, Volume 12, Issue 9-10, pp 955-964

Infant clothing: Sex labeling for strangers

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Labeling an infant as a boy or girl affects behavior toward the infant. While intimates know a baby's sex label and behave consistently to the baby, strangers cannot unless given a cue. Forty-eight infants and their caretakers were observed in suburban malls to see if clothing normally provides such cues; 90% of the infants were dressed in sex-typed clothes. Girls wore or carried pink (75%), yellow, ruffles, puffed sleeves, and/or dresses. Boys wore blue (79%) and/or red. Observers were able to correctly guess the sex of “labeled” infants only. Surprisingly, simultaneous caretaker interviews revealed that parents do not spontaneously mention sex as a factor in clothing choice, nor do they feel they would be very bothered by strangers' mistaking the infant's sex.

Portions of this article were presented as part of the symposium “Girls and Boys: Life in Two Different Worlds” at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Detroit, 1983.