Sunday, 16 October 2011

the sinister rabbits of childrenswear

I know you 'boys in tights' Googlers will just love these.
Last week I was ready to publish a nice 'boys in tights' post to show our latest discovery. Hamish spotted these beauties in H&M and was determined to have them. Aren't they boyishly pretty? I have to admit I am becoming more than a convert to boys tights. I think it's because they are just much more pictorial than girls tights. I would find it hard to resist tights with bears and foxes and racoons too if I was still a kid. As luck would have it we also spied some 'daddy-style' boxers in the same print.

But just before I wrote this post I read Plan B's post 'The strange taxonomy of children's clothes'. She writes about how in the world of children's clothing animals are divided into two camps: boys animals and girls animals. Not by gender as in boy doggies and girl doggies but as Plan B says there are animals which only feature on boys or girls clothes. To quote:-

Boys' animals:
Reptiles and amphibians (all sorts), insects (all sorts except butterflies (and ladybirds)), lions and tigers (but not, it appears, leopards), hedgehogs, alsatians but not most other dogs, crustacea (all sorts), bears, sharks and whales, aardvarks, dragons.

Girls animals:
Cats, rabbits, horses, most farmyard and domestic animals (though I remain uncertain about goats), all small rodents (except rats. Rats don't seem to feature strongly on children's clothes of either gender); dalmatians, dachshunds and yorkshire terriers, butterflies, fish (other than sharks) but not crustacea, seahorses (do they go with horses or fish, do you think?), birds (all sorts except parrots), zebras, unicorns.

Parrots, giraffes and elephants, turtles and most Australian mammals appear to be unisex.

The question Plan B poses is who decides that racoons are for boys and yorkshire terriers are for girls? It's a question that really grabbed me. The sort of topic that I am really interested in. And it got me thinking and for a while I was a little stumped. I got in touch with a couple of friends who I thought might have some insight into this. One has worked in design for many, many years imparting his excellent knowledge to people like me. He thought that there were 'no rules' regarding which animals belong to each gender, rather the way in which the animal is styled and coloured can determine which gender it was suitable for. I can see that; in fact hedgehogs could actually feature on clothes for either girls or boys depending on how 'rounded' or 'cuddly' they are depicted. For boys, when I think of hedgehogs, they definitely have to be more 'true to life'. My friend also asked me to consider "sinister rabbits and horses" on boys clothing. That made me laugh, it sounds far too much like a bad dream.

Prada Collection Spring/Summer 2012
My other friend works for a designer in Paris. She spoke about motifs used in womenswear where anything goes. She sent me some links to next Spring/Summer's Prada collection which has a vintage car motif as a core feature of the collection. It's very pretty and I guess that women's prints don't often feature more 'male' motifs, but as she said, times have changed and now at events such as Indigo prints are no longer really split into categories as buyers prefer to look through everything for something that catches their eye. Childrenswear is different though. It's definitely not, anything goes.

But in writing this all down to Plan B, I had a thought. I couldn't say that I have ever really consciously thought about which animals are for which gender, but shout an animal at me, and I could probably tell you without a pause which gender it should be for. And why is that? I bet you can do it too. I mulled it over for nearly a whole day, until the only conclusion I could come to was that it comes down to the ferocity of the animal and/or the ickiness.

Foxes, bears, sharks, alsations, etc, all a little wild and/or ferocious:- all for boys.

Dolphins, rabbits (patently the normal, non-sinister variety), little birds:- not really very ferocious, and def. more for girls.

In my view the only insects that I am happy to handle are ladybirds and butterflies (and caterpillars actually but they are def. in the boy category) and thus these are the accepted girls insects. I may throw in a dragonfly as well as they come in pretty colours, but most other insects are a bit 'icky' and thus more boyish.

But, there are also exceptions to the rules. Cath Kidston has a terrier motif that features on both boyswear and girlswear. I'm betting pandas would bite you, but they are quite girly, aren't they? But then again, maybe because they are vegetarian that knocks them down the ferocity scale. What do you think? Do you think it's the ferocity of the animal that determines which gender it is allotted to?


  1. Hmmm. I hadn't thought about this. I think I may have to ask my students about it!

  2. I can't say I've ever seen a 'sinister rabbit,' but if you come to Nuremberg, you can see this statue by the Albrecht Durer house...
    I'd call it creepy over sinister though. And I'm not sure why they chose this for the sculpture when his famous painting of "The Hare," just looks like a normal non-sinister/creepy rabbit to me. Mysteries.

  3. Jan: Yes, please, ask your students!

    Heather: Yup, it's in the eyes isn't it? If he worked the eyebrows a bit more then he could be sinister, but he's definitely just creepy!

  4. I wish we could live in a world where people could grow up in an environment where things weren't assigned to a gender. It makes me a little bit sad really. I mean, how will men and women ever be equal if boys get lions and tigers and girls get stuck with butterflies and fish?

  5. 1. I would like tights with bears and foxes and racoons on. NOW.
    2. My niece and nephew have finally managed to persuade my sister to make their Hallowe'en costumes. My 3 year old niece wanted to be a pony; my nearly-5 nephew a butterfly. Screw you, the gender-biasing animal people! (For further evidence: see Nephew In Yellow Bird Costume and Nephew In Pink Fairy Outfit.)

  6. OH MY GOD I WANT THOSE TIGHTS FOR MYSELF. (hahaha, I just noticed that Frau Dietz said the same thing just after I typed that. go us and our savy sense of children's-tights-loving style)

    Second, I totally just went on a really long rant about gender coded baby clothes. If you feel like reading it it's here:

    Third, I think that I can answer the question of which animals "belong" to which gender because I've spent my whole life seeing them coded that way. Remember those kitschy Lisa Frank folders people used to have in the 80s? (Or maybe that was just in America? Anyway.) They were totally just for girls and only ever featured a very specific array of animals on them. And on and on. I'd have to guess that our responde to which gender might fit with which animal has probably already been programmed into us through exposure.

    Then again, the initial stereotyping of animals to one gender or the other must have come from which case I'd be willing to be it had something to do with the ferocity or danger factor of each animal (for boys) and the cuddly cute want-to-take-home-and-hold factor (for boys). What a strange world we live in.

  7. Cup of tea: I know you're sad, but what's even worse is that as adults we barely get any animals on our clothes. Next time I see you I want to see you wearing one of those sweatshirts from the 80's with the tiger pouncing over the shoulder.

    Frau Dietz: Me too. I hardly have anything in my wardrobe with racoons on. It's funny isn't it how boys get pictures on their tights which actually I would have thought would be a girly thing to do, and girls get plainer tights, and women get practically hee-haw in terms of decoration on theirs.

    We have a Halloween party to go to and I have a funny feeling my 2 might both be princesses. Or superheroes. Hamish as you know is no stranger to ballet skirts and princess outfits, but he also really likes Spiderman despite not having ever seen Spiderman on tv or film or whatever. It's the fact that all the other boys at Kita like it.

    When he was 2 he was upset that Orla's clothes sometimes had sequins, and his didn't. And I think that's rotten too. Who says girls should be the only ones to sparkle?

    Click Clack Gorilla I enjoyed your post! We never got Lisa Frank in Scotland, but I've found the website that looks like someone puked a rainbow, and I am glad. I don't think my eyes could cope with seeing anyone wearing this skirt - thank god it's in 'LIMITED QUANTITIES!!!!'

  8. Oh dear god that skirt's a frightener.

  9. Oh crap.

    Cause that's what I got you for Christmas cause I thought you were getting me that gate made from giant coloured pencils. I wonder if they'll exchange it for some lurid stationary....

  10. I wish we could live in a planet where individuals could act like an adult in an environment where things weren't alloted to a sex. It makes me a mite tragic truly. childrenswear


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