Unisex fashion: Hey boy, hey girl

You don’t have to be right-on to want your children to wear unisex clothes – you just have to like great designs, says Clare Dwyer Hogg

I was on a London bus with a buggy recently. A mother got on with her two children – a girl, around seven years old, and a boy in a buggy. She was wearing a hijab – floor-length covering from her neck to the tips of her toes, a scarf wrapped around her hair, only her face and hands exposed. Her little girl was jumping around in jeans and a T-shirt. On her jeans was woven the word “sexy”.

From their conversation, I hazarded the mother was not a native English speaker; the meaning of the word emblazoned on her daughter’s clothing probably lost. But what wasn’t lost was the horrible irony of the mother’s attire in juxtaposition, and the patent inappropriateness of such an adult word, with all its adult twists and tangles of meaning and misuse, embroidered on jeans made to fit a small girl. It made me remember the jokey present a friend of mine was unhappy to receive on the birth of her son: a baby-grow that read ‘MILF’ (if you’re not familiar with this acronym, it begins ‘Mother I’d Like to...’). Freud, eat your heart out. The proliferation of mini-adults walking (or being wheeled around) the streets with adult graphics on their clothes that they can’t read, never mind understand, is something much debated. And yet it’s not just overt sexualisation that is the problem: what is more pernicious, because it is has become so accepted, is the distinct genderised clothing for the sexes. Pinks and purples with fairies and flowers for the girls, and “boy” colours – the ubiquitous blue, along with the dullest of greens and beiges – with monsters and dinosaurs for the boys.

The idea that a colour is synonymous with gender is a funny one, but somehow the colours of the rainbow have been appropriated by big brands who have divvied them up according to male or female. Abi Moore, co-founder of the Pink Stinks campaign says: “Big business is very powerful and it runs the show. Money talks. By creating these new lucrative markets there are boardrooms full of people rubbing their hands together with glee.”

At the very least, it’s annoying when you’re shopping for a child, and at the worst, it’s a statement on what your child is allowed to be (girls are usually allowed to be princesses and… no, that’s about it). If I dress my daughter in a yellow top and jeans, people always refer to her as “he”. I don’t care about people getting the gender wrong – it is hard to tell when they’re that age – but I do care that a bright, yellow top seems to say “boy” rather than “girl”. Since when don’t girls wear yellow?

Which is why I like what Kate Pietrasik, the designer behind the new children’s unisex clothing brand Tootsa MacGinty, is doing. She has worked with Tommy Hilfiger, Quicksilver, Roxy, Jack Wills and others, and lived in France for many years before returning to her native London with a baby daughter. “Shopping for girlswear in the UK was really different to being in France,” she says. “Everything here was pink or with very stylised images of princesses.” It didn’t sit well. But it seemed to fit with the segregated aisles she saw in toy shops, and the children’s birthday parties she went to, where the girls seemed to wear Disney-style outfits exclusively, and the boys had power tools across their chests. Looking back at photographs of friends and family when she was growing up in the Seventies, Kate confirmed to herself that it hasn’t always been thus. So she put her foot down.

Tootsa MacGinty (one of her daughter’s nicknames) is influenced by classic rather than consumerist style, and the idea that clothes for children should be built for sturdier purposes than the changing vagaries of style. The theory is that Tootsa MacGinty garments are ready-made “hand-me-downs”, to be passed from sibling to sibling, or friend to friend without that“worry” of something looking “girly” or “boyish”.

“They’re just children’s clothes for children,” Kate says. They rival the popular Scandinavian brands such as Swedish company, Polarn O Pyret, which predominately sells striped clothes and colourful trousers (available in the UK from houseoffraser. co.uk) which, though pricey, have become popular with parents who are trying to steer away from “fashion” and dress their children in bright colours. As the only British all-unisex children’s brand, Tootsa MacGinty, with its patch appliqués of British animals and childish graphics, has captured the imagination of trend forecasters and bloggers, as well as many independent boutiques across the country, which have already started to sell the clothes before the online launch.

This is not about forbidding girls to dress as princesses, or outlawing pink. And it’s not about rendering children genderless: the recent case of baby Storm, who is being raised as neither a boy nor a girl, seems too shudderingly close to a social experiment. We just don’t have to teach our children that their gender means they’re confined to being anything, or banned from wearing certain colours. And despite everything that went before, in this apparently enlightened age, that’s what we’re teaching them. Now that feels too much like a social experiment, and I’m not too keen on seeing the results.

Tootsa MacGinty (tootsamacginty.com) will be available to buy online from Monday

News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

    Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

    Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

    Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015