Why do kids’ clothes need to be gender-specific, anyway?

A science-themed Lands’ End t-shirt for girls.
A science-themed Lands’ End t-shirt for girls.
Image: Lands' End
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Feminists and parents are praising US clothing company Lands’ End for launching science-themed t-shirts for girls. The shirts were a direct response—and a very quick one—to a mother who posted a letter on Lands’ End’s Facebook page when her nine-year-old daughter was disappointed to discover that t-shirts with the solar system, sharks, and dinosaurs were limited to the boys’ section of the catalog.

This mom was right to write that letter, and kudos (and t-shirt sales) to Lands’ End for responding with action. But my initial reaction upon learning about the fuss was: Why not just get your daughter a boys’ t-shirt? And more importantly, why do kids’ clothes need to be gender-specific anyway? Don’t get me wrong, I find little girls in eyelet dresses adorable, but do we really need to tell our nine-year olds that a certain section of a catalog or store—or color, style, or tee-shirt graphic—is not for them?

If we want the next generation to know that their gender doesn’t (or shouldn’t) limit their interests, strengths, talents, and potential, why not start with one of their earliest—and most fun—forms of expressing their identities? I’m so glad that nine-year old girl can go back to school in a Saturn-sequined t-shirt, if that’s what she was hoping for. But I hope if she wanted a black, glow-in-dark T-Rex-emblazoned version, that would have been cool too.

Rather than categorizing (and therefore limiting) the offerings to boys and girls, companies like Lands’ End should consider categorizing their kids clothes as just that: kids.