Why should retailers care about this?

Retailers who make and sell products aimed at children must behave responsibly. The Childrenswear Responsible Retailing guidance by the BRC (British Retail Consortium), has a number of high profile signatories (such as John Lewis, and Sainsburys) and is supported by the UK Government. The idea is really simple: there are certain obligations businesses can’t ignore, and that working within a framework of social responsibility is good for business, and good for society. The code states that childrenswear must not unduly stereotype, and that by working with customers on potentially complex and sensitive issues, retailers can create products that are more likely to garner sales, rather than poor headlines. This code of practice is purely voluntary however and has zero teeth, unlike say, the Advertising Standards Authority, who can take direct action over adverts it deems irresponsible (including those portray men and women in stereotypical roles for example) and can pull ads, and /or issue fines to businesses that don’t comply. Retail is a bit like the Wild West, in which we’re all issued with Sheriffs badges and expected to take on any bad guys ourselves. This is far from ideal, but it's precisely why grassroots organisations like Let Clothes Be Clothes exist.

Girls and boys are different sizes, so how does unisex work?

Unisex means "for all," but when it comes to cultures of dress, the sexed body and modern "off the rail" commercial clothing, there are a few issues to look at. Children are pretty much child shaped until puberty, and most UK high street retailers have identical measurements for girls and boys in their sizing charts. This changes from around 9-10 years old, when more "teen" sized ranges take over from the traditional "childrenswear" offer. For certain fitted garments, such as blazers and shirts, it may be necessary to have ranges based on a "female fit" or a "male fit" precisely because formal garments are traditionally tailored to fit the body - and this is still the expectation, if not the practice. In a modern society, where clothing is bought "off the rail" and manufactured en masse to a set of average measurements, we have to ask if a fitted or tailored approach is actually achievable. In reality, the vast majority of women's clothing is styled fitted (in order to outline the female form) opposite much baggier and shapeless men's ranges (that essentially make men look bigger than they are.) This is also reflected in childrenswear where sizing measurements are the same, but fit is very different. The push to commodify the female body affects women via a commercial clothing sector that targets fears about body confidence, specific weight and unachievable beauty standards, and we can see these messages from early childhood onwards. A less innocuous example of this is the lack of functional pockets in clothing aimed at girls and women, precisely because designers traditionally feared they would ruin the female silhouette - and the idea stuck. Off the rail commercial clothing and high street fast fashion can not accomodate the variety of shapes and sizes we, as human beings, come in - regardless of differences resulting from biological sex. What retailers have been able to do is reinforce styles traditionally aimed at women, and at men, removing choice and further exacerbating some of the harmful gender stereotypes we talk about in the campaign. Women's t-shirts for example are near universally designed fitted (with capped sleeves, lower necklines and in more recent years, cropped), suggesting tight (and essentially smaller) clothing is a pre-requisite of having breasts. Modern fabrics have removed the need for the costlier function of darts, tucks and pleats, but instead of shaping around us, clothing is now more enclined to stick like a second skin. The alternative is almost at the opposite end of this scale, with the majority of t-shirts marketed to men (and described as "men's t-shirts" irrespective of size) are styled shapeless, loose and baggy - which in a world that places huge social currency on women's weight, can have the unwanted aesthetic of making the wearer look much bigger than they actually are (also a feature applied to men, stereotyped into wanting to look bigger, and be bigger) Some more progressive t-shirt companies have attempted to solve this problem (based on customer feedback) by producing a range of fits, including "unisex" styles that attempt to find a middle ground alongside a variety of longer shapes, cropped or boxy options, opposite the traditional women/men fit - for those who want it. A choice of fit, alongside a more equitable approach to design is the way forward - providing choice, and removing stereotypical assumptions about a customer base who are becoming more and more clued up to gender marketing.

Whats stopping you buying from both clothing sections?

Nothing. Most of us are more than capable of doing so. For children though, having to buy from the ‘wrong’ department can be less than ideal. Children are keenly aware of ‘rules’. It’s how they learn how to be part of society. They know what they ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ wear. Even if they’re prepared to cross the divide and wear a style or colour from the ‘wrong’ department, this often leads to negative comments and in some cases bullying from peers. The added problem is you are still facing a set of stereotypes, regardless of which section you shop in. For parents who want their daughters to have the choice of Star Wars motifs, Dinosaurs and Cars, the clothing available under the overhead boys sign will be less colourful and baggier by design. For boys who love unicorns and flowers, the clothing is more likely to be of thinner material, cut slimmer and of less practical design.

Why do you want to ban skirts in schools?

We don't want to ban any type of clothing. LCBC advocates a uniform based on a choice of basic generic items: trousers, shorts, skirts and dresses. Trousers are more practical in terms of movement, coverage and being active, but skirts are also really popular in summer and provide a choice that parents/guardians want for their kids.

Surely there are more important things to worry about?

Gender equality effects everyone. Read about why this matters here.

Whats wrong with pink for girls and blue for boys?

Children should be able to choose from a whole spectrum of colours. Pink and blue are used as a form of gender code, that segments the market into this for girls, and this for boys. Why sell one product when you can sell two, right? Find out more about gender marketing here

What do you have against being girly?

First of all, we hate labels, they’re not helpful but regrettably pretty common. Secondly, we believe there is more than one way to be a girl, and that girlhood can’t be defined by a neatly packaged, marketable image of pink princesses and sparkly cupcakes. Playing with trains and liking dinosaurs also won’t make girls LESS girls. Dressing in a princess gown or a kitten t-shirt won’t make a boy LESS of a boy. Children should be able to choose their own interests, explore and engage with lots of different ideas, colours and themes.

Boys will be boys.

Boys will be accountable for their actions, just like girls. Boys are just as susceptible to harmful and toxic messages, as girls. Boys are stereotyped into being strong, rough, and energetic. Toxic masculinty is nothing new, and has been around a long time - which makes it a tough attitude to eradicate, but we believe boys deserve better, and that its time our culture changed. Boys can be many things. Caring, smart, cute, kind, arty, funny, sweet... Just like girls.

Why do you want boys to wear dresses?

We can find absolutely no reason why boys shouldn't wear dresses, and this includes the encouragement, marketing and overal commitment to offering these items as legitimate clothing for males, young and old. If a boy wishes to wear a dress, or if the option is offered to a boy, we can find no logical reason why this should be made into a problem. Lots of people wear skirts and dresses for example, why not men and boys too?