Although it’s only just making headlines, John Lewis introduced gender-neutral clothing last year in association with Let Clothes Be Clothes, a group of parents who have come together to ask UK retailers to rethink how they design and market children’s clothing.

Let Clothes Be Clothes are concerned about all children and the negative effects of marketing towards such a young age.

In their own words, “taking some of the worst stereotypes about gender… is only going to perpetuate problems in our society”. And some of the negative responses received by John Lewis at their decision proves just that.

As a woman it’s easy to be affected by the sometimes ridiculous clothing marketed towards girls. Even as a young child, I was aware (in some sense) of the pressure of marketed clothing.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t sophisticatedly discussing the harm of gender roles at seven years of age, but I felt the pressure and the frustration of having to wear things I did not like. I’ve never liked t-shirts with slogans such as ‘Born to be a Drama Queen’, or dresses with bits of lace sticking out. I still don’t today.

I couldn’t commend John Lewis enough.

I would argue that these frustrations followed me into my adult life. I’m not saying femininity or liking anything associated with ‘being a girl’ makes you weak or is troublesome, I’m purely encouraging society not to pigeonhole young girls and boys into concepts of gender that hasn’t even occurred to them yet.

But I also remember young boys competing with male classmates about who had the deadliest shoes from Clarks (there was a ‘spy’ range, each pair of shoes came with a gadget), just as the marketing companies had sadistically planned.

It’s time for us to realise that our childhoods, including what we wear, how we are taught, and how we treat others, affect who we become as people. I couldn’t commend John Lewis enough for their brave and revolutionary decision to immerse themselves into the 21st century.

And for those who love to say ‘this is political correctness gone mad’, I personally think the ‘Bell-Sleeve Bardot Bodysuit’ that River Island sell for girls as young as five (?!) proves gender expectations are slightly more insane.

Opinion pieces are the view of the author and in no way reflect the views of Forge Press.

Words by Emma Atkinson
Image credit: Estates Gazette

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