An otherwise adorable boutique in my neighborhood sells really ugly baby clothing, and I don't understand why.
I don't mean the layette pieces -they include lovingly embroidered caps and nightgowns in luxurious fabrics almost too nice to subject to the inevitable assault of bodily fluids that will come with each wearing. Although the shop's selection of gorgeous items for newborns makes it even more puzzling that they can't seem to offer an equally charming selection in the bigger baby sizes.
The ugly stuff starts later. Around the 0-3 month size.
But first: Has anyone else noticed that most stores no longer feature a baby section? It's all divided, from size premie up, into girls' and boys'. This produces certain absurd results: ducks were classified as girlie in one major department store, which had deemed giraffes masculine. Try finding a newborn nightgown - the single best piece of infant clothing EVER designed - in the baby boy section. You won't find it, because somewhere, some brainless ding-dong in retail decided that putting a two-week-old boy in a nightdress for easy midnight changes would confuse his sexual identity. The Grape wore nightgowns for the first four months of his life. Remind me to ask him later if it damaged his manhood.
Something in my gut tells me that over-emphasizing sexual differences in infants seems like a bad idea. Pop culture bombards kids with sex as soon as they're able to change the channel or surf the web. Middle schoolers yawn at the mention of oral sex in a been there, done that sort of way. Sexting has become an actual verb, and it's not our generation that invented it. Everyone knows that little boys and girls figure out gender differences on their own soon enough. Can't we let them just be innocent babies for a short while?
Evidently not. If clothing for infant boys isn't boring powder blue, it's overtly manly.
I cannot possibly be the only mom dismayed by the inexplicable over-representation of browns and grays in the contemporary infant wardrobe pallet. One friend recently quipped, "It's like they give you two choices for boys, Little Hipster and Little Construction Worker."
Neither version of the "Little Man" look appeals to me. The Grape doesn't need steel gray waffle shirts with Harley-like motorcycles on them, drab onesies or acid washed jeans cut to accommodate his Pampers. Nor does he, despite his residency in Boston, need shirts that disparage a certain baseball team (who, while we're on the subject of fashion, happen to wear awfully sharp pin-striped uniforms).
The Grape is a baby. He should wear cute, cheerful, babyish things. He can look like he lives in a dorm, works at a building site or plays professional sports later. Much later. Like when he actually becomes a little (or medium or big) man.
The local omnipresence of drab baby wear has driven me to catalogs featuring clothes designed on the other side of the pond, especially those from northern Europe. I have a friend who sends me baby clothes from Finland. The Grape garners lots of compliments when he's out and about in his red jumpsuit with elephants on it. Try finding that sort of thing around here. You can't.
The Scandinavians prefer their children dressed colorfully. Perhaps it makes them easier to find during those long, pitch black winters. Their clothes also tend to be three things ours aren't: unisex, functional and built to last. You see lots of bright colors, fun prints, zippers where 14 snaps would otherwise be, and solid craftsmanship. The only thing worse than unattractive clothing is unattractive clothing that unravels or shrinks after a single wash.
I suspect the domestic baby fashion industry eschews those qualities because it's better for them if parents have to buy new clothes for each new baby. If everything you own is, for example, blue for your first, and your second is a girl, you'll buy more. If your second is another boy, you'll still buy more because the things procured for son number one will have frayed, bled color or fallen apart.
But I digress.
The local selection for infant girls' clothes is moderately better than for their male counterparts, although the infinite sea of pink can be disorienting. And that's saying a lot, coming from me. I love pink. I hardly ever leave home without something pink on my person, even if it's just my phone. But I like other colors, too. Why aren't there countless outfits for baby girls in bright colors like blue, green or red?
I think, and it's just my theory, that it's because primary colors don't scream, GIRL!!! (God forbid your little princess is bald - in that event, society will encourage you to tape a pink ribbon atop her hairless dome.)
Germaine Greer has said that pink is a vile color. I respectfully disagree, but I understand her underlying sentiment. Pink in our culture represents something delicate, fragile, in need of protection. Of course all babies fit that description, but little girls are told, both subliminally and directly, and almost from birth, that this is good, whereas little boys are encouraged to outgrow such neediness as quickly as possible.
In the girls' department, things start to get really frightening around size 2T, which is when you start to see a good amount of, for lack of a better phrase, Little Britney type stuff in the stores. It's enough to make you yearn for a closet full of nothing but those sweet frilly, pink, posy-pocked frocks.
I first noticed the Little Britney look last Halloween, but quickly realized it wasn't a seasonal phenomenon. Back when I was dressing up and trick or treating, Slutty Pippi Longstocking wasn't a viable costume option. And it shouldn't be now.
For a society hyper aware of the existence of child predators, we're awfully willing to dress our daughters in clingy and/or revealing outfits. I saw a little girl on Boston Common last week, out walking with her parents. She was wearing hot pink leggings and a black sparkly tube top that said "lil' hottie." She basically looked like sex on a stick, and she couldn't have been more than three years old. All I could think was, "Really?"
I'm relieved to report that, for all the flaws in its selection, my cute neighborhood boutique has so far resisted the trend to sell trampy clothes for tots. But with their infant boys' selection so big-boyish in spirit, I can't believe the girls' options will stay lovely and babyish forever.
Because I like to support local businesses, I stop in to the neighborhood boutique to peruse the wares every now and then.
Today, I found a pair of well constructed cotton overalls in my son's size. They were what would politely be called manure brown in color, with olive green trim. "Do these come in primary colors?" I asked the salesperson. She showed me the same item with camouflage green as the basic color and the aforementioned horse poop tone as the trim. "I think these are adorable," she gushed.
Maybe I was under-caffeinated, over tired or plain punchy, but I heard myself blurt, "They're ugly. There's just no other word for them."
Then I caught myself and said, "Sorry. But can't you get these in red?"
"Red is for girls," she explained, as if this ought to be obvious, even to a neophyte mom.
O-kay. Got it. But I had to ask, "So you don't have anything with a fire truck, for example?"
The sales girl brightened. "We have lots of fire trucks. She showed me a shirt with an olive truck on the manure colored background, and the same shirt with (surprise!) the color scheme reversed.
"Not exactly what I had in mind, but thanks anyway," I said, now in a hurry to eject out of there. She rolled her eyes as I beat a hasty retreat.
What I should have asked, and what I still want to understand is this: Why can The Grape's father rock a pink shirt but he, at the tender age of less than one, can not?