relying heavily on the new fashion for boys of skull t-shirts and graphic animal-based hooded sweatshirts and cargo pants. (Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks say what you will!) I’d managed to put together a blue-free layette. And then, the icicle blue snowsuit . . .
For the last two years, I’ve been carrying around a gift certificate from Patagonia, the wilderness store, in my wallet. Soon after getting the certificate, I’d spied Patagonia’s infant winter buntings, and decided the perfect use for the gift card would be to keep my much-hoped-for baby warm. At the time, I was imagining our new arrival from India, the unknown little girl we wanted to adopt, acclimating to her first frozen Boston winter. I had my eyes on the orange and purple number with the bold flower print, or perhaps the burgundy and powder pink solid version in size two years. Now we’re spending the year in New York City, moving to a Brooklyn sublet a few weeks before my due date, and shopping for our infant boy due a few days before Christmas.
The downtown Patagonia store is a couple of blocks away from my doctor’s office, and last week I brought Neil along to check out the choices for baby winter things. He loved the bunting and we decided to go for it, despite the fact that it was an 80-degree October day, and we didn’t know if it would ever be cold enough for a snowsuit again. There was the burgundy and pink number, and the flowered orange and purple version that even Neil, a sociologist usually game for the unexpected gender choice, proclaimed way too girly. The green was sold out, nationwide. (Believe me, I checked.) Which left the icicle blue. I dithered. Blue, for a boy? Wasn’t that too standardized for my mama’s boy? Was I setting my baby up for a life of football playing, poker games, and Internet porn by my sexist shopping choices? And then Neil held the certifiably adorable snowsuit up. Clearly, this snowsuit would not turn my baby into a brute. Just like his pink sneakers aren’t going to do much to build his sensitive side. (I think the board books I’m picking out will have a much bigger influence than any article of clothing size three months.)
This was the kind of over-thinking I’d only have time to indulge in for the next two months. I may have worn the occasional sailor dress as a child, but that didn’t stop me from trekking through Nepal and working in the fields on a Kibbutz when I was twenty. And my grandmother was wrong about brushing my hair, but, on the other hand, one of my favorite treats these days is the occasional blow out which turns my curls luxuriously straight. I suppose there’s something to gain from exploring the various sides of gender identity, even when it’s something as basic as pairing a blue winter coat with pink skater sneakers. With that realization made, we traded my gift certificate for the blue bunting and went on to a nearby vegetarian diner for burgers and salads. I was eight months pregnant, and hungry, and any further analysis would have