In Men and Women: Dressing the Part, which Steele co-edited, the authors report that "avant-garde designer Rudi Gernreich predicted that men and women would be wearing unisex clothes by 1980: older people would wear boldly patterned caftans to 'abstract' bodies that 'can no longer be accentuated,' while young men and women would wear skirts and trousers interchangeably."
In children's clothing, the unisex trend brought turtlenecks, overalls ... and a rejection of pink. Paoletti reports that, from 1976 to 1978, "Sears catalogs carried no pink clothing for toddlers and only a few pink items for babies." She notes that popular works earlier in the decade, such as the multimedia Free to Be You and Me, often focused on the origins of gender.
But how had parents--or Sears, at least--decided that pink should be banished? Had second-wave feminists explicitly singled out pink in that way?
If Paoletti's right that second-wave feminists inadvertently helped solidify the pink-woman connection, it was not because they rejected the color as feminine per se, but as childish. (Indeed, Steele told me that as Barbie, the doll, got more "pink and shiny and glittery" over the years, "she also became significantly more infantile looking, with a younger, smilier face.")
Friedan mentions pink only twice in The Feminine Mystique, but she talks a great deal about the "childish" woman who stays home, "a child among her children, passive, no part of her existence under her own control."
A decade later, the New York Times reporter who covered the 1977 National Women's Conference in Houston wrote, "Everywhere there were women ... doing grown-up things and exhilarated to be doing them, things like tipping waiters, carrying suitcases, lobbying and caucusing to all hours of the night."
When the same writer, Anne Taylor Fleming, made a brief side trip to hear Phyllis Schlafly speak nearby, she summarized the message for women as a "promise[ of] protection if you procreate, a glorious chance not to have to grow up."
When I asked Steele about pink's increasing feminization since the '70s, she called it a "gradual progression ... like a kind of palimpsest."
As with most trends, the pendulum swung away from unisex fashions by the 1980s, even as the new generation of career women wore masculine-inspired "power suits" to work. In children's clothing, Paoletti says pink resurged around the same time the first Generation X adults became parents. For example, a 1988 trade article she cites recounts one designer's decision to resume use of pink in clothing designs, due to changing demand. She also notes Luvs' 1985 introduction of boy and girl diapers and the new popularity of "headbands for bald girl babies (serving no function other than as a gender marker)."
Paoletti argues that parents' fondness of pink or blue diapers may have reflected their own experience of unisex fashions as children. "The girls and boys of Generation X, who dominated the birthrate data beginning in 1986, were nine or younger when they experienced [the sexual revolution]" and the unisex trends that followed.