Who Stole Pink From Men?

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When I read the news that the new Minister of Women, Family and Human Rights of Brazil, Damares Alves, said that a new era begins where boys will wear blue and girls will wear pink, I thought to myself: is this still a thing? I was under the impression that we had moved past this whole ‘blue for boys / pink for girls’ thing a few decades ago, but oh! was I wrong! Just a quick browse at the major retailers online shows that the majority of them still support the idea that colours have a gender. In times when the fight for a fairer and more equal society should be on every brand’s agenda, why does it seem like so many fashion brands still haven’t gotten the memo?

Last year, I wrote about our loyalty to brands that don’t deserve it. So, for this post, I decided to start my research by going to the kids section of the online stores of the brands that I spoke about in that previous post: Nike and Adidas. I was shocked to see that these brands are still designing clothes for kids predominantly using pink and pastel colours for girls and more neutral and bold colours for boys. And it doesn’t end there, other brands like H&M, Zara, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and even the very progressive Desigual perpetuate these colour roles as well. From all the websites that I visited, the only one that had a more neutral gender store was Hollister, to my surprise.

If you asked the creative directors of any of these brands the reason behind this, they might tell you that the trends for boys this season don’t include pink, or that if they designed clothes for kids switching these gender roles parents wouldn’t buy them because their children wouldn’t want to wear them. But children don’t make these decisions on their own, they have been conditioned by their family, the media or society in general to think like this. I am convinced that if any of our children’s male heroes or male role models wore more pink, we would see a rise in pink coloured clothes sales for that season for boys.

Besides, this idea that pink is feminine and blue is masculine is a very recent invention. Until the arrival of pastel colours, the colour for children of any gender used to be white. According to the Smithsonian Institution, at the beginning of the 20th century, that is less than 100 years ago, colours began to be assigned to genders with pink being promoted as a colour for boys because it was ‘decided and strong’. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century when trends changed and the colours for genders were switched to blue for the boys and pink for the girls. But, as a trend, it faded away until the mid-80’s when it came back thanks to the pregnancy test brands and have since been imprinted in our minds.

As a photographer, I know that the message behind the colours that we use in imagery can be very powerful. But I also know that colours don’t have an innate meaning; humans assign it to them. For instance, in the western world, the colour red can be associated with love, passion and sensuality, but a red flag is a sign of risk and danger. Meanwhile, in countries like China, red means good luck, happiness or success. In some cultures, white symbolizes purity but in other cultures, it is associated with death.

Not a single colour means the same to two different people. What a colour makes someone feel is something unique to the individual. If you need a colour to be able to tell your children apart, then you have a different problem. But a boy won’t feel less masculine if he wears pink unless you make him feel that way. Besides, what does feeling masculine or feminine even mean to a baby? Babies start developing their identities as they grow and if a baby boy identifies as a male they will continue feeling like a male no matter how much pink you put on them.

The fashion industry has a massive impact on our lives, even if one is not conscious about it. We express ourselves through the clothes we wear. They speak about our mood of the day, our cultural backgrounds, our political stances or what we do for a living. Sometimes, they can also be used as tools of oppression.

The message behind the words of Minister Alves is about undoing everything that we have accomplished in terms of gender equality. We mustn’t let that happen, we must fight back. As an industry, we have the most incredible tool at our disposal for the task, one that is so powerful and ubiquitous that it can reach every single person on the planet. Stop forcing pastels onto girls and let’s get more boys to wear pink

Photo credit: me, age 2.

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I Wish I Had Known... About Pattern Making!

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This is the fifteenth post in my series of monthly posts where I speak with people in the creative industries and ask them questions about the things that "I Wish I Had Known" when I started out as a creative myself.

I had the immense pleasure of meeting Neil J. Christopher, Pattern Cutter and co-owner of ARN Mercantile, a small company with great ideals that makes workwear combining British Heritage with Japanese technical skills and quality. Neil and I spoke about what makes a good Pattern Maker and how to successfully mix technology with manual skills within the craft:

1. What is the role of a Pattern Maker?

The main role is to interpret the ideas, ideals and vision of the designer, taking from the flat image and building a 3D garment, but also advancing the concept of what you are doing, offering advice on structure, movement and fabrics needed to build a better garment.

2. Which skills does a Pattern Maker need to have?

The ability to see in 3D is a key skill, but also fabric knowledge, construction and production. If you can sew that is a wonderful thing, but on a basic level, maths help, as does skill with a pencil. Clean lines save time and effort later on.

3. Is there a difference between a Pattern Maker and a Pattern Cutter, or are they interchangeable names?

In basic terms, they do get confused, but a Pattern Cutter cuts cloth to build garments in a factory, where a Pattern Maker makes the pattern they will work from, but a knowledge of what is needed for both jobs helps. If you can cut cloth and build garments it helps you to understand how the production works and will make you a better Maker. A Cutter can and do make patterns but that is a question of ownership

4. Why do we need patterns?

They are the building blocks of garments. To be able to make anything we need the pattern to make it from, but there is also an ownership issue and to fully have control over what you make and to keep it 'yours' is to own the pattern.

5. How are patterns made?

I cut the card by hand but some use computer-based cutting which would only become a 'hard' pattern in the factory, which is the basic answer, but the more build focused answer is with a lot of practice and understanding of the finished product.

6. There are in the market many software packages aimed at Pattern Making, but there is still a percentage of Pattern Makers who prefer to do it by hand. Are they just being old-fashioned or is it still more reliable to do it by hand?

There are many different software packages out there to build patterns but they suffer from the age of the core processes used to establish them. Many do use them and in fact, if you are making basic mass-market products they are the most cost-effective way to go. But, if you wish to build something that speaks to you and is yours, a hand-made card pattern is the best way to get your ideals out there. I am very bias on this but I have worked on many different kinds of 'software' and even helped build them and I feel you can not replace the hands of a good Maker within the process.

7. Do you think that technology has helped Pattern Making in any way, for instance, with fabric optimisation?

For layout, the cutting of cloth, yes very much so. It has simplified that part and increased fabric usage. I would always say that nothing beats the computer for that, but for shape and construction, we still have a fair way to go.

8. Can a designer make and cut their own patterns?

A few do, to begin with, but it's a skill where the basics can be simple to learn but as you grow and build a more complex garment you would need to have a skill set of hands working on that. With the basic skills, you can better help a skilled Maker to achieve your needed shapes. I would highly recommend anyone who was thinking of going into design to spend the time to understand patterns.

9. What about sizing? Why don’t we still have a standardised sizing in the industry?

Simple answer: too many markets. The clothing business can no longer focus on one market and with that comes a huge set of block patterns and sizes options. Even within one market, we are not all the same shape. Sizes have to reflect the needs of the customer; block patterns must also focus the producer to make for body type, not just size.

10. There is also some controversy with laser cutting. A lot of people criticise laser cutting because of its perfection. Do you think it diminishes the garment?

I have just seen some laser cutting and been given the option to program and cut with it. Yes, there have been issues with it, but mainly due to how it's been programmed to be used. It was not originally set up for cloth and the engineers who set it up did not intend its use in this field. In time and with care it will be a great benefit to the industry but right now it's still in a learning curve.

11. Is Pattern Making something that you study or that you learn as an apprentice?

Both, if you are lucky and find someone who is willing to teach you then an apprenticeship is a wonderful way to learn by doing. Some colleges do offer a short course, but it is normally part of a bigger design lead program. In the US and the EU it's a course in its own right, but here in the UK we tend to show the basics and hope that that will do and that you pick up more by working on it. I was lucky enough to work with a skilled Maker when I was young and then learnt more as time past, but you will always learn from other Cutter/Makers as there is little formal training outside of the bespoke business. As a Maker we find our own way around 'issues' and sharing that with your peers is a great way to improve.

12. Do Pattern Making students need to learn about the history of fashion?

I do believe they should at least look into it but within context. I have a huge collection of vintage patterns and pattern books yet some students I know have no interest in it. Most problems that you will ever have with Pattern Making are problems that others have also had, solved and, if you are lucky, shared their results.

Thanks so much, Neil, for taking a few minutes from your busy travelling schedule to speak with me about the important and often overlooked role of the Pattern Maker! This is everything that I Wish I Had Known!


If you haven't read the previous posts of this series, you can check the whole series here. I hope you liked this new post and stay tuned for a different creative each month!

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