Dear Lands’ End,
I have been a customer for years. I like your clothes. They are reliable and good quality. I buy them for myself and for my son.
Today, I am writing to you as a mom and as one of your customers, as a feminist and as a concerned citizen. And I write you as a woman working hard to raise a boy who will be healthy, loving, and an ally and advocate for all.
Your latest kids catalogue arrived this week, and I am disappointed. I need to buy a winter coat and some ski pants for my son, so I looked at your spreads…
It shouldn’t surprise me. Your peers do it, too: bright, vibrant colors marketed for girls; black, brown, blue, green, and maybe red for boys.
Why? Do you really think that boys only like primary colors and black or brown? They don’t. My son LOVES turquoise, apple green, red, and orange, for example. But look at what you offer for him:
And here’s the very same coat marketed to girls:
They are the SAME coat. Why not just call them “Kids’ Expedition Down Parkas” and put them all on the same page?
You do the same thing with snow pants:
They are kids! Their bodies are so similar—just call them Kids’ Squall Bibs and Pants. Boys can wear all of those colors. Girls, too.
I have gotten away for six years buying “girls” clothes for my son, because they are colors or animals or designs that he likes. But now he can read. And if he picks up a copy of a Lands’ End catalogue and finds that the limey green jacket he loves is a girls’ jacket, he will never wear it again—not because he won’t still love it, but for fear of being teased.
Because here’s the thing: despite my best efforts, our culture says that my Viking-loving, Star Wars-obsessed, Lego-playing boy is not allowed to love or wear turquoise or lime green or purple or…hot pink (a color he LOVES but thinks it must be in secret). Our culture says that boys and girls must be different from the very beginning—pink and blue, sugar and snips, spice and snails.
But boys and girls are all of those things. There are girls who would love to wear a kelly green jacket and snow pants—but they are locked out of those choices in the same way that you select navy blue for my son.
And even in the seemingly benign marketing of children’s winter clothes gender stereotypes are reinforced from an early age. Looking at your current graphic tees for kids, for example: I am glad to see three science-related shirts for girls! But where are the hedgehogs, foxes, or horses for boys? Are boys only interested in cars, dinosaurs—and only T Rex in aggressive stances—or space?
If we are serious about tackling the toxic masculinity which persists in our culture, we must look at the images we market to our children. Boys get dinosaurs that are threatening and aggressive. Girls get sparkly dinosaurs who love each other. What kind of messages do these seemingly innocuous shirts convey? Trust me. My child wouldn’t be afraid of wearing something “girly” if he never encountered others who have sneered at his choices. And he is only six years old.
Of course, there are some styles specific for girls. And there are some specific to boys. It is great to celebrate the differences between boys and girls. But we also must celebrate the commonalities. And to reinforce toxic stereotypes of either one is neither healthy nor right.
As a mom, I ask you for some middle ground. Before it gets complicated…before their bodies begin to radically differentiate…can you just let kids be kids? Let them love what they love. Celebrate their sweetness. Promote harmony. And help move us toward a more open, accepting, peaceful, and loving society.
You may say, “We are just a clothes company.” But fashion has a powerful voice in our culture. Use yours for good.
Lands’ End responded to this letter with the following statement: “At Lands’ End, we always value hearing from our customers, as we continue to evolve our products and collections based upon feedback and insights. Customers should expect to see more kids’ coed items in the upcoming seasons.”
This post was originally published on Medium.