What if Woody Wore Pink?

What if Woody wore pink?

What would you think of Woody from Toy Story if he wore pink?

Woody from Toy Story with pink bandanaWould you think the color choice was incongruous—that it didn’t seem masculine enough for a 1950s-era cowboy toy?

Well, you’d be wrong. Check out these images from the 1955 Sears Christmas Book catalog that Elizabeth Sweet, a newly minted Ph.D. from the University of California at Davis, sent me. Here’s Roy Rogers Apparel, featuring Roy Rogers and his son, Dusty–who is wearing a cowboy outfit with red, yellow, and pink accents:

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To modern eyes, this is surprising. “Pink is a girls’ color,” we think. This association has become so firmly entrenched in our cultural imagination that people are flabbergasted to learn that until the 1950s, pink was often considered a strong color and, therefore, was associated with boys.

But it wasn’t only for boys. Although gender segregation is de rigeur today, it wasn’t back then. Look at these outfits for boys and girls, also from the 1955 Sears catalog: There are brown and red outfits for boys and girls. Pink and blue outfits for boys and girls. Blue and green outfits for boys and girls.

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These spreads make it clear that in the 1950s, when Woody’s Roundup is supposed to have originated, Woody would have been pretty darned stylish in pink.

A decade later, things had started changing; pink was more closely associated with girls. (As Elizabeth notes of the Sears catalogs in her collection, “I didn’t find anything similar in 1965.”)

In today’s marketplace, I believe parents would love to see options like these. In fact, just yesterday, one of my friends posted this to facebook about his failed shopping trip:

Alright, parents, I went to buy my daughter cool costume stuff like pirate stuff and cowgirl stuff and all I found was princess outfits. She doesn’t know the word ‘princess’. She knows the words ‘cowgirl’ and ‘pirate’. What’s the deal? Why does every company want her to be a princess? Why can’t she be an awesome cowgirl pirate?

Sadly, the reason is that in the retail world, this kind of diversity just doesn’t fly anymore. The status quo is segregation; as Elizabeth Sweet has argued, “finding a toy that is not marketed either explicitly or subtly (through use of color, for example) by gender has become incredibly difficult.” And the more entrenched this practice becomes, the harder it becomes to change, as change is perceived by marketers and retailers as a risk.

Therefore, for the foreseeable future, pink will serve as a clear delineation in the marketplace: If something is pink, it is most definitely not for boys, who regard it as a contagion—something to be avoided at all costs.

So it is that if Woody wore pink today, he would be unintelligible in the marketplace. And so it is that my friend can’t find a good cowgirl outfit for his little girl: he’d have to travel back to 1955 to do so.

The push for “girly” to be synonymous with “pink” saddens me. It has caused girls’ worlds to shrink, and it only reinforces for boys the idea that they should actively avoid anything girlish. Monochromatic girlhood drives a wedge between boys and girls—separating their spheres during a time when cross-sex play is healthy and desirable, and when their imaginations should run free.

Instead, we’re limiting our kids. It’s infuriating.

P.S.  Laurie M. adds: “Or indeed look at the clothes the Doc of 1955 puts Marty for his trip to the Old West in Back to the Future 3 – ridiculous clothes (for any gender) to be sure, but nonetheless masculine by contemporary standards, pink and all.”

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Rebecca Hains is a media studies professor at Salem State University. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

13 Comments on “What if Woody Wore Pink?

  1. I personally find it silly that colour stuff. Why must girls wear pink and boys blue?

    Pink is a very beautiful colour and it even radiates warmth which is something not true for blue as it is often associated with cold.

    Does that mean that we view our boys cold hearted individuals, that they have no love, no warmth within them for their neighbour?

    So yes silly does!!

  2. I’m old enough to remember the 50’s and Elis had a Pink Cadillac. And there were some Italian guys in my high school that wore pink dress shirts. And I do know where there is a pink house even today. But it was for most, just a passing fad and only a few guys had those pinks shirts.

    • The charcoal and pink fad lasted probably one or one and 1/2 seasons. There is still a bicolor bowtie in my drawer from that season. I seem to remember two tone sweaters or sweater sets. I was probably in junior high at the time.

      • You may be right about 1 or 2 years, my memory is not great. Yeah sweaters were popular, but I do recall my engineer boots and duck tail hair cut the most. Almost forgot the flat top hair cut.

  3. I’m actually not one for pink (ignore my pink hair for a moment), I think it’s too heavily stereotyped to mean “girlie and frilly” and I don’t really want to be associated with that. I just want to be me. xD
    My best friend’s boyfriend has pink hair though, and he looks amazing with it. Both of them wear pink even though it’s considered a color for girls and not boys.

  4. It’s funny, I remember when I was a kid and I flat-out refused to buy pink accessories or wear pink clothing, because I didn’t want to be perceived as a fru-fru girl. I think the “girliness” factor in pink has been emphasized to the point that pink isn’t just code for “girl,” but rather for a particular type of girl—the girly-girl, Disney-loving, princess-aspiring girl. I was so determined to avoid being stereotyped that way that I refused to wear skirts or dresses while competing in debate at high school, and would only wear dark colors and pantsuits.

  5. Interesting article.
    You see, i’m in middle school (6th), and about a week ago, a boy asked one of my friends why she had a blue lunch box if she is a girl.
    I strongly dislike pink. Don’t get me wrong, I like to wear light pink blouses every now and then. I just hate the whole “Pink = Girls Blue = Boy.”

  6. Of course, the 1950’s imagination of “cowboy attire”, with embroidered, fringed shirts and whatnot, is a style more suited to a circus’ “Wild West Show” than to the everyday work clothes of a 19th century rancher – which shows that the general public of 1950 was as capable as we are to entertain widely-held and completely ridiculous assumptions about fashion. It’s actually quite possible that a real cowboy of the 19th century might wear a pink shirt – perhaps a shirt that had been white until he wore it while butchering a cow, then after trying to wash out the blood, he found himself with a pink shirt. I don’t know. Still, the point here is that 1950’s society accepted pink as a color suitable for either sex. And, this isn’t the only example. Check out this photo gallery from smithsonianmag.com: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/multimedia/photos/?c=y&articleID=119483704

    I find it quite ironic that our society talks incessantly about the need to end discrimination, segregation, sexism and prejudice… yet maintains exceptionally, increasingly rigid sex-differentiated expectations in fashion and behavior. Compare the photo of the 6y/o Franklin D. Roosevelt in the link above, to the 2011 reactions (and media comparisons made..) to J-Crew exec Jenna Lyons’ photograph with her son Beckett (described here: http://media.mtvnservices.com/embed/mgid:cms:video:thedailyshow.com:381625). Whenever I see a Conservative say “Gender distinctions have a place in our society… this is an attack on masculinity..” – or a Progressive say “It’s OK for boys to do ‘girly things’… it’s OK to be transgendered, and it’s their right to be accepted as a girl” – whenever I hear that kind of thing, I always wonder: How does “what’s in my pants” have anything to do with “what’s OK for me to do”? What’s so hard about “Anything which is OK for anyone to do, is OK for anyone else to do… and society doesn’t need to think about what’s in anyone’s pants”?

  7. Fashion industry, female fashion writers ( vast majority ) are anti-freedom for males ,ironically, very strong within historical menswear that females have stolen the last fifty years big time for themselves; i.e. riding boots, tapered pants, stirruped pants, leggings, tights, leather pants! Everything is womenswear and more masculine , the better is the attitude of the industry & most females because their is no societal stigma applied to females and these fashions morph into 100 % female wear over a short time.The fashion gender bias is uniquely aimed at males only the last fifty years because of female successful cross-dressing .

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