Furore as chain store drops binary gender labels from children’s clothes


News that British retailer John Lewis has stopped selling children’s clothes under the traditional “boys” and “girls” categories has been met with both praise and condemnation.

The chain of high-end department stores announced that its clothes for children between the ages of 0 to 14 would now be labelled either “Girls and Boys” or “Boys and Girls”.

John Lewis has also removed all in store signage dividing the floor space into separate girls and boys departments. Its website will soon also drop the two gender divisions.

The company said that it had already started making the changes last year, with few noticing until now.

“We do not want to reinforce gender stereotypes within our John Lewis collections and instead want to provide greater choice and variety to our customers, so that the parent or child can choose what they would like to wear,” said Caroline Bettis, head of childrenswear.

The company worked with the Let Clothes be Clothes campaign which lobbies retailers in the UK “to support choice and end the use of gender stereotypes in the design and marketing of children’s clothes”.

As the change in policy made headlines, conservatives parents and media outlets expressed their outrage, claiming that the retailer is imposing gender fluidity on children, was kow-towing to minority pressure groups and taking political correctness too far. There were even calls for a boycott of the chain store.

A more forward thinking approach from retailers

June Hayes‎ complained on the company’s Facebook page: “Great publicity stunt John Lewis. I do actually dispair for our future generation. They wont have a clue whether they are an Arthur or a Martha because it will be wrong to gender stereotype them.”

Joan Neale‎ added: “Maybe we should all shave our heads and wear sack cloth just in case someone should identify us as male or female. Where is this nonsense going to end? Are new parents to be banned from announcing the birth of a baby boy or a baby girl? Will parents of girls be condemned for allowing their daughters to play ‘house’? Boys are boys and girl are girls.”

The vast majority of the comments on the page, however, were extremely supportive of the company’s decision to roll back gender stereotyping.

Francesca C Mallen, founder of Let Clothes be Clothes explained that the clothes themselves are not going to change. By removing traditional gender labelling, children will be freer to express themselves and wear what they want, whether it be a pink dress or blue pants.

“We understand that some parents may like the status quo, and feel that girls should look pretty in pink dresses, and boys need more practical clothing for their rough and tumble ways then they can – those things aren’t going anywhere,” she wrote on the group’s blog.

“What we are asking for is a more forward thinking approach from retailers, and not one based in the 1950’s. Those ideas are limiting and do not reflect how individual our children are. If that’s redefining gender then so be it, some would call it progress.”

Ewan Macdonald-Russell, from the Scottish Retail Consortium, told the Daily Mail that John Lewis’ decision was likely to be followed by other stores: “We have already seen a number of retailers make similar moves on children’s toys, and it’s likely further brands will look to move away from traditional gender-binary labelling in children’s lines in the future.”

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